High in the hills of Bel-Air, more than a hundred people—Ukrainian-Americans amongst them—gathered to support the Vice President of the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Los Angeles, George Wyhinny, and his charity foundation, Hope2Ukraine. Though the conflict is an ocean’s length away, Wyhinny franticly buzzed around the venue, as the event meant not only supporting the foundation, but providing a country he called home with medical aid and humanitarian relief.
The night was all about Ukraine—traditional music and dancers lit up the main room while guests danced away. The hors d’oeuvres were Ukrainian, the performances were Ukrainian, and their language filled the venue. The event raised $60,000 to aid Ukrainians that are being displaced by the war.
We caught up with Wyhinny after the event to reflect on how far the foundation has come and what it meant to him.
When was the foundation formed?
Less than two months ago. When the war started, and people were trying to figure out how to help, the people on Hope2Ukraine found each other through “I know somebody that…” or “I know someone who…” I found Dr. Svetlana in a round-about way from a journalist who put me in touch with a shipping company, who put me in touch with Dr. Svetlana. And a lot of the people found their way into the organization through those kinds of connections. Dr. Svetlana in particular was thinking about how to help: she posted on her website about bringing in donations: 3 days later her office was filled with stuff, and then there was a need to create an organization for her to get this aid to Ukraine.
How many volunteers does the foundation currently work with?
We have teamed up with a few other organizations. I am the vice president of the Ukrainian Culture Center (UCC) in LA. The UCC was also one of the sponsors of the gala. The UCC has put on community ‘call to action’ events to raise awareness, find out what resources individuals and organizations have, and how we can become unified to maximize effort effectiveness. We also work with an organization called Stand With Ukraine LA – which is responsible for a lot of the protests and rallies going on in the city. We are always looking for more volunteers and other people who can share their talents in our efforts.
I did some research and saw you were Ukrainian-American. What does this event mean to you? How does it feel to receive all of this support for a country you have so much love for?
Although I was born in the United States, I have had and continue to have strong ties to Ukraine. My grandmother insisted that I learn about my heritage, speak the language, and being actively involved in the Ukrainian community. And I have been for pretty much my entire life: from attending Ukrainian schools on Saturdays, to Ukrainian dancing, attending camps, and going to church. And I have continued to be actively involved with community events, been part of organizations and boards. A friend of mine and I have been working on a documentary on a man-made famine-genocide in Ukraine that took place in the 30s. It is shocking how the events that took place 90 years ago, are repeating today in very similar ways. It is horrific to watch. I think about my grandmother almost (if not) every day. It was her dream to see Ukraine finally achieve independence, and in 1991, that dream of hers became a reality. Right now, we are fighting to keep Ukraine free. I think she is furious looking down at the events unfolding today… the country which she fought for and loved. She passed that passion and love for Ukraine on to me. Her fight is my fight.
What have you learned during your time with the Hope2Ukraine Foundation? How has your involvement with the foundation affected you as a person?
I have learned a lot about things I thought I would never have a need to learn about such as what type of military equipment is considered defensive vs offensive, the logistics for how to get cargo shipped via air, sea, or truck, etc. I have met a lot of people who I will probably remain friends with for life. The war in Ukraine has united a lot of people in their efforts to help: people of all different backgrounds who are pooling their resources, and talents, to creatively think about how to help Ukraine. These people have had a significant impact on my life: I have been humbled by their efforts and excited to have made some new friends who are all very solid people. This horror that is unraveling in Ukraine has put me in common circles with amazing people and those people are probably going to stay in my life for a long time.
Some Americans may feel like there is nothing they can do that would make a significant impact on the situation in Ukraine. How can the everyday person really get involved and help Ukraine?
I would encourage everyone to visit the two websites of the two organizations I represent. We try to keep the websites updated: ukrainianculturecenterla.com has become a centralized “hub’ or launch point. People can go to the site and find information on everything from organizations that they can donate money to, to how to help refugees, how to get further information on Ukraine’s history, and how to get involved with protests and rallies. Hope2Ukraine.com has an up-to-date list of what is needed. We have a large warehouse and are preparing for getting equipment to Ukraine by air and by sea. We can always use volunteers to help collect and sort the items being brought to our warehouse.
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