Center Moriches social studies teacher, peer group leadership, varsity lacrosse, middle school football and varsity winter track coach, Chris Winslow, and another history teacher colleague, Craig Charvat, recently returned from their second trip to Ukraine in February.
Despite a few bumps in the road, Winslow, a former United States Marine, said the trip was extremely successful. They traveled with a five-man team that included himself and Charvat; two retired military pilots and a retired United Airlines pilots, John Yackus and Rob Zettel; and Aaron Messina, a former U.S. Marine.
The bumps, he mentioned, included a canceled flight on Lufthansa airline on Feb. 24, due to a strike. They were rescheduled to fly on Finnair the next day. Then, upon checking into Finnair with all the documentation that showed they were a legitimate 501(c)3 and that Lufthansa was flying their 31 bags (1,550 pounds) for free as part of their humanitarian aid policy, Finnair refused to accept it and charged them $5,000 to bring the aid. They arrived in Krakow, Poland, on Feb. 25 and spent the night in a hotel. On Monday morning, they then had a driver and a van pick them up and drive them to Przemysl, Poland, where they delivered seven bags (350 pounds) to the Hope Foundation refugee center. They provided winter clothing, wool hats, socks, art supplies and sporting goods (soccer balls, basketballs, etc.). The team then traveled to the Mydeka, Poland, border crossing into Ukraine.
“At this point, the border guards would not allow our driver, who was Ukrainian, to drive into the country because the van was rented in Poland,” Winslow said of another snag. “Thankfully, after six hours, a Ukrainian soldier who was returning to Ukraine overheard our situation and sent his wife to get their van, and he drove us with all the aid to Lviv.”
Running behind schedule, they missed a train to Rivne, Ukraine, where they were supposed to meet Roman, a commander in the Territorial Guard, to deliver seven more bags of combat support gear. This gear included tourniquets, medical supplies, camouflage uniforms, and handmade ghillie suits for their snipers and drones. Instead, they arrived in Rivne at 11 p.m. that night, after securing a driver for the three-hour drive. Roman had traveled that same day 13 hours to Rivne to meet them.
On Feb. 21, they then went to the Mercy House orphanage, run by the Eastern Catholic Garrison Church. There, they delivered winter clothing, art supplies, and sports equipment to Roman for the 250 orphans in their organization. That night, they met with Maria, who runs a humanitarian aid organization in Lviv, and delivered her four duffel bags of winter clothing and children’s clothing.
“We became friends with her on our last trip and also gave her one duffel bag with clothing just for her two sons,” Winslow added. “Her husband is a soldier in the Territorial Guard.”
By Feb. 22, their translators, Ostap and Bohdanna (both Ph.D. professors at the Lviv National Academy of Arts), took the team to the Institute of Cultural Strategies, which is a government-run organization. The organization provides art and music therapy for refugees throughout the country.
“We delivered the rest of our art supplies, which will be sent out to Eastern cities in Ukraine,” he said.
On Feb. 23, Ostap took Winslow to a refugee shelter at Ternopilska 8, in Lviv, which was located in a Soviet-era apartment building. There, he delivered the last three duffel bags of children’s clothing and winter hats. And by Feb. 24, the entire team took the train from Lviv to Przemysl and exited Ukraine.
“We needed to get out of the country before the one-year anniversary of the war, Feb. 24, because there was much anticipation of a massive offensive and rocket attacks throughout the country,” he explained.
Last year, the duo started the nonprofit NY4Ukraine and launched their website and Facebook page to help drive fundraising for the campaign. They made their first trip to the Ukraine over the summer of 2022, where they made a lot of great friends and contacts. During that trip, they visited with 17 bags of aid.
In addition to providing clean potable water filters and first-aid supplies to the 250,000 civilians in the city of Mykolaiv, NY4Ukraine also assisted in providing essential combat supplies to the Mykolaiv Regional Guard. These supplies included body armor, camouflage clothing, and ballistic helmets.