Minnesotans answer call to support Ukrainians

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a damaged city center
Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at a damaged city center after a Russian air raid in Chernigiv, Ukraine on Thursday, March 3, 2022. Russian forces have escalated their attacks on crowded cities in what Ukraine's leader called a blatant campaign of terror.
Dmytro Kumaka | AP Photo

Gov. Tim Walz has proclaimed Sunday as "Ukrainian Solidarity Day" in Minnesota and a rally is planned at the state capitol.

"This is a key opportunity for us not just to come out and express our solidarity through a rally or through an event, but to really make sure that we put our money where our mouth is, as it relates to the Ukrainian people,” said Stephen Vitvitsky, who is with the Minnesota Ukrainian American Advocacy Committee.

He said a coalition of ethnic groups will be at the Capitol to voice support for Ukrainians confronting the Russian invasion and to tell people what they can do to help.

"There are things that we can do from calling our elected representatives to donating financially to support Ukrainians and Ukraine. And so while there's been much done to help Ukraine defend itself, and to hold Russia accountable, there's still so much more we can do,” Vitvitsky said. “Ukrainians desperately need a no fly zone to help them protect themselves from Russian rockets, Russian war planes that are bombing civilians.”

The rally is set to start at 3:30 p.m.

Helping refugees

Meanwhile, other people with Minnesota ties are in Europe helping Ukrainian refugees.

Students come from all over the country to Minnesota to train as missionaries at Bethany Global University. After two years at the Bloomington campus, they travel abroad to intern as missionaries.

Several students went to Hungary, which borders Ukraine, in August to work with local churches there.

Dan Germo, international mission director at Bethany International, said the team of nine is now helping distribute food and clothing to refugees, and setting up mobile homes for shelter.

"They're also doing kids’ programs with the kids, because there's a lot of kids involved in this. And obviously, (they’re) going through a lot of trauma,” he said.

The Bethany students have been interning as missionaries in Hungary since August, after training for two years at the Minnesota campus.

Germo said they're not a relief organization, “but when there's a need like this, we respond in whatever way we can in partnership with others that are trying to do the same,” he said.

Minneapolis-based Alight, formerly the American Refugee Committee, has sent a handful of people to Poland to help with relief efforts. CEO Jocelyn Wyatt said they're working with other relief groups, like the Catholic Sisters, to get help to Ukrainians fleeing the fighting, and remaining in the Russian Army's path.

"Our team is working to mobilize and gather supplies and get them into Ukraine — doing things like providing sanitary supplies and medical supplies, basic health goods, cell phone chargers, emergency food supplies and getting them into hospitals and clinics and the people that are in bomb shelters," she said.

Wyatt said that although her agency is well-known for helping resettle refugees, they have long leaned forward to help people as they flee their native countries. She said monetary donations are most effective as the exodus from Ukraine surges. Alight is taking donations at wearealight.org.

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