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Michigan groups rallying to help Ukraine amid Russia invasion

Ukrainian flag
Michigan organizations are donating supplies, providing support and gathering intelligence to help Ukrainians as conflict with Russia escalates. (Shutterstock)

WARREN— Michigan security, refugee and cultural groups are organizing safe routes, shipping medical supplies and providing support to Ukraine as war with Russia escalates. 

Several organizers held demonstrations opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the last few weeks. Among the organizers was Lesia Florchuck, president of the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren.

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Michigan is home to an estimated 39,000 Ukrainian-Americans, and a large portion of them live in Warren in Macomb County. 

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Florchuck is a first-generation immigrant, her parents were born in Ukraine and moved to Canada. She and her husband have several relatives living in Lviv, Ukraine, and she said she hasn’t been able to get a hold of them since the Russian aggression began on Feb. 24.

“I was shocked (Russian President Vladimir) Putin kept saying Ukraine was the aggressor but I was not surprised it (the invasion) happened,” Florchuck said. 

About a month ago, Florchuck and 30 other volunteers formed the Ukrainian American Crisis Response Committee, which collects medical-grade supplies that are shipped to Poland and taken across the border to help Ukrainians. 

The Ukrainian Cultural Center also donates its space for collections, committee meetings and events. Florchuck said the committee packaged over 70 boxes of medical supplies last week.

Florchuck said the best ways for people to help are through monetary donations and solidarity. The Ukrainian Cultural Center lists several reputable organizations to donate to on its site. 

How to help

Here is a list of reputable organizations that you can donate to support the crisis in Ukraine. 

“(Ukrainians) are looking for monetary goods so they can get drones, military-grade equipment for soldiers, and medical goods for wounded civilians,” Florchuck said. “Also, just keep giving outpouring support by saying kind words and volunteering.”

Metro Detroit private security company The North Group has been helping in Ukraine before the invasion, according to its CEO Steve Hernandez. The company was hired by a Fortune 500 business to create an escape plan for its workers as tensions between Ukraine and Russia began boiling over. 

Since then, Hernandez’s company has sent over several ex-military employees to collect intelligence used to identify safe checkpoints for Ukrainians to travel through. Hernandez said the company’s goal is to guide people through the evacuation process as quickly as possible. 

Hernandez said there are a lot of areas in Ukraine that are permissible for travel, which his company identifies and uses to plan safe routes. 

“We’re using a lot of folks on the ground to build a human intelligence network to where we can source information, catalog it and keep a record of it,” Hernandez said. 

“The reality is this, I can tell someone they can move on Monday, but they might now be able to move using that same route on Tuesday.”

Hernandez’s company also helped evacuate people from Afghanistan when the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021. He called the Afghanistan evacuation process a cakewalk compared to Ukraine. 

“Geopolitically, we’re navigating much differently than we did in Afghanistan,” Hernandez said. “The U.S. is not doing anything when it comes to the evacuation or security stability in Ukraine. It’s all falling on the (non-governmental organizations) and other organizations involved in the humanitarian effort.”

More than 1.7 million Ukrainian refugees have fled since the conflict began, making it the largest mass migration in Europe in decades. The United States has provided $54 million in assistance to Ukrainians and offered temporary protected status to Ukrainians already in the states. 

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that about 75,000 Ukrainians are currently in the United States who will be protected for 18 months unless protections are extended. 

However, the United States has not announced it will take Ukrainian refugees for resettlement. The Biden administration previously said it would take in 125,000 refugees in the 2022 budget year, which does not include the 76,000 Afghan refugees who came to the states after the American withdrawal. 

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Sandy Macari-Devitt, a refugee resettlement specialist for Bethany Christian Services in Traverse City, is currently supporting families that settled in Michigan from Ukraine. Macari-Devitt said the group has settled about 55 Ukrainian refugees in the Traverse City area since 2017. 

“Just before the crisis hit in February, we resettled a family of four with two young children. They were one of the last families to get here,” Macari-Devitt said. “Were working with people whose loved ones are in Ukraine, hiding and desperately trying to escape. We’re seeing what we can do to escalate their cares.”

Macari-Devitt helps the Ukrainian community she helped settle by answering phone calls, checking in on families and providing information. 

Macari-Devitt said the immigration process is complicated, but the agency will be prepared when Ukrainian refugees arrive to the United States. 

“We’re supporting our community, trying to gather as much information, and helping people day by day as things change,” Macari-Devitt said.

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