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.

At a secure location far from the frontlines, but still within striking distance of Russian hypersonic missiles and suicide drones, a warehouse complex in Lviv receives, stores, and ships vital humanitarian supplies to ease the suffering from Putin’s war of genocide. Most of those provisions originated in Milwaukee before starting their long journey to Ukraine.

A handful of volunteers at the Lviv warehouse hub, working with Milwaukee-based Friends of Be an Angel, has been responsible for the distribution of well over 10,000 tons of materials across the war-torn country since early 2022.

“It means so much to be working around the clock, under extremely difficult and stressful circumstances, to know that our team is full of so many dedicated individuals. We came together to help the people of Ukraine, and the ability to support each other makes our efforts sustainable,” said Anya Verkhoskaya, director of Friends of Be an Angel. “But I think the most difficult part for many of us is making decisions about how to distribute the aid.”

It is a daily job, with little sleep and even less public recognition due to security. While the facility has escaped damage, it was hit by a Russian missile strike earlier this year.

Managing the monument task of logistics was born out of necessity to ensure that food, medicine, and daily necessities for thousands of women, children, and the most vulnerable across Ukraine reached the areas of need – often in occupied territories.

Ivanka, Valentina, and Misha are responsible for tracking incoming shipments, organizing volunteers to pack palettes, documenting outgoing deliveries, and keeping communications open at every step of the process – until goods are received at their final destination. That pipeline of aid usually begins in Milwaukee.

One of the warehouse partnerships also includes the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA). The Chicago chapter has already successfully taken two cargo flights with 100 tons of medical equipment to Ukraine, through the pipeline in Poland for distribution from the Lviv hub.

That included $2 million dollars worth of portable power generators to help Ukrainian families and hospitals survive the winter months, after Russia weaponized the cold to terrorize and inflict hardships across the nation.

In early 2022, Russian forces destroyed nearly 85% of the buildings in Moshchun, about 20 miles from the capital of Kyiv. The nearby city of Irpin, Milwaukee’s Sister City, was left in even greater ruin after its liberation. Rotary districts around the world have donated more than 60 prefabricated homes to Moshchun and other Ukrainian communities. The “tiny homes” are just 20 feet by 23 feet, small enough to be hoisted into place by a crane. They have refrigerators, beds, and bathrooms with toilets and showers. They are also fully insulated and have electric heating panels.

Verkhovskaya hopes the Lviv warehouse can become a critical hub for the expansion of that program, as the housing needs of displaced families across Ukraine grow every night that Russia randomly targets a residential building.

“We envision a program where Rotarians adopt a city block, a village, a school, or a hospital,” said Verkhovskaya, who is also a member of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee. “Help from all over is going to where it is most needed, and that will continue because every time we put out a fire in one community Russia drops bombs on another. But when Ukraine is able to reallocate resources for rebuilding, a concentrated focus will be required. An ‘adopt a block’ program that focuses on one area at a time will accelerate that process, and Rotary Clubs are already leading the way.”

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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