Ukraine: My Personal Journey. And Pleas for Your Help.

"I'm not going to be able keep working for you. Instead, I've decided to go teach English in The Ukraine."

That is an approximation of a much longer conversation I had in the early 1990s with my then intern, Dan Cook.

To be honest, it was my first time ever even thinking about the former Soviet satellite.

Dan didn't speak Ukrainian or Russian. He had never been to eastern Europe. But it didn't matter.

So off he went, returning six months after the fact full of wonder and excitement for the people and country of Ukraine, with a gift or two for yours truly to mark his time away from the good ol' U-S-of-A.

Fast forward nearly three decades to the first weeks of 2022, and (news junkie that I am), I found myself watching reports flow in from eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia as it became more and more apparent that Vladimir Putin was going to thrust his country into an unprovoked war against a smaller neighbor and former member of the USSR.

"It's 2014 all over again," I found myself thinking, harking back to the year that Russian troops in non-insignia-bearing green uniforms marched into the Crimea Peninsula under trumped-up claims of needing to protect Russian citizens.

The afternoon of Monday, February 28, however, found me unexpectedly on the steps of the Utah Capitol, standing and sitting front row of what grew to become a rally of 1,500 concerned citizens, politicians and local media.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox addressing the audience at the "Utah Stands With Ukraine" rally on the steps of the Utah Capitol Building on Monday, 28 February 2022. Photo by the author.

The purpose? A quickly formed "Utah Stands With Ukraine" rally.

Attendees heard speeches from elected officials, former Ukrainians, and Utahns who had ties the Breadbasket of Europe, along with separate prayers from a rabbi and an orthodox priest, mingled with inspirational songs, as well as chants from the crowd shouting allegiance to Ukraine and condemning President Putin.

As for Utah Governor Spencer Cox, he ordered a Ukrainian flag be flown above the State Capitol Building.

And for only the second time in history, he also ordered that the outside of the Capitol Building be bathed in colored lights – sky blue and bright yellow – to symbolize and match the coloring of the Ukrainian flag.

The Utah State Capitol Building bathed in blue and yellow lights at dusk on Monday, 28 February 2022, with the Ukrainian flag flying over the eastern portico of the building. Photo taken by the author.

Later that evening, numerous businesses and organizations throughout the State of Silicon Slopes took similar steps to show their support for Ukraine and its people.

Vivint Smart Home Arena, the Utah Jazz, and their ownership show support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people on Monday, 28 February 2022. Photo by the author.

On the drive home that evening I spoke with a close friend, a former member of the U.S. military and intelligence community who, as a civilian, had traveled on business to Ukraine numerous times over the past decade.

He had dined with them, visited their homes, hosted some in Utah, and become dear friends with many Ukrainians.

"I spoke to one such friend just yesterday," he explained. "He was in a subway, seeking shelter from the attacks. And he could hear the explosions nearby."

Another friend, Ihor Rudych, shared the following two photos on LinkedIn last week after he flew to Poland recently and then made his way to Kviv, Ukraine to get two of his brother's children out of the country to safety.

March 2022 photo of residents seeking safety in a bomb shelter of a children's hospital in Kviv, Ukraine. Exact date of photo unknown. Photo taken by Ihor Rudych.
March 2022 photo of a bombed apartment building in Kviv, Ukraine. Exact date of photo unknown. Photo taken by Ihor Rudych.

Now, four weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, data company Statista reports that nearly 3.5 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland since hostilities began, the vast majority seeking safety in neighboring Poland.

Put in context, that is over 8% of the population gone, perhaps forever, in under 30 days.

Personally, I found myself nearly numb from the sights, sounds and senselessness of Putin's Pride, unsure of what or how or even if I could help.

What Can be Done, If Anything?

So it was that two days ago – Wednesday, March 15 (Beware the Ides of March, Vladimir) – that I finally turned to the Internet to ask for help:

"I need your help: I have this growing sense about Utahns & Utah-based orgs that are helping/trying to help #Ukraine & #Ukrainians, but I can't identify any specific ones. Can you?

"I am looking for specific names of organizations, #businesses, #nonprofits, government agencies, and individuals (tied to Utah or not) who are specifically providing #charitable help to #Ukrainian#refugees, businesses in Ukraine, etc."
Copy of my LinkedIn post from Wednesday, 15 March 2022.

And not unexpectedly, LinkedIn came through. Or more precisely, my friends and connections on social media did.

All told, over 30 recommendations flowed in through the Comments field to that Post in under 36 hours.

An alphabetized list of recommendations that I received of organizations working to support Ukrainian refugees and Ukraine included

{NOTE:  I extend my special thanks to friends and colleagues for their social media outreach and support to this small effort to help Ukrainian refugees and those devastated by this immoral action in Ukraine (listed alphabetically by last name), namely:  Nate Bagley; Logan Bolan; Tara Borschetti; Matthew Bowman; Erika Charles; Mary Crafts; Coray Christensen; Krystal Davis; Colleen Dick; Earl Foote; Owen Fuller; Jeff Hymas; Jesse Levin; Danen Lynn; Derek Nunner; Erika (Lacayo) Atwood; Iliya Krutker; Boston McClary; Russ Page; Joel Mackay Smith, Julie James Moselle; Jess Rees; Michelle Pearson; BriAnn Rachelle; Allyse Sedivy; Travis Pointer; Deidra Smith; Mark America Smith; Joe Staples; Devin Thorpe; Morgan Williamson; and Sergeii Zabigailo, among others.}

And then I got a news release from Larry H. Miller Company about its Driven to Assist program targeting the Ukrainian Crisis.

LHM Company's Driven to Assist Pledges up to $2MM in Matching Donations for Ukrainian Relief

Early Thursday morning (March 17), Larry H. Miller Company distributed a news release with an update about its efforts to help relieve suffering in Ukraine and among Ukrainian refugees.

To date, the press release explained, that Utahn's had donated goods and supplies to fill the equivalent of over 13 semi-truckloads for Ukrainian relief efforts.

An overflowing Driven to Assist donation location of the Larry H. Miller Company and the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation. Photo provided by both companies 17 March 2022.

In addition, Utahn's and Utah organizations have also donated over $1 million to the Driven to Assist charitable program of Larry H. Miller Company and the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, donations that will be matched dollar-for-dollar (up to $2 million in matching funds).

These matching funds are possible because of contributions from the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation, the Todd and Andie Pedersen Family, Ryan and Ashley Smith, Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation, Kem and Carolyn Gardner Family, the Huntsman Family Foundation, Jeremy and Kristin Andrus Family Foundation, George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Ron and Janet Jibson Family Foundation, Bert and Lynnie Zimmerli Family Foundation, Ann and Mitt Romney Family, Brent and Jill Bishop, Zions Bank, and other anonymous donors.

According to Gail Miller, chairman of the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation,

"The outpouring of generosity and love we’ve seen from this drive is absolutely astounding. Your donations from a pair of socks or one dollar up to pallets of blankets and truckloads of diapers add up, and each act of kindness matters. Thank you for making a difference and enriching lives here at home and around the world."

Community partners of the Driven to Assist program include

  • Utah Food Bank (transporting and storing donations);
  • Show Up Utah (organizing volunteer efforts, including sorting donations and note cards for Ukrainian children);
  • Vivint Arena, Rio Tinto Stadium, Smith’s Ballpark, Daybreak, LiveDaybreak, Larry H. Miller Megaplex Theatres at Jordan Commons, Thanksgiving Point, and Legacy Crossing (serving as collection points for donated items);
  • Intermountain Healthcare (providing transportation from donation drop-off locations to the storage facility and other large donations);
  • Sister Goods (encouraging the donation of period products);
  • dōTERRA (donating two pallets of emergency hygiene kits);
  • Sunrun (donating 1,500 solar lights);
  • Sew Sweet Minky Designs (donating 1,600 blankets);
  • Onset Financial (donating 150 boxes of emergency items); and
  • Minky Couture (donating 900 blankets).

And then, thanks to the LinkedIn algorithm gods, I got a pleasant surprise late yesterday afternoon.

The Unexpected Gift from LinkedIn and a Personal Plea to Give

One of the thing that's both a blessing and a curse of the algorithms created by companies like LinkedIn is that they track your interests and activities online so they can put similar content within your social media feeds.

Given that my LinkedIn post from Wednesday was attracting a fair amount of interest on the site around Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees, it's no surprise that I would have at least one Post show-up in my feed related to these topics.

And it did, but not from a source I expected.

Actually, the LinkedIn Post in question was from Thomas Wright, the President/Principal Broker of Summit Sotheby's International Realty in Park City, Utah.

Turns out that Wright and his partner also own six additional Sotheby’s International Realty brokerages in Colorado; Lake Tahoe, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Palm Springs, California; Reno, Nevada; and Sun Valley, Idaho.

{NOTE: In total, the combined brokerages produced $15 billion in transaction volume in 2021.}

This is also the same Thomas Wright who has served as the Vice Chairman of the Republican National Committee and ran for Utah's governorship in 2020 on the Republican ticket.

What I did not know about Wright until yesterday, however, was that he happened to be one of the first full-time missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve a mission within Ukraine, something he disclosed in a personal LinkedIn Post about a week ago, a Post that "magically" showed-up in my LI feed yesterday.

Wright arrived in Kviv, Ukraine on 21 July 1992, almost 11 months to the day after 93% of Ukrainian adults voted overwhelmingly for independence.

Just over a week later, Wright wrote in his journal:

“I have been wondering since I got my mission assignment in January if communism could make a comeback here? But, even after only a few days here, I can tell you that the more people I talk to, the more I realize how little desire they have for that or to be affiliated with Russia. They value their freedom and independence.”

When I spoke with Wright early last evening, his passion and love for Ukraine and its people was palatable.

Referring to the current crisis in and around Ukraine, Wright said, "It's a tragic situation that we all want to do more to help them. I've spent time with these people in these cities, and they were really good to a young guy (Wright); they took me in."

Wright explained that he and several of the former Latter-day Saint missionaries who served in Ukraine have created a Group Chat to stay in touch, and now to try and offer assistance to the Ukrainians they met many years ago, LDS or not.

"We were able to get one Ukrainian woman some medicine (she was unable to get for herself)," Wright said.

He also stated that they funded and created caravans to help Ukrainians seek safety outside of their country.

"We're just doing what those people did for us. Regardless of belief, we're trying to help them. We love them. We feel their pain," Wright added.

He continued:

"I'm so proud of them (the Ukrainian people). I stand with them. I admire their courage. I look forward to being with them when they prevail."

When asked about his thoughts about President Vladimir Putin, Wright poignantly stated:

"There are those in the world who value power over life. (But) freedom and liberty and standing up for human rights really matter."

As our conversation was wrapping up, I asked Wright what message he would like to share with Utahns, to which he replied:

"Human life is precious, (so) any little thing you can do helps. Every dollar, every prayer, every flag we purchase, every Post, they all help. We can all do something. (And) it all matters."

That is the thought that sticks with me at 2:55am as I wrap-up this article:

"It all matters."

And perhaps because of that sentiment, that encouragement, I feel a little less melancholy, at bit less ennui than I did Thursday afternoon.

A Personal Plea for Help

If you have not done so yet, I encourage you to examine your bank accounts or credit card balance(s), and, if possible, make a donation of some kind, of even the smallest amount, to help alleviate the pain and suffering of the Ukrainian refugees and the people of Ukraine.

It may not seem like a lot, but this (I believe) is an example of where every little bit can and will help.

And if you are feeling like I was two days ago – "Where do I even start?" – don't worry.

The 30+ charities and charitable programs listed above in this article are a great place to start.

I stand with Ukraine. I hope you do too.

Thank you.

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