Return to Ukraine: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that recorded news from areas across Ukraine, including Milwaukee's sister city of Irpin, from June to July of 2023. It was the second time in the span of a year that the award-winning Wisconsin news organization traveled to the country during the war. The purpose of this journalism project was to document a humanitarian aid mission by the Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, and report about conditions 17 months after Russia's brutal full-scale invasion.

Advanced Wireless, Inc. (AWI), a provider of world-class mobile computing, wired, and wireless networking solutions with customers in eighteen countries, announced on July 24 that it will donate more than 840 Wi-Fi access points to schools in Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin in Ukraine.

The donation of site-survivable Internet gear, which keeps a network connected even if parts of it break, came after almost a year of planning. That began when Irpin’s Mayor Oleksandr Markushin visited Mayor Cavalier Johnson in Milwaukee on May 30, and later met with Advanced Wireless.

“Advanced Wireless is pleased to announce it will be donating more than 840 site-survivable Wi-Fi access points to the City of Irpin in Ukraine,” said President and CEO Darryl Morin. “The access points will be deployed throughout all schools and bomb shelters used by students. This will allow for wireless access to online curriculum and learning resources in every classroom and bunker used by students across Irpin. AWI will also be donating the needed technical design, training, and support services for the project.”

Capturing the capital city of Kyiv was the original goal of Putin when he launched the unprovoked full-scale invasion on February 22, 2022. Russian forces pushed south from Belarus into Ukraine along a route that took them through Irpin. It was there, in large part due to Mayor Markushin’s leadership of the local Territorial Guard, that the invading forces were halted.

But while the Russian military was quickly forced into a humiliating retreat from the region, its forces left a wasteland of destruction behind. In saving Ukraine’s capital, Irpin was devastated.

“Ukraine will need a new generation of teachers, doctors, engineers, and more to rebuild their nation. All that starts with quality education,” said Morin. “AWI wants to be a part of that story, a story that will live on in a free Ukraine for many generations to come.”

In the 15 months since the city was liberated, Irpin had been rebuilding what was lost. But it remains a daunting task, especially while Russia randomly targets civilian population centers.

“Education has always been among Irpin’s priorities. And now, after the criminal attack by Russians on our city, this issue has become especially acute. The occupiers damaged more than 70% of Irpin. In particular, absolutely all educational institutions,” said Mayor Markushin. “Now most of them have opened their doors to students, or will do so on September 1. This is thanks to our international partners. You are making an incredible contribution to quality education and a bright future for the children of Irpin.”

Mayor Markushin extended his gratitude to Darryl Morin from Advanced Wireless for the Wi-Fi access points they will provide, Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Anya Verkhovskaya from Friends of Be an Angel, Boris Nayflish, Halyna Salapata of Wisconsin Ukrainians, and the entire Milwaukee community.

“We think about our friends in Irpin often as reports from the war in Ukraine reach us. I am so appreciative of the generous Milwaukee area donors, including Advanced Wireless who share my concerns,” said Mayor Johnson. “We all hope for a prompt end to the war so our Sister City, and all Ukraine, can return to peace.”

Discussions outlining the donation began last year when board members of Wisconsin Ukrainians organized a meeting between Mayor Markushyn and AWI President Morin.

“We are proud to have facilitated the meeting, which sparked the discussions leading to this generous donation,” said Halyna Salapata, President of Wisconsin Ukrainians. “Our group of volunteers is dedicated to fostering educational opportunities, and we are delighted to support the efforts of Advanced Wireless to help rebuild Ukraine.”

Salapata said that the collaboration exemplified the strong bonds between the communities of Milwaukee and Irpin, and their shared commitment to empower future generations through quality education.

The donation to Irpin will be made through the City of Milwaukee’s International Sister Cities program, with logistical support provided by Milwaukee-based Friends of Be an Angel. Chair of the organization, Anya Verkhovskaya, also visited Irpin in June and July, and helped expedite the donation of the vital technology.

“I thank AWI not just for their generous donation but also for their understanding of the current situation in Ukraine,” said Verkhovskaya. “While many in the U.S. suffer from war fatigue and desensitization, AWI executives understand that the needs of people will only grow the longer they are suffering under Russian aggression. This thoughtful donation will allow Internet access for the entire city.”

Verkhovskaya also highlighted how important and extensive the donation was to Irpin’s municipal infrastructure. Children could continue learning in the bomb shelters during air raids, patients in hospitals could remain in contact with families, libraries could connect with resources online, and residents in public places like parks and squares could have free Wi-Fi access for leisure activities – or safety information.

“Advanced Wireless is committed to supporting education as it leads to longer, happier, and healthier lives. That is at the heart of every strong community. To date, AWI has donated well over $2,000,000 in Wi-Fi equipment and services to schools throughout southeastern Wisconsin,” added Morin.

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Series: Return to Ukraine

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Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.

Return to Ukraine: Reports about a humanitarian mission from Milwaukee after a year of war