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Ukraine refugees

August 10, 2022

Building a Chain of Trust in Ukraine

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By Olga Shafran

This morning, I woke up to the news of a rocket attack in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, that killed 23 people (the final tally is expected to be much higher), including a toddler who was out for a walk with her mom. Minutes before the rocket killed her daughter and left her fighting for her life, the mom posted a selfie video on Instagram of the two of them chatting as the little girl pushed her stroller.

I opened Slack for Ukraine TrustChain, a nonprofit I co-founded, to coordinate posting about the attack on our various social media channels — part of our work to raise awareness and get people the help they need in this war-torn country. One of my fellow volunteers said she could create an infographic in Canva.

“I have a template saved from Kremenchuk,” she wrote. She was referring to the rocket attack on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, where two weeks ago 20 people were killed and 92 injured or reported missing. And that infographic was in turn created from the one we made for the Kramatorsk train station attack in April.

The list keeps growing, and my heart breaks anew each time. Prior to Feb. 24, 2022, I had a vague knowledge of the geography of Ukraine. I knew that Kyiv is near the north, close to Belarus where I was born and lived until my family immigrated to Chicago when I was 11. By the time the train station was attacked, it was more than a headline for me. I knew there were people at the station who were making their way to Dnipro, to a shelter created and run by one of the volunteer teams Ukraine TrustChain funds. They’d sent a large van we had purchased to evacuate the survivors.

By the time the train station was attacked, it was more than a headline for me.

I found out about the attack in Kremenchuk before the news broke, from the Telegram group for an aid distribution center in that town. The group has 1,271 members, each one (besides me) is a representative of an internally displaced family, people who fled the war or lost their homes, and moved to a “safer place.” In early May, the United Nations estimated that over 8 million people in Ukraine were internally displaced. My job in the group is to download photos and videos of the aid being purchased and distributed and communicate updates to our volunteers in the U.S. who update our donors on how their money is being spent.

Beginnings

Ukraine TrustChain started when my friend Daniel found a way to get money directly into the hands of actual people in Ukraine. In the early days of the war, people were finding creative ways to get their money directly to other people. Some were booking Airbnbs they didn’t plan to stay in; others were buying things on Etsy that they did not actually want shipped. Daniel realized that sending money to random people directly was not effective, and instead chose to send our money to the people who were already helping others. We started fundraising immediately.

Some of my first donations came from my generous colleagues in the math and science departments of Niles West High School, part of AFT Local 1274, my home away from home for the last 19 years. They paid for the food prepared and delivered to the subway stations in Kyiv, a small bus and fuel that allowed the evacuation of an orphanage in Kherson on the day before the city fell, but perhaps even more important, they made us feel like we can do something. In a time of shock, horror and the utter helplessness I was feeling, doing something helped me breathe.

They paid for the food prepared and delivered to the subway stations in Kyiv, a small bus and fuel that allowed the evacuation of an orphanage out of Kherson on the day before the city fell.

With this realization, our small group of friends and acquaintances registered as an official organization. We chose the name Ukraine TrustChain because we saw ourselves as a link in a chain of trusted connections. People who trusted each of us personally gave us money long before it was tax-deductible. We passed it along to trusted volunteers in Ukraine who were shopping, cooking, driving, evacuating people — all while risking their own lives — long before they grew their operations into teams of hundreds, all working to help Ukrainians survive.

Helping tens of thousands

To date, we have been able to send $1,379,412 to Ukraine. Our teams have evacuated 38,235 people and continue to feed, house, provide medicine, repair schools, outfit hospitals, and so much more. Unlike large international organizations, we operate with no overhead, and continue to pour hours of our own time and money into expanding our reach. We fund aid and evacuations for Ukrainians in the active war zone.

This work is not going to stop the war in Ukraine. But for the individuals it helps, it can be the difference between life or death. It can bring hope.

If you’d like to donate, use this link. Your donation will go directly to the front lines, tonight.

Olga Shafran

About the Author

Olga Shafran is a high school math teacher at Niles Township High School north of Chicago and a member of the North Suburban Teachers Union, AFT Local 1274. She is one of several educators and other professionals who volunteer to keep Ukraine TrustChain operating.

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