Dr. Paul Gavrilyuk, a Ukrainian-born professor who teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, founded a humanitarian aid organization to help struggling Ukrainians. He spoke May 15 at St. Patrick, Hudson. (Catholic Herald photo by Joe Winter)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

The founder of an organization formed to help those who are still in Ukraine with virtually any of their daily needs described its efforts and how parishioners can help Sunday, May 15, at St. Patrick’s Parish in Hudson.

For speaker Dr. Paul Gavrilyuk, now of St. Paul, his project was spurred in part by the severe need of many members of his own family and friends and others with similar circumstances. Some of his loved ones had to cross six countries in six days to escape.

“This normally would not take this long,” he said. “They’d thought that (the war evacuation) would go quickly.”

“They started by moving into a log cabin well south of their city,” Gavrilyuk said, even though family members stressed to the others they needed to leave the country completely.

Reality hit that this was the only option when a drone was seen flying past the next day, often a prelude for bombing an area. The slideshow accompanying his telling of the story showed a bombed-out bridge with a massive fissure that was serving as a makeshift shelter from other bombs.

Dr. Gavrilyuk and other members of his family saw quickly that the need countrywide had heightened, and people had to quickly grab whatever key documents and food supplies they could, then get out, a measure that as days and weeks pass away from home and country starts doing psychological damage.

“So I then asked myself, what can I do,” he said of founding his organization, Rebuild Ukraine.

He spoke briefly about the project at two Masses, and then held a separate follow-up session in the Knights of Columbus room in the lower level.

Gavrilyuk holds the Aquinas Chair in Theology and Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul. He was born in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, where some members of his extended family remain, even though his elderly parents became refugees and joined those trying to navigate the route out soon after the war started.

Gavrilyuk founded Rebuild Ukraine, a nonprofit organization that as swiftly as can be done, delivers many forms of medical and other supplies and protective gear needed to deal with the ravages of war and weather to civilian defense volunteers, and helps the children affected by the war in various ways, including through support and education.

In just the first 50 days of war, Rebuild Ukraine delivered 5,000 battle-ready tourniquets to protect Ukraine’s defenders, to stop bleeding from wounds sustained during the seemingly endless battles.

The supplies Rebuild Ukraine provides do not include any used for taking direct military action.

Gavrilyuk has a vision for how Ukraine can be rebuilt, starting right now and then for the long haul — and how all people can help.

The barriers are many, even when part of a solution.

“Our Army was not ready for 100,000 people to enlist,” he said, and even these logistics of quickly putting such a force in place brought shortages of key items such as food.

Their charitable group is working with two legal firms, one from Wisconsin, to diplomatically make sure supplies get to who needs them, and it is not yet buying items directly with money from donations, since there are regulatory hurdles to jump through, Gavrilyuk told his audience.

The organization has accounts with many corporate entities and many of its leaders work in professions such as education and information technology.

But grassroots is vital also. “People in the Ukraine are like those here in the Midwest. They say very little but get a lot done,” he said.

The organization has a robust logistics network.

Strategic partnerships in Lithuania, and Latvia as well, mean secure and reliable and cost-effective access to provide the myriad needs.

“In multiple instances, we have delivered to ad hoc locations, including chapters of the Ukrainian Red Cross, which were unable to access medical supplies by any other means,” the website says.

It also has a bountiful volunteer network.

About 100 volunteers inside Ukraine mean effective delivery of aid, even in areas that see active fighting, and when the efforts of all these agencies is put together, the provision of individualized solutions to wartime evacuation and resettling in the European Union.

As a vision going forward, the organization intends to work on rebuilding Ukraine for the long term, as when the war is over, they’ll put their mission where their heart is at the most – the children affected by the war.

For more information, visit rebuild-ua.org.