CHICAO – Representatives of the U..S-based humanitarian aid organization Save Ukraine Now (SUN) met on August 6 with Chicago’s Ukrainian religious and community leaders at Selfreliance Ukrainian American Federal Credit Union. Participants were informed of SUN’s activities to date and future plans.
Walter Tun, SUAFCU marketing and PR manager, provided background information and introduced the event’s main speaker, SUN founder and president, Dr. Gary Kellner.
Dr. Kellner introduced the key members of his team: Executive Director Sergey Shakhov, Director of External Affairs Lenny Barda and Logistics Director David Brennan, who has, to date, facilitated the shipment of 17 containers of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
Dr. Kellner began the conversation by telling of his first visit to Ukraine in 1999 as a missionary, when he realized that the various religious confessions needed to coordinate and communicate with each other, and develop their leadership. The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations has been in existence since 1996; according to Dr. Kellner, Ukraine is one of the most diverse and certainly the most religiously tolerant society of all the former USSR republics. At the behest of the various congregations, the International Center for Christian Leadership was founded, to provide leadership training and development.
When asked why he has become so deeply involved with Ukraine, Dr. Kellner explains his long association by referring to Ukraine as “not a country that you visit, but a mountain that falls on you.”
When Dr. Kellner returned to Ukraine following the beginning of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, he became aware of the incredible humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the migration of residents from Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. People throughout the world were willing to help, but there was no coordinated mechanism for gathering the needed supplies, transporting them to Ukraine and expeditiously delivering them to those who truly needed assistance.
Save Ukraine Now was founded to respond to the current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk has affected 5 million people, with 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Ukraine.
SUN works directly with the Office of the President of Ukraine in providing essential items including food, medical supplies and winter clothing. It has created a unique paradigm of cooperation among government, NGOs and religious communities that will save lives now, but also provides a framework to help Ukraine rebuild and become a prosperous and stable democratic state. In providing humanitarian aid, SUN works through a distribution network of 12,000 to 15,000 local congregations.
SUN’s current push is through a project titled the “Ukraine Survival Campaign,” in which local churches and community organizations in the United States are filling containers with the necessities of life, that are then shipped to Ukraine for distribution through the local congregations.
Save Ukraine Now recently was asked to spearhead a fund-raiser in Detroit. Dr. Kellner referred to the organizers as the “Babushka Brigade.” Many of these individuals were experienced in collecting aid for orphans and other distressed groups. Similar organizations throughout the U.S. have reached out to Save Ukraine Now to provide funding to send containers of provisions to aid the refugees.
In response to a question, Dr. Kellner explained the distribution network in Ukraine and assured the audience that a system of checks and balances was in place to make certain that the humanitarian assistance was directed to those places where it was most needed. He is working closely with the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate, spearheaded by Patriarch Filaret.
In conclusion, Dr. Kellner thanked Selfreliance UAFCU for hosting this event.
(Photos of this event are available on the credit union’s website, www.selfreliance.com, in Community Photos, as well as on SUAFCU’s Facebook page.)
Solomiya Saldan contributed to this report.