Mercyhurst Equality of Women (MEOW) and Pi Sigma Alpha have shipped the first load of material donations, 250 pounds of children’s clothing, to over 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in war-torn Ukraine.
Lena Surzshko-Harned, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Political Science and faculty adviser for MEOW, has spearheaded the fundraiser and donation drive since early February. Her interest in assisting the IDPs came from following connections in Ukraine via Facebook and saw the opportunity for Mercyhurst to assist the volunteer work occurring.
“That was the time when the fighting was intensified, right about the second Minsk agreement was about to be negotiated. I was following the activity of these people and thought to myself, why not?” Surzskho-Harned said.
While there are several recognized charities operating in the region, the groups Surzskho-Harned and the two student organizations are assisting are unnamed grassroots organizations located in the heavily populated centers of the country.
“They are pretty much volunteer groups that come together to help internally displaced persons who are running away from the war,” said Surzshko-Harned. “This particular group to whom I have sent four packages this weekend are located in Odessa.”
The city of Odessa on the Black Sea has been flooded with refugees due to its proximity to the region of Crimea, where much of the combat has taken place since 2014.
The donations drive is calling for materials such as diapers and clothes for women, children and men. The populations which the drive is helping are primarily the women and children affected by the war.
“They’re helping women and children because those are the populations that are proportionally affected by crisis,” senior Forensic Anthropology major and President of Pi Sigma Alpha, Sara Fox said.
The generous outpouring of assistance from the university has given the fundraiser a good jumpstart, Fox said.
“We’ve seen an incredible response from the university so far. Many faculty and students have already given donations, which is why we were able to get enough for the first load so early into spring term,” Fox said.
There is also a need for monetary donations to help pay for shipping the materials to Ukraine.
“It’s quite expensive. Although the organization has a reduced rate, it is, as you can imagine pretty expensive to send something from the United States to Ukraine,” Fox said.
Pi Sigma Alpha and MEOW are planning fundraisers of their own to help defray the costs of shipping, according to senior Intelligence Studies and Political Science major Stefani Baughman.
“We’re planning a fundraiser through a bake sale and a chocolate bar sale, on Wednesday and Thursday all day in Zurn. So we’re hoping by raising funds that way, we can contribute to that,” Baughman said.
The conflict has a personal connection for Surszhko-Harned, who is a Ukrainian citizen. The fundraiser is a way for Mercyhurst to affect a conflict which has incurred a massive cost in material damage and human life. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, there are 1,168,600 IDPs as of March 2015.
“The Ukrainian war is the largest and bloodiest war in Europe since the Yugoslav war. And it has had a tremendous amount of infrastructural and human cost that has been laid on eastern Ukraine. The internally displaced persons are families with children who are fleeing their homes and trying to find a better, stable position at least away from war in the rest of Ukraine. We’re trying to make their lot a little easier,” Surszhko-Harned said.
The drive will continue as long as people are willing to donate, Surszhko-Harned said.
“I’m trying to identify a few other, maybe recognized organizations. There’s a specific family in Kiev that are from Luhansk that we can try to help. So, as long as people are willing to make donations, I’m willing to ship them across the sea,” Surszhko-Harned said.