Local Ukrainian-Americans raise funds for critical supplies

Zhenya (left) and Lily Goncharov have been raising money and sending supplies, including the bulletproof vests they're wearing, to friends and family in war-torn Ukraine. Contributed photo.

An extremely exhausted, but passionately committed young couple — Lily and Yevhen (“Zhenya”) Goncharov — have been dedicating every waking hour for over a month to helping their friends and family still in Ukraine stay alive. Their defensive aid is routed to the most dangerous areas of Ukraine that have the most urgent needs.

They began focusing their efforts to help on bulletproof vests almost right away.

“[That is] because of the specific dire requests from my friends on the ground, indicating time and time again that this is the most urgent need,” Zhenya stated. “My friends were saying, ‘We’re thankful for blankets and food, but we need gear to protect us from shelling and flying bullets.’”

The two professionals — Lily is an ICU nurse and Zhenya works for a biotech firm — have taken time off from their jobs and are working full-time to help the Ukrainian people any way they can. Both were born in Ukraine, but Lily came to the U.S. as a child, and Zhenya came to this country about 15 years ago as an exchange student.

“I couldn’t do my job anymore knowing that my family and friends were in such danger,” Zhenya said emotionally. “Every other day, I hear about the death of someone I know. They need the supplies yesterday. I can’t sleep … My grandparents’ house exploded.”

Lily said they’re constantly on the line to people in Ukraine.

“We’re on about a hundred phone calls a day; and we’re on the phone day and night [because of the time difference between here and the Ukraine],” Lily explained. “We have such close connections to people on the ground. The people don’t have jobs right now. One of our passions is to help them find online jobs, but the first priority is to save their lives.”

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Lily (left) and Zhenya Goncharov say they are on the phone “day and night” with friends and family dealing with the unrest in Ukraine. Contributed photo.

“We’re doing this for the people, it’s not about us,” the couple emphasizes. “[The war] seems to be escalating by the hour and these are our people, and we can’t just sit and watch.”

“I can’t control the political world, I just want my people to be safe,” Zhenya added. 

On calls to Lviv, he can hear explosions in the background. He and Lily have Instagram photos of bullet holes in their friends’ windshields. They have gotten calls directly from people trapped in basements, asking to be rescued. 

The couple has been sending bulletproof vests and other critical lifesaving needs to civilians risking their lives to help other civilians — like delivery truck drivers going into dangerous areas and rescuers trying to get bombing victims out of the rubble. 

“None of the supplies are trickling down to the civilians, and there are critical areas full of civilians,” Lily described. “Even the military doesn’t have enough of this equipment. Every delivery we make through our efforts goes to a specific person to make sure it gets to the right place.”

Almost immediately after each delivery, Lily and Zhenya begin receiving text messages of “thank you” and photos of civilian friends and family wearing the bulletproof vests and helmets.

The couple’s efforts started shortly after the war in Ukraine began on Feb. 22. They talked to family and friends about helping. They used their own savings accounts and began posting messages on social media. Once $50,000 was raised, they were able to purchase 200 bulletproof vests from a store in Sacramento and get them sent to Ukraine.

Word-of-mouth about what the couple was doing traveled like lightning, and before they knew it, suppliers and donors were contacting them. Every share or retweet seemed to bring more donations and offers.

The first few shipments of supplies were practically delivered by hand to Ukraine, but the couple got more sophisticated as the weeks went on. 

“It’s been crazy because there have been so many hurdles and new rules at the border,” Lily said.

At first, brave American volunteers paid for their own airline tickets and flew from California to Warsaw, Poland, (which borders Ukraine) with suitcases full of the supplies. Over 60 suitcases were delivered to a warehouse in Poland, and later loaded onto trucks to cross the border.

As the weeks went on, Zhenya worked tirelessly to create a better and faster pathway for the goods to reach their final destination. He was able to create a logistical supply chain, working with several different U.S. logistics companies that want to help the Ukraine, and obtain the official documents needed to cross all border points. 

At first, it took two to four weeks for supplies shipped from the U.S. to reach the Ukraine, but times have now been shortened dramatically — the current shipment will arrive there in just one day.

Five shipments have been sent so far, including not only bulletproof vests for adults and children, and helmets and medical kits used on the battlefield, but drones donated by the B.H. Drone Co., Oakley military grade special sunglasses, and Sig Sauer ECHO3 thermal sights.

Among the friends and family still in the Ukraine are all of Zhenya’s childhood friends; who are now fighting in his hometown of Irpin — outside of Kyiv, the capital. It’s one of the towns that, if it falls to the Russians, will make it easier for them to take over the country.

Just this week, Zhenya, decided he would personally fly to Poland with an additional 22 suitcases full of critical supplies, going directly to Irpin. 

The couple has named their organization the Irpin Defensive Aid Coalition for now, with plans to continue until the war is resolved. The website is still a work in progress, but anyone interested in donating to this cause can go to: https://mygiving.secure.force.com/GXDonateNow?id=a0U6S00000cjxAbUAI