When your country of birth is under siege, turmoil on the other side of the world feels very close to home. Ukraine native Tanya Wynn, a contracting specialist at MITRE’s McLean, Virginia, office, found a statewide way to support her home country and its people—and got MITRE involved as well.
I came here from Ukraine about 20 years ago. Until very recently, my mom lived in Crimea as a Ukrainian citizen. Crimea has been occupied by Russia since 2014, so while there wasn’t fighting nearby, many Ukrainian Crimeans experienced cruelty. When the 2022 Russian invasion began and borders closed, it was very difficult for her to figure out a route to leave. It was a long and scary process.
Eventually my mom traveled through Turkey to Washington, D.C. I was finally able to hug her. But the pain I experienced surrounding the situation in Ukraine didn’t go away. The war continued. The cities were bombed. People were dying.
Putting Ideas into Action
Even before my mom arrived here safely, I started gathering items I thought would be useful to Ukraine. Others in the local Ukrainian community felt the same, so we all came together. With houses destroyed and prices rising, the Ukrainian people needed everything: clothing, food, hygiene items. Before long, we were able to send a huge shipment to Ukraine.
That’s when we said to each other, “Let’s get more organized. The war continues, so let’s figure out a way to help.”
What came out of these talks is now known as the Sunflower Relief Collective, in honor of the national flower. While I was not at the very forefront of this effort, I am heavily involved now and one of the main points of contact for donations to Ukraine. You should see all the donations people bring to my house—it brings tears to my eyes thinking of everyone that wants to help.
First, we had to establish routes for sending our shipments. Since Kyiv and Lviv were bombed, we couldn’t ship directly to Ukraine from the United States, but we could ship to Poland. From Poland, our shipments went to Lviv, then to Kyiv. Lviv was recently bombed, but now it’s safe—rather, it’s not being pummeled at the moment. The distribution centers are functioning, and from there other organizations on the ground in and near Ukraine come to pick up our shipments.
We currently work with five or six organizations, and others are knocking on our door now that they know how we’re working and how much we all want to help.
People ask me how they can help. Everyone can help. Ukrainian people are not alone in this war.
People Everywhere Want to Help Ukrainians
At this point, we work by word of mouth. In addition to spreading the word via our churches and neighborhoods, many of us post regularly on community groups about collecting certain items. One of us vacationed in Florida and took flyers around to businesses near where she was staying. She found plenty of people there happy to donate items or money.
At the beginning, we didn’t have a list of items to work from, so we took our best guess. We often find that after seeing the news reports about the devastation, many people want to do more than just write a check. They want to go to the store and buy something, so they feel like part of a real movement—that they’re doing something tangible.
We’ve since learned from organizations in and near Ukraine that people need food a lot more than they need anything else. For a while we couldn’t accept any clothing because our ability to store, pack, and send relief packages was so limited. At this point, we’re starting to collect clothing again because winter is coming, and people will need to keep warm.
Remember, when people leave their homes with nothing, they need literally everything. If the war ended today, it would still take years for Ukraine to rebuild. It will take years to feed, clothe, and resupply what’s been taken away.
I am grateful MITRE has joined this effort. Thanks to our responsive leadership, collection boxes are being placed in our McLean office buildings for direct donations. As they fill up, I know I will be grateful for MITRE’s Civic Time, which offers paid time off for civic activities that take place during working hours.
People ask me how they can help. Everyone can help. The smallest donations or purchased items make a difference. Ukrainian people are not alone in this war.
—as told to Nancy G. Romps
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