Since Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, Baltimoreans have stepped up to help refugees with shelter and other aid.
As a spring Ukrainian counteroffensive gears up, Baltimoreans assisting those in need say such U.S. humanitarian help is as vital as military gear.
“In terms of U.S. support of Ukraine as a whole, that is what will win or lose the war,” said Liz Davis-Edwards, founder of WelcomeNST, a national nonprofit that has housed Ukranians in Baltimore. “It requires the help of the U.S. for them to fight.”
One Ukrainian family, Yurri and Maryna Slepak and their three children, resettled in Baltimore late last year. The change of scenery has been particularly beneficial to the children.
“It’s life changing, and it’s legitimately life saving,” Davis-Edwards said. “It’s been incredibly traumatic for the kids to be in danger–missile strikes nearby and people dying. [Resettlement] gives them a chance to live and feel safe.”
While Maryna and the children have been getting acquainted with Charm City, Yurri is back in Ukraine helping WelcomeNST resettle more families as its Ukrainian director. The nonprofit hired him when it saw how driven he was to help his people.
“He’s an amazing human being,” Davis-Edwards said. “He’s just constantly, constantly on the lookout to help people.”
This relationship between Baltimore and Ukraine is ongoing and deepens every day.
Ana Sprinkle, a member of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canton, chatted over coffee after mass recently. She had just talked with cousins in western Ukraine that morning.
“Fortunately they’re safe, but they walk on eggshells. When they sleep they sleep in their clothes in case they have to get out of the house,” she said. “Up until a year ago they had a relatively normal life.”
The Humeniuk family also attends the church. Steve Humeniuk is on the church council which has directed the congregation’s efforts to support their motherland. To date they have collected at least $200,000 in supplies filling five rental truck loads.
“We have several boxes of medical supplies that just arrived the other day,” he said. “We gather military equipment as far as clothing, medicine, tactical-wear. Once we get enough together, we ship it to a church in D.C. They gather things from all over the East Coast and ship it to Ukraine for humanitarian aid.”
Last year St. Michael’s directed 100 percent of its sales of pierogies, an Eastern European dumpling, toward the funding of aid to Ukraine. The pierogi sales have been a delicious way to support the cause, and much of the local neighborhood has dropped by to donate too.
“We’ve been receiving lots of donations here at the church which is amazing and nice that people are happy to help us,” said Steve’s daughter, Melanie Humeniuk. “Everybody in the community has been dropping by the church.”
As the grinding war enters its second year, the resolution remains in doubt. But for many Ukrainians, there has never been any question that they will have their country back whole, with its democracy intact.
“Ukrainians are amazing,” Davis-Edwards said. “Every Ukrainian you meet is absolutely sure they will win the war. After meeting them, I believe them.”
And a resolved, deeply committed community in Baltimore continues to be a factor in the outcome. “I pray,” Sprinkle said. “That is my hope. That is my salvation. God is good. Whether I see it or not I believe God will take care of what he needs to take care of.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article identified Liz Davis-Edwards as “Liz Davidson,” and Maryna Slepak as “Naryna Slepak.” The article has been updated.