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.

Volunteers from across Wisconsin gathered in a local warehouse on June 10 to support three nonprofit organizations involved with sending aid to Ukraine. The “sort and pack” event prepared a shipment of medical supplies for use by field, military, and community hospitals in and around occupied areas.

It was one of several similar efforts over the past year, and coincided with a planned humanitarian mission by one of the charities.

Members of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA), Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc., and Friends of Be an Angel worked three shifts over eight hours in a Germantown warehouse to identify, clean, label, and properly pack medical supplies that had been donated in recent weeks.

The atmosphere was filled with a shared sense of purpose, to make sure the critical aid could reach hospitals in Ukraine. Under the guidance of dedicated healthcare professionals, volunteers organized the resources by category. Each box carried within it the potential to save lives, alleviate suffering, and restore health.

Once the large cargo boxes were loaded onto a semi-truck, they were driven to Chicago where at O’Hare airport they would be flown by the shipping company Maersk to Poland. From there, the supplies would be unloaded and transported across the border with Ukraine, for delivery to a warehouse operated by Friends of Be an Angel in Lviv.

Dr. Douglas Davis, a Wisconsin leader of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA), expressed his gratitude for both the donations and public support.

“Sorting and packing these medical supplies is more than a logistical task. It represents the compassion, unity, and Wisconsin’s commitment to providing healthcare services to the people of Ukraine,” said Dr. Davis. “These efforts have built a lifeline that can bring healing to those suffering from this terrible war.”

In February, Dr. Davis traveled to Lviv where he and the Rotary Club in Ukraine took delivery of urgently needed generators. With its full-scale invasion failing on the battlefield, Russia had weaponized the winter. Power stations and civilian infrastructure were attacked to deny heat to the people of Ukraine during the freezing season. While many people did suffer, the Russian act of terrorism failed to achieve much. The spirit of the Ukrainian people was not broken.

The donated supplies at the Germantown warehouse – operated by Patriot Transportation – covered a wide range of essential items, including surgical gear, bandages, medical equipment, and other crucial resources. The supplies were generously donated by individuals, organizations, and manufacturers across Wisconsin.

Although donations have been slowing down as public attention drifted away from the war, Dr. Davis emphasized the crisis-level need for humanitarian aid in Ukraine still persists.

During a break to thank the volunteers for their participation, Anya Verkhovskaya, the director of Friends of Be an Angel, expressed her deep appreciation for so much support from the community.

“The packing and sorting events in Germantown have an absolutely incredible spirit. We have people from many Rotary Clubs, mostly Milwaukee Rotary, that come from absolutely all walks of life,” said Verkhovskaya. “Many families come together and make a day of the experience. It is wonderful to watch the camaraderie as they work to help strangers almost five thousand miles away, who they are never going to meet.”

Less than two weeks after the event, Milwaukee Independent would join Verkhovskaya as her organization traveled to Ukraine on its humanitarian mission. One of the first stops would be in the western city of Lviv, where all the materials being packed and shipped would eventually arrive.

> READ: Lviv warehouse serves as vital link in medical supply chain from Milwaukee to frontlines

“The dedication of our volunteers and the generosity of donors has been truly inspiring,” said Halyna Salapata, president of Wisconsin Ukrainians Inc. “By sorting and packing these medical supplies, we are fulfilling an immediate need and ensuring that lives can be saved.”

Salapata and her organization have coordinated previous sort and pack events since March 2022, for UMANA and other charities.

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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