5,000 mile war attracts fierce response, support in Detroit metro


With images of the turmoil in Ukraine amid the Russian invasion in mind, Maureen Squires and her family carefully loaded their shopping carts this month, intent on helping.

Leaders of All Saints Catholic School in Canton Township, where Squires’ 13-year-old son attends, recently urged his students and community to donate to a drive coordinated by multiple parishes in the archdiocese. from Detroit. The collected toiletries, medical supplies and other necessities are intended to be shipped to Ukrainians facing hunger, displacement and the constant drumbeat of war.

“We felt passionate about giving it to them,” said Squires, who lives in Plymouth. “They are fighting for their country. What is happening to them, we think is so unfair, and we just wanted to take the opportunity to help.

As the conflict escalates and stretches into another week, many residents of the Detroit metro area are stepping up their efforts to send aid and supplies to the front lines and to neighboring countries absorbing refugees.

From upcoming concerts and fundraisers to online advocacy and plans to travel abroad, locals with and without Ukrainian ties are garnering an outpouring of support.

They view the work, which supplements large sums and aid from the United States government as well as its allies, as a labor of love.

“This is not just a minor dispute in Europe. This is something that could potentially start World War III,” said Anthony Pate, a St. Clair Shores resident who started an aid group and traveled to Ukraine this month to facilitate the distribution. .

Archdiocese of Detroit priests Mario Amore, left, and John Owusu discuss, Thursday morning, March 17, 2022, at Old St. Mary's Church in Greektown, items collected for Ukraine over the past two weeks.  Items include backpacks, medical supplies, toiletries, and more.  Volunteers will load the items and bring them to a warehouse in Hamtramck later this week.  Polish Airlines will fly them to Poland and a volunteer will take them to Ukraine.

“How our countries respond, and other countries respond, is important. We can’t let this pass by the wayside, because it could be the start of something that could change the world. »

Initiatives emerged in southeast Michigan almost immediately after the invasion began in late February. Among the most visible efforts are those forged in the region’s tight-knit community with Ukrainian ancestry or connections.

The Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, a grassroots association made up of several groups and supporters, guides donors to virtual aid while promoting a deposit at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren.

Volunteers continuously sort the constant flow of goods at Standard Trucking’s warehouse in Hamtramck, which serves as a hub before items are transported overseas.

On weekends, “this place is packed with people moving around with new things coming in for the week, and more people are interested in volunteering every day,” said Anya Nona, relief coordinator to the response committee, on the site this week. “…Unless we end this war, we’re just trying to save lives by sending these things.”

Coordinators estimate that thousands of pounds have been shipped so far, heading to Poland and then Ukrainians via multiple groups depending on the article, said Nazarii Semchyshyn, a Standard Trucking representative.

They are now focusing on collecting tactical first aid, including trauma kits, occlusive dressings and sutures.

In another sign of the dangerous turn of events, the items requested could include potassium iodine pills, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe as a way to help protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine.

“People are seriously worried about a nuclear bomb,” Semchyshyn said.

The war has spurred supporters such as Pate, a military veteran who runs a construction and restoration business. His wife, Ludmila, is Ukrainian.

What started as a collection in their garage turned into his American Support Foundation for Ukraine as he posted online appeals for emergency items such as tourniquets, Kevlar helmets, pulse oximeters and more.

Pate teamed up with major support networks and escorted a load to Ukraine earlier this month for distribution. His trip included a stop at a hospital to deliver catheters because the stock was so depleted that staffers resorted to reusing them, he said.

Archdiocese of Detroit priests Mario Amore and John Owusu speak at Old St. Mary's Church in Greektown about items collected for Ukraine.  The volunteers will load them and bring them to a warehouse in Hamtramck.  Later, Polish Airlines will fly the supplies to Poland and a volunteer will drive them to Ukraine.

The enormity of the situation hit him as he watched mothers and their children flee to other countries, saying goodbye to fathers left behind. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” he said.

Even with the risks, Pate plans to return soon to get more boxes through checkpoints to those in need.

“It’s incredibly rewarding,” he said between posts. “I’ve been very lucky in my life, and it comes at the right time when I have the means and the energy to make a difference.”

Following a member’s call to action, the family of Old St. Mary’s, St. Aloysius and Detroit Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament Parishes implored others to donate backpacks , medical supplies, toiletries and more. Catholic schools and other churches have joined in, leading to hundreds of articles, said Reverend Mario Amore, who leads St. Aloysius.

“There’s a desire to want to help and a feeling of helplessness,” Amore said. “…We pray for a speedy end to this and the unnecessary violence and death.”

So much stuff piled up Days after news broke at All Saints School, Amy Roose, a religious teacher and student council staff advisor, made two trips in her plush Ford Expedition to deliver the sleeping bags, wipes, vitamins, gauze, toothpaste, hand warmers and powdered electrolyte mix.

Headlines and photos depicting lockdowns, bombed buildings, separated families and mass graves in Ukraine moved them enough to give. Matthew, a seventh grader, was hoping to buy toys to cheer up the kids.

“It was touching, sweet and caring, but I also had to tell her: these people need very basic things right now,” her mother said. “When the need is there, it must first be satisfied. … You feel the need to help, and we’ve felt it since it started.

The Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit recently announced that its emergency campaign has sent nearly $1.5 million to help international humanitarian organizations that help Ukrainian Jews.

Meanwhile, some synagogues are holding special prayers for peace in Ukraine, said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of JCRC/AJC, an advocacy group that represents Jews in the region.

Temple Israel in West Bloomfield Township raises funds to help a congregation in Germany resettle Ukrainian refugees.

The synagogue has a connection to German congregational vice president Yevgen Bruckmann, who was born in Ukraine and lived with Temple Israel Rabbi Marla Hornsten as an exchange student about a decade ago. Hornsten notes that the unfolding crisis in Ukraine strikes a chord with many Jews.

“It feels very close to home, even though it’s thousands of miles away,” she said. “Everyone felt that these refugees could be their family. It is the same story of (our) people who had to flee their country in the past.

The weight of this exodus and the war that triggered it prompted other initiatives aimed at a more spiritual weaponry.

West Bloomfield volunteer Chris Leach sorts out the drugs on Friday.

Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills has opened its sanctuary for an ongoing “Peace Prayer Vigil” on Saturdays through early April. Anyone looking for a place to reflect and pray can light a candle amid the ornate pews.

The idea follows similar moves during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the vigil welcomes “anyone who is feeling anxiety right now, anyone who is feeling nervous and concerned,” Reverend Bill said. Danaher, the church’s longtime rector who has a doctorate in religion. studies. “I think it’s essential because it gives people the space they need to feel safe and to feel surrounded by God’s love.”

Christ Church has already worked with an agency to help settle Afghan refugees, he said, and the congregation has launched a fund to do the same for possible arrivals of Ukrainians.

The importance of unity was one of the reasons worshipers gathered on a recent weekend at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Riverview to pray for an end to the war.

Catholic devotion to Our Lady of Fatima began in May 1917, when the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Portugal. Worshipers believe he initiated several visits during which plans to pursue world peace were revealed. The Vatican has reported that some of these plans involve Russia.

“We ask our members to pray their Rosary every day for peace in Ukraine and the conversion of all hearts. Although we feel hopeless and helpless, we know prayer can make a difference,” said Michelle St. Pierre, who along with her husband, Leonard, oversees the shrine and is a lead volunteer with the Archdiocesan Division of the global apostolate of Fatima Detroit.

“It is vital that we continue to support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine with prayer. When I speak to local Ukrainians and explain that members of Our Lady of Fatima pray, they have tears in their eyes and are so grateful that someone thinks of their fellow citizens in their homeland.

Faith leaders are planning another community-wide vigil, said Bob Bruttell, vice president of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit.

“Religious communities have always been a place where people can freely express their grief. When you feel so helpless, a faith community can give you a sense of hope and a sense of strength and possibility.

Struck by the diversity of crowds at Ukrainian rallies and how different faiths and religions have come together in recent weeks, Jon Duff, an elder at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Birmingham, reached out to Bruttell’s group to explore new other ways to strengthen the local interfaith response.

His congregation is already fundraising through Samaritan’s Purse, a humanitarian aid group, to help Ukrainians. A member donated some $5,000 and the church plans to match that amount.

The more attention, the better during a crisis “that could affect all of us in a democracy and in our faith,” Duff said. “That’s one of my fears – that it gets pushed aside. It’s something that needs to stay front and center.”


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