MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — From fundraisers to teddy bear donations, local residents are finding ways to support the people of Ukraine who are now in their third week of an unprovoked conflict with Russia.
On March 2, Bar Harbor student activists from College of the Atlantic (COA) organized a rally to support those who have faced arrest and detention, and those who have been harmed in Ukraine. The peaceful protest on the Bar Harbor Village Green was organized by COA students Paloma Tejero Caballo, Poorva Singh and Tanvi Koushik and COA faculty member David Feldman.
“I was interested in organizing this event because about 20-25 percent of COA’s full-time students are international and I am friendly with both of our students from Ukraine,” Caballo said.
COA students Alsu Shagieva of Russia and Alya Kiiasko of Ukraine, along with Jackson Laboratory workers from Ukraine, presented their views to those who showed up in solidarity. The COA students who spoke expressed their disapproval of the terror taking place in Ukraine and gave some background about how the political conflict started between the two countries.
To take action, COA students have held two fundraising events and provided conversation space for students and staff who are concerned for the citizens of Ukraine. Ater the recent Village Green rally, students organized a pop-up fundraiser selling art in the college’s cafeteria and held an event at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. Through both fundraisers, the school has raised $1,800 for United Help Ukraine – an organization that provides medical care and humanitarian relief.
“These rallies and fundraisers are going to keep happening,” Cabello said.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, many people became refugees and had to flee their homes. Since the attack on her country, Alyra Kiiashko, one of the two COA students from Ukraine, said her family members and friends had to uproot from Kharkiv. Her loved ones have either relocated to western Ukraine or fled to other countries. “My mother is in Bulgaria. She hosted a bunch of our family members and unfortunately some people stayed in Ukraine, if they are still there,” Kiiashko said.
Kiiashko is grateful for all the people who attended the rallies and fundraisers. “We weren’t trying to represent the ideologies of all countries or start an opinionated debate, but we just want the violence to stop and let peaceful communication be present,” said Kiiasko. On a larger scale, Kiiasko said this war does not only pertain to the two countries involved but also has implications on the notions of freedom, justice and power.
Providing comfort to children
With the help of the community, Tremont fourth-grade teacher Natalia Pajor-Meddaugh and her family set out to collect stuffed animals to send to Ukrainian children. Shortly after the invasion began, Pajor-Meddaugh and her husband explained to their 3-year-old that there are many children without toys. Her family collected a few stuffed animals to donate. After posting on the Facebook site Bar Harbor Barter & Swap that Pajor-Meddaugh would be sending a package to her grandparents in Poland, community members responded.
The Pajor family set up at the Town Hill playground on two occasions and gathered 632 stuffed animals, 12 blankets and several bags of dried goods. Pajor-Meddaugh also set out a donation jar. Between the two collection dates and an additional posting, the family raised over $1,000 that will help with the cost of shipping the items. Whatever is not used for shipping will be donated.
“I’m a local teacher, mother and a human with a family in Poland,” said Pajor-Meddaugh, adding that the images of Ukraine near her family’s country are heartbreaking. Though she said that she feels helpless and saddened by these events, it quickly became important for her family to do some good.
Individuals spurred to action
Included in last week’s issue of the Islander was a birds-eye view of area residents dressed in yellow and blue at Long Pond in Mount Desert to form a human-powered Ukrainian flag. A similar event was organized this past weekend in Bar Harbor.
“I guess I tend to be a person of action. I simply cannot do nothing when I watch something like this happening. I’m not going to look away,” said Gary Allen, who organized the two events. Though Allen does not personally know anyone in Ukraine, he said that he feels that he knows their hearts. He believes activism creates ripples that help victims feel less alone. “We all have energy, and when we send our positivity off into the universe it can overcome darkness and create lasting change,” said Allen, adding that he has thought of flying to Poland and walking to Ukraine.
Churches support the cause
To help civilians in eastern European countries, the Episcopal churches of Mount Desert Island are also working together to send contributions to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund and Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. “Events in the Ukraine have stirred our hearts with compassion,” said Church of Our Father Marilyn Kitler in a letter to the Islander.
To donate directly to national relief efforts, the Church of Our Father in Hulls Cove encourages people to send tax-deductible donations by check to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund at P.O. Box 7058, Merrifield VA 22116-7058, or to give online to the International Disaster Response Fund at www.episcopalrelief.org/ukraine-crisis.
People can also donate to Save the Children by going online to www.savethechildren.org and then clicking on Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.
For more information, Priest-in-Charge Reverend Holly Hoffmann is available to answer questions and can be reached at (207) 244-8144.