Though New Paltz is over 4,000 miles away from Ukraine, members of the community are doing what they can to help Ukrainians.
One community member, Halyna Shepko, was called to action in February as Russian troops began to attack Ukraine. Her friend Volodymyr, whose family was in Ukraine at that time, wanted to organize an event in front of Elting Memorial Library. One of these events was a rally on Feb. 26 in front of Elting Memorial Library. They organized a rally in one day, buying all the blue and yellow fabric that Joann Fabrics had. Shepko sewed those fabrics together to make the Ukrainian flag. After advertising the event online, community members attended to show their support for Ukraine.
These rallies have continued to occur on Main Street outside Elting Memorial Library. Community members gather with posters and flags in what has become known as “Stand for Ukraine” events.
Shepko, who is Ukrainian, works with her son’s Ukrainian American Youth Association to collect medical supplies at Elting Memorial Library, New Paltz High School and Gardiner Library through drop off boxes. Each week volunteers drive to the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kerhonkson, NY, where they pack up the medical supplies to send to Ukraine. Shepko says they are currently packing around 1,000 pounds of supplies a week to be shipped.
Local politicians have been involved in efforts, including State Senator Michelle Hinchey who had a drop off box in her office and Congressman Antonio Delgado who came to the church to help pack boxes and speak to the children there.
Shepko, who is a weaver, has also been involved in efforts to meet the special requests of weavers in Ukraine, like Andriy Pyshkar, who was forced to close his workshop and leave his home in Ukraine. While he is currently in a different part of the country volunteering his efforts to make camouflage nests for the Ukrainian army, Shepko has been personally raising money with her friend to send to Pyshkar, to allow him to purchase newer and more efficient sewing machines to continue his work.
“There are many ways to bring support and by doing things like this, it helps me feel like I’m doing something,” Shepko said.
Shepko’s mother was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, a city that is being decimated by the Russian military. All of her life, she has been a part of a Ukrainian community. “It was always there. It was my home,” Shepko said. “I think this issue is important to all of us, all humans.”
She suggested a discussion or program take place at SUNY New Paltz to inform more people, such as one that occurred on March 1 at Bard College titled “Russia Invades Ukraine: Disruption of the World Order?” Students can also donate and help collect medical supplies, as well as get involved with Ukrainian based organizations like Voices of Children and Razom For Ukraine, where volunteers are helping send humanitarian aid packages and supporting Ukrainian refugees and children.
On March 9, there was a fundraiser for Ukraine in the Fine Arts Building, where art students donated their work to be purchased. The money went to Ukrainian organizations that buyers selected to support.
As a Ukrainian herself, Shepko’s life has been impacted by Ukraine’s endless fight for freedom. She reflected on what’s being lost in Ukraine as a result of Putin’s war, “These museums. These lives. It’s just such a precious thing. Ukraine has had to fight for freedom. My mom survived the 30s, when her father was taken away before she was even born because he was an artist in 1936, and they shot him a year later.”
“People don’t realize our freedom. We take it for granted.”
She stated her gratitude towards everyone in town that has chosen to display the Ukrainian flag in solidarity, “Truly, seeing flags in town brings tears to my eyes. I appreciate everyone who has shown compassion and support.”
Anyone interested in showing support can get involved by either donating medical supplies to the drop box at Elting Memorial Library, donating money to the aforementioned organizations and keeping an eye out on community pages like Facebook for events and rallies being held to support Ukraine.