A woman holds a Ukraine flag during a rally last February at the start of the Russian invasion of its neighbor. | SARAH A. MILLER, Idaho Statesman
NAMPA (Idaho Statesman) — On March 11, 2022 — just two weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began — Kimberly resident Rob Sturgill traveled to Ukraine to help transport about 60 people to safety in neighboring Poland.
With the conflict now a year old, Sturgill is back in Ukraine for the fourth time, having traveled there Friday.
Sturgill told the Idaho Statesman that the first two trips were focused on transporting women and children out of Ukraine — they make up 90% of the people fleeing the crisis, according to the UN Refugee Agency. His next two trips focused on bringing in supplies, including commercial mixers to make bread and other food; as well as firewood and winter clothes.
In 2014, Sturgill started a charity, Type of Wood, after traveling to the Philippines following a typhoon that flattened portions of the country and killed thousands. Last year, the organization began collecting donations for the crisis in Ukraine.
“The circumstances have gotten more and more grim in the sense that you’ve got folks living in basements and in root cellars to try to stay alive,” Sturgill told the Statesman in a phone interview.
The UN Refugee Agency estimated that approximately 17.6 million people in Ukraine will need humanitarian assistance in 2023.
“Idahoans have made a difference,” Sturgill said. “The needs are still there. We’re currently in the process of sending semi-trucks of building supplies down to help rebuild homes that have been destroyed, and all of that is supported by a lot of donations from Idaho and Utah.”
Sturgill said 100% of the donations that go to Type of Wood go toward sending aid to Ukraine. His travel expenses and accommodations, he said, are paid out of pocket.
Rob Sturgill’s group brought along medical supplies on their journey to Poland, where they are helping to shuttle Ukrainian refugees away from the Russian invasion. | Courtesy Rob Sturgill
UKRAINIAN WELCOME CENTER SAYS IDAHOANS CAN HELP
The Ukrainian Welcome Center, based in Nampa, opened in May 2022 to offer refugees a safe place to stay after fleeing the Russian invasion.
The center’s director, Tina Polishchuk, told the Statesman that the organization has served about 450 people in the past year. The center helps refugees get access to food, clothing, housing, transportation and employment in Idaho.
Polishchuk said the rate of Ukrainian families coming to the center continues to grow. She said her team welcomed 17 new families in January.
“Right now what we’re seeing is that the new people coming in have increased instances of PTSD,” she said in a phone interview. “Some of the individuals that are coming right now were in an active war zone for months. We have families that lived in bunkers for months.”
What can Idahoans do to help? Polishchuk said she encourages people to give their “time, talents or treasure” to the Ukrainian Welcome Center.
From volunteering or using a concert to raise funds for the center, Polishchuk said community support in the Treasure Valley has helped her team succeed at helping refugees feel welcome here.
“You see flags everywhere that stand with Ukraine, so when they’re coming to a community that’s welcoming to them, it makes our jobs a lot easier, because they’re not concerned about something that’s going to make their journey even more difficult than it already is,” she said.
The center accepts donations on its website. It does not send money overseas. “We only help people that walk through our doors,” Polishchuk said. “All of our funding stays here locally and helps the individuals that are served (in our) area.”
On Jan. 6, the Biden administration announced that it would send an additional $3.075 billion in security assistance to Ukraine.
“Some people say, ‘Why are we spending so much money over there?’” Polishchuk said. “Ukraine used to have a lot of nuclear warheads. It was a nuclear power, but they agreed to give up their nuclear weapons under the condition that if they were ever attacked, the U.S. would protect them.”
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In June, Risch met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and said he would push for legislation that would provide Ukraine with defense forces. Risch introduced a resolution over a week ago that would recognize Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a genocide.
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