Refugee in Springs is determined to help her home region of Luhansk
Not even the sparkle of 1,000 holiday lights can assuage Yana Malyk’s troubled heart, knowing that her country has gone dark. There is almost zero power for heat or cooking in Luhansk, an eastern Ukrainian province on the Russian border, due to constant bombings from Vladimir Putin’s forces.
The Ukrainian refugee with movie star looks and the determination of a CEO has launched an initiative to bring generators and heaters to Luhansk, working against the winter clock with the help of her adopted American family.
Ukraine’s supply problem means used equipment is being brought in to restore power. Hospitals, sewage plants and nursing homes are suffering.
Malyk counts her blessings every day that her family is safe in Colorado Springs after a frightening escape from the Russian invasion this summer.
“At first I was very afraid,” she said in an interview with The Gazette about leaving eastern Ukraine for Colorado. “I had big stress, big trauma.”
She is torn between two countries, thankful that her two daughters are in an American school getting good grades, but she’s also feeling homesick and guilty about abandoning Luhansk.
Electric power all but nonexistent
During nine months of fighting in the Luhansk region, as Russian rockets exploded, the electricity went out and the water stopped running there as Putin’s army attempted to freeze the country into surrender.
His forces destroyed 90% of the region’s electrical grid leaving more than 403,000 citizens cold and starving, according to published reports. Power companies are working to repair power lines, but they have warned Ukrainian citizens the dark might not lift until March.
The Russian leader aims to defeat the region as it is critical to Ukraine’s transport and supply chain and sits right along a major route to Crimea.
Stories about elderly people who have frozen to death alone in their homes motivate Malyk the most. She has vowed to bring heat and hot food to community centers, schools, churches and medical centers to get the most heat to the largest groups of people.
This is no easy task
Some citizens in Luhansk’s capitol city of Svatove have been forced underground to stay alive.
“When they do go out to make a fire to cook food or stay warm, they’re shot and killed. It’s the worst form of Russian roulette,” said Whitney Luckett, a Colorado Springs entrepreneur and philanthropist who is sponsoring Malyk’s family. “What you are watching is the Russians’ attempt to eliminate everything Ukrainian.”
A month ago, Malyk contacted the office of the Luhansk governor Serhiy Hayday and asked him what he needed the most. His deputy governor, Oleksiy Smirnov, responded with a short urgent list: hundreds of diesel generators, heaters, head lamps and triple A batteries.
With time running out and temperatures hovering at around 20 degrees, Malyk and the Lucketts launched a Colorado grassroots company, Ukraine Power. The group has filed for nonprofit status but because winter doesn’t slow down for anyone, it has already begun to start fundraising.
The board includes Susan Pattee, board chair of the Bloom Foundation, and co-founder Moss Parker.
For three weeks, knowing “absolutely zero about generators,” they have taken to the internet marketplace and discovered an English Amazon site that eliminates unnecessary U.s.-based shipping costs, she said.
Triple-a batteries? Who knew you could buy them by the thousands?
The need is now
Marc Luckett spends hours on the computer obsessed with pricing batteries in bulk.
“The need is now,” said Luckett from his downtown Colorado Springs office where a mountain bike is mounted on a wall for stress relief rides.
A huge Ukrainian flag flanks the back wall of a windowed room where plans are made by zoom and phone to save the lives of people thousands of miles away trapped in a seemingly unending war.
The situation is hard to imagine for Americans safe in a flurry of holiday shopping and family obligations.
Preparing for festivities is mindset that the Malyks can’t accept just yet. They fled the only home they’ve ever known by car and crisscrossed Europe to eventually arrive at Denver International Airport at midnight on July 15 to Marc Luckett balancing a handful of balloons and a welcome sign.
Lucking out with the Lucketts
These are power families thrown together by horrible circumstance.
The Lucketts own a $60M international logistics company and Malyk has the connections. Malyk owned multiple businesses in Svatove including a women’s health clinic, a travel agency, several commercial buildings and a sunflower seed farm.
She wonders if their home is now occupied by Russian soldiers.
“They searched and took everything they wanted and at the same time they tortured my father because of our family,” she wrote in a text. Her father survived the attack.
“We are very love our house,” she wrote with a crying emoji. “Now I have nothing.”
She aches for the farmers who raise cattle and grow crops in Ukraine’s rich black soil.
“They are hard-working and strong. They have a lot to lose,” she said. “It’s very hard to leave.”
The Malyks are in the United States on humanitarian parole, which allows foreign visitors who are facing an urgent emergency to enter the country. On March 24, the Biden administration announced its intent to welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression.
In Colorado, state officials established a Ukrainian Migrants Task Force. Hundreds of refugees have signed up for services.
The importance of Luhansk
Luhansk People’s Republic, with its rolling hills and sunflower fields, is a critical region for Putin’s forces. It is a direct route to Crimea, a critical seaboard staging ground for Russian troops. Nine months into the back and forth of daily combat, it’s never clear who is controlling what in Luhansk. One day Ukrainian forces reclaim parts of the area and the next, the Russians push back.
The uncertainty hasn’t slowed down Ukraine Power, which is in full swing. Every day, Malyk adds updates from to a growing spreadsheet.
Wednesday, Malyk and Luckett had a zoom with Renew Democracy Initiative, a group founded out of New York by Garry Kasparov dedicated to defending worldwide democracy. Ukraine Power is in active negotiations with the initiative in a grand plan to bring Kasparov, the Russian chess grand master and former world chess champion, to Colorado Springs for public lecture and fundraiser.
Kasparov, who is also chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, has been critical of Putin and often speaks on the platform of freedom versus tyranny.
Sunday, Dec. 3, Ukraine Power’s first fundraiser raised $27,000, which is spent on the company’s first batch of generators, but at $1,000 a pop, the dynamic team is shooting for the moon against time.
“After three weeks of administrative work, we’re just now spreading the word,” said Marc Luckett. “February is too late.”
Source: The Colorado Springs Gazette