Northern Kentucky’s support for Ukraine is both monetary and symbolic

Each day at about 3 a.m., Mike Ward’s phone starts going off with messages from Ukraine.

The retired chief of Alexandria Police has trained about 500 officers in Ukraine over recent years. He’s traveled there eight times, along with his friend, retired Covington chief Bryan Carter, to teach community policing and leadership management.

He’s eager to hear whether the officers he trained – from Kharkiv to Lviv and Kyiv to Odessa – are all right since Russia’s invasion started.
“Wherever they may be, they're checking in and saying they're OK. And, you know, they're struggling, the officers are struggling because the police are typically at the bottom of the food chain over there. They’re not getting the necessary equipment that they need. Their families are struggling,” Ward says.

He's enlisted Kentucky police organizations to co-sponsor American Police Outreach, which will raise funds to help Ukrainian police. A web page should go live at any time on the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police site.

Equipment needed by police in Ukraine include first aid kits, individual tactical tourniquets, small rechargeable tactical flashlights, boots, long underwear, camo uniforms, sleeping bags, helmets and body armor, Ward says.

Meanwhile, the news coverage continues to transfix Ward. He sees so many familiar cities. He saw the police headquarters building in Kharkiv get blown up. “My hotel was two blocks from there. I went by that building every day out to the Ministry of Interior, what they call the university, that was bombed,” he says. He and Carter taught there for four weeks.

Ukraine was the first country served by Master Provisions, of Elsmere, since its founding in 1994. While the nonprofit has expanded its mission to Africa and South America, Ukraine holds a special place in Roger Babik’s heart.

The founder of Master Provisions has been to Ukraine 26 times, leading mission teams as small as six and as many as 48 people.

On March 3, an orphanage supported by Master Provisions, My Home for Orphans, had to move its children to a church basement because of bombing on the periphery of Kherson.

The city, now controlled by the Russians, has not sustained as much damage as Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, Babik says.

Until the smoke settles, aid groups are not certain about plans, but Master Provisions is likely to cooperate with Samaritan’s Purse on clothing and medical assistance for refugees, and has sent wire transfers to My Home for Orphans.

Babik’s group created a Ukraine Emergency Fund, now accepting donations, with 100% of donations headed where help is needed.

“It's amazing the heart of generosity of people in America, because we want to make a difference and really show God's love in a practical way,” Babik says.

Businesses are taking action.

Bonfiglioli USA, a manufacturer in Hebron, has started the Bonfiglioli 4 Peace fund and donated 300,000 euros for basic goods and medical products. Employees are also able to contribute through the fund. "It's time to act, now," the company said.

Party Source liquor store in Bellevue is making a direct contribution to a Cincinnati nonprofit that is shipping aid to Ukraine. It is also making a symbolic statement by removing Russian vodka and boosting vodka that hails from Ukraine.

Party Source removed Russian Standard and Green Mark from its shelves after Russia invaded. The store then bought out the state’s allocation of Khor, a Ukrainian vodka.

“We decided that we're going to donate all the profits from (Khor) to Matthew 25:
because they do some really good work for the folks in need,” says Marty Holland, store manager. “And the money is actually getting to the people.”

Military intervention by the United States “might not be the recipe” to deal with Russia’s incursion, Holland says. “So, I guess people just want to figure out a way to do something. There is a feeling of helplessness.”

One of the clubs to step up is Rotary Club of Kenton County. Two million have fled Ukraine since the invasion started, the United Nations reported March 8. To respond to the deepening refugee crisis, the Rotary Foundation Trustees will prioritize contributions to its Disaster Response Fund until April 30 to support disaster response grants. The grants can be used to supply water, food, medicine, shelter, and clothing.

President Noelle Grimes said the club is open to help refugees from Ukraine who come to Northern Kentucky with short-term housing assistance, transportation needs, and welcome boxes to help settle displaced families.

The attack on Ukraine impacts Grimes’ extended family on a personal level. “My niece in Louisville is from Ukraine and she still has cousins and uncles living in Kyiv. Her uncle is a doctor and is working to aid the injured soldiers. One cousin is attempting to exit the country to come to Louisville, but she is finding it difficult to get to the Polish border safely,” Grimes says.

Leading organizations in Northern Kentucky have made statements about the situation.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is of major concern,” says Brent Cooper, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “Not only is it a gross violation of international law, threatening the sovereignty of an independent country, but it is also causing a major disruption to global trade and commerce. Our region will not be immune from the ripple effect of that disruption. As such, the NKY
Chamber is monitoring the situation closely on behalf of the business community,” Cooper says.

“Northern Kentucky University stands in support of the people of Ukraine and with those in our community who are feeling the impact of the horrific situation unfolding in that country. As a university where we embrace the fundamental values of democracy and freedom, we condemn the assault and invasion of a brave and independent nation and the tragedy being inflicted on its peoples,” reads a statement released March 8 by NKU.

Ukraine’s future is rife with uncertainties. However, Ward, the retired police chief, witnessed an exchange in Ukraine that convinced him its “young people are starving for reform and change.” Ward and fellow retired police chief Bryan went to lunch in the late fall of 2018 in Kyiv. The Chinese restaurant happened to be playing Andy Williams’ Christmas album.

The cops were impressed by the English spoken by their server. Then Ward noticed a unique tattoo under her sleeve. She gladly rolled her sleeve all the way up so the tattoo was visible. It was the Statue of Liberty, “with the torch up on her bicep” and the bottom of Lady Liberty’s dress down by the server’s wrist.

On her other arm was another tattoo: “We the people.”

“It gave us chills,” Ward says.

She told the officers, “My dream is to be as free as you are.”
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