CLIFTON, N.J. – Since Moscow’s brutal invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Holy Ascension Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Clifton, N.J., has undertaken the task of providing direct humanitarian and defensive aid to the besieged country.
The effort was spearheaded by Father Oleksii and Nataliia Holchuk and assisted not only by parishioners, but also by local volunteers, some of whom had no personal connection to Ukraine, but they felt the need to help.
The response was overwhelming. Donations came from virtually every state and Canada. Some of the donations included material goods listed on the parish website, while some individuals simply donated by check or via PayPal. To date, cash donations have totalled $256,000. Church officials expressed thanks to friends and neighbors, township mayors, police departments, and churches and schools who held special fundraising events.
The humanitarian aid was distributed to local trusted organizations and individuals, initially in Poland, then in Kyiv, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Dnipro, Mykolaiv, Kropyvny-tskyi, Poltava, Donetsk, Kremenchuk, Pokrovsk, Zaporizhia and other cities.
With the assistance of transportation services provided by Meest, Dnipro, Velox International and AC Shipping, the church has sent 13 containers – a total of 169 tons – to Ukraine by air and sea.
Items that have been needed in Ukraine and were shipped included medical supplies and equipment, infant food and clothing, hygienic needs and tactical equipment. Urgently needed items in Ukraine were shipped by air. A supply of body armor was also donated by local law enforcement municipalities.
There have been several heartwarming examples in which aid from the church made a significant contribution to help individuals in Ukraine.
First, in Kyiv, an ambulance that had been previously badly damaged was on its daily run transporting orphans out of the city to the safety of a nearby village. On its return filled with scarce provisions, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) exploded in front of the vehicle. As the driver swiftly pressed on the accelerator and cleared the crater, a second RPG exploded where the car had been standing and tore off the rear of the vehicle. A replacement ambulance was found in Poland, purchased by the church and delivered to Kyiv in a matter of days. Three ambulances were eventually purchased in Ukraine for similar purposes.
In Lviv, a pastor’s wife who joined the army to defend her homeland lacked adequate body armor. A Kevlar helmet, vest, throat and neck panels were donated and hand-delivered to her.
In Mykolayiv, a dedicated Ukrainian patriot took his wife and daughter to Germany and returned to fight for his country. He drives a bullet riddled sedan laden with food daily to the needy. He is also part of a paramilitary group that scouts for Russian armaments, targeted for night attacks. He expanded that surveillance activity by using drones and night-vision goggles that were purchased with donated funds.
Recently the church was contacted with a heartbreaking request. Ukraine is experiencing a shortage of body bags. The organization Razom is assembling pallets of body bags to be airlifted to the country. The church has partnered in the effort with Razom.