For the past month, Larisa and Viktor Khmil have spent their weekends sorting through hundreds of boxes of donated medical supplies, preparing them to ship to Ukraine.
It’s just one of many volunteer efforts in the Denver area to aid the citizens of the war-torn country. But for the Khmils, this effort is very personal. Twenty years ago, they emigrated with their two young daughters from Ukraine to the U.S. in search of a better life, eventually settling down in Aurora where Larisa and daughter Anna established the Alameda Dental practice on Alameda Avenue east of I-225.
Viktor says he still can’t quite believe the horrific footage he’s been watching since Russia invaded his homeland. He kept in constant contact with his mother and his sister Tetiana, who live in Poltava, the town where he grew up in central Ukraine.
“We didn’t really think it would happen, and we didn’t think it would escalate like this,’’ he said. “They were having to run to the bomb shelters two or three times a night. Conditions kept getting worse.”
Tetiana has since left Ukraine with their mother while saying goodbye to her husband and two stepsons, who stayed behind to help defend the country.
It took five days for the two women to make their way to Aurora.
“It was, of course, very difficult for her to leave everything behind like that, but her husband says it’s better that they’re here with us in the U.S.,” Victor said. “This way, he doesn’t worry about them and can spend all of his time working to help the people of Ukraine.”
Tetiana’s husband, who is an electrical engineer, spends long hours in Ukraine restoring electricity for the homes and businesses that have lost power because of the fighting.
With her brother serving as an interpreter, Tetiana said she is horrified by the violent war being waged against her country.
“I understand that war is war, and soldiers kill soldiers,’’ she said. “But now civilians are being killed. Children are being killed.”
She starts to cry as she continues. “Putin is trying to kill the Ukrainian nationality so that it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Like many of the 11,000 Ukrainian immigrants who live in Colorado, the Khmils have been very involved in the logistics of raising money and medical supplies to send to Ukraine. Daughter Anna held a fundraiser at a downtown Denver bar and raised $22,000 in just four hours.
Larisa says many of her dental patients have written checks for thousands of dollars. “The generosity has been overwhelming.”
The Khmils have been sending some money and supplies directly to friends and organizations back in Ukraine, like for a fellow dentist who converted his office into a kitchen to cook for children and families. Most of the donations, however, will be bundled into a larger relief effort.
The Khmil’s dental clinic is one of the drop-off sites used by the non-profit group Ukrainians of Colorado to collect medical supplies. That organization partners with the humanitarian organization Project C.U.R.E., headquartered in Centennial, to send large shipping containers of supplies to Ukraine. One of those containers arrived in Ukraine in mid-March. Another is expected to arrive at the beginning of April.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Irina Shatalov with Ukrainians of Colorado was overseeing 25 volunteers who were moving boxes of donated goods to a larger warehouse. She, too, says she’s so grateful for the generosity that many Coloradans have shown.
“We are all Ukrainians right now,’’ she said. “Everyone who feels our pain, who wants to help us.”
That sentiment is exactly why Alexi Drozd coordinated a large rally of support on the steps of the state capitol in March.
“It’s not just the struggle of Ukrainian people,” he said. “This is a struggle for all people. It’s a struggle of liberty over oppression.”
More than 100 people joined Drozd with Ukrainian flags and signs that called on the U.S. government to enforce a no-fly zone. Drozd, who came to the U.S. in 2004 when he was 12, says he hopes rallies like that help educate people.
“Our soldiers are very brave and are standing their ground, but our air defenses are not where they need to be. We’re not able to stop the Russian planes from bombing.”
Colorado law enforcement agencies have joined together to aid the Ukraine war effort, collecting and shipping more than 1,000 ballistic helmets and 840 sets of surplus body armor to Ukraine.
Numerous coffee shops across the metro area have also held fundraisers. The proceeds will go to the International Committee of the Red Cross to be used in Ukraine. Dazbog coffee, which was founded by a family that fled Russia in 1979, is donating $3 from every bag of its Svoboda “Freedom” blend.
In Park Hill, the Long Table Brewhouse, 2895 Fairfax St, is brewing a golden ale using a Ukrainian beer recipe. The beer should be available mid-April, both on tap and in cans, with proceeds going to Ukraine relief efforts. On April 5 at 7 p.m., Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia St., will hold a “Harmonies of Hope, Lyrics of Light” concert to show solidarity with the millions of people who have been displaced by the war. A free-will offering will be collected for the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance fund’s efforts to help Ukrainian refugees.
For more information about how you can help, consult the following websites.
Photos by Mary Jo Brooks