By Cait Kemp
Ukraine continues to be destroyed by Russian invasion. The nation has been upturned and Ukrainian citizens’ lives have been changed forever. It is half a world away from Springfield, but the devastation is evident, even from afar. And one student with a personal connection to Ukraine is working hard to help from a distance.
For Springfield College student Tetyana Shvyryd, this cause hits extremely close to home. She was born in Ukraine, and moved to South Dakota when she was 6 years old. In 2012, her family moved to Westfield, Mass., and she has lived in Massachusetts ever since.
Although her immediate family, her parents and brother, are here with her in the States, many of Shvyryd’s friends and other family members still live in Ukraine.To say she fears for their safety is an understatement. War is horrifying, and people she once lived close to are experiencing intense fear each and every day.
“I talked to some of my friends there and one thing they said was, ‘What we are seeing feels like a movie, looks like a movie, but it is real life,” said Shvyryd. “I just can’t imagine that. Knowing what is happening to them is tough.”
Shvyryd traveled to Ukraine as recently as January as well as in August. Along with a group of volunteers from New York and Ohio, she assisted at children’s camps over the summer, and brought Christmas joy for the winter.
Now, just a mere three months later, the Ukraine she once knew has become a battleground. She felt so close to the people, yet so far away from what was happening.
She knew she had to do something. She began a donation drive for supplies and funds with the help of her church, Full Gospel Church in Westfield. The groups she traveled abroad with had already started drives in their towns, so she knew she could do it too.
“I decided for myself. I said, ‘We have to do something. You know you can’t just sit back and do nothing,’” said Shvyryd. “So we will do it, combine our efforts.”
From the beginning, the drive has been very successful. Shvyryd was overcome with joy and appreciation at how many people in the community contributed.
“Everybody has been reaching out, asking to donate, asking what they can bring in, asking to volunteer, even. It’s a humbling experience to know that so many people are willing to show up,” Shvyryd said.
Beyond the people in Westfield, Shvyryd’s drive has only continued to grow. After her local news station aired an interview with her, more and more people began to see what she was doing. Her Canva-created flyer and Instagram post was now getting more views than she ever thought possible, and the drive was receiving an overwhelming response of support.
Due to the publicity the drive gained, it began to get attention from across the state. People from Boston, Cape Cod, and other parts of Massachusetts reached out wanting to give donations and volunteer.
“The community is no longer just my church,” Shvyryd said. “The word community has gotten so much bigger to me.”
With the generosity of her growing community, Shvyryd’s drive has been able to ship five containers of supplies to Poland, filled with over 3,000 boxes. Once the shipment arrived in Poland, a nonprofit organization called Good Samaritan took over to distribute and relocate the donations.
Good Samaritan acts as a hub for Ukrainian refugees. Workers brought supplies out in trucks to areas in need, then brought people back to their space to help them and give them a safe place.
Shvyryd’s father and brother wanted to do even more, and flew to Poland last week. Their mission is to use funds and buy supplies while over there, and bring it directly to people in need.
The drive has provided so much, but is not an immediate process. By going themselves, Shvyryd’s father and brother are expediting the time it takes for the boxes to be filled, enough supplies to be collected to fill them, to then be shipped off. They are going first into a war, selflessly to give back to the community they derive from.
Although Shvyryd herself did not go to Poland, she already has plans to go later on and do what she can to help.
“When the war is over, we plan to go there and God willingly we want to be there and help people on the ground whether that’s rebuilding or visiting and providing food, whatever that may be.”
Her heart yearns to help at orphanages, churches and shelters for refugees. Anywhere her help is wanted and welcomed, she is determined to go.
In the meantime, Shvyryd will continue to encourage support and donate to her homeland. With such a successful drive, she has the means to make a difference and keep it going.
“It’s not that big, you know, we’re not going to impact and stop the war but whatever it is, if this box of food is somebody’s answered prayer, to know that that could impact and help somebody has been helpful [to me],” Shvyryd said.
Photo: Tetyana Shvyryd