As Ukraine Struggles With Power Outages And Cold, LA’s Ukrainian Community Steps In To Help
One afternoon last week, a white cargo truck pulled up outside the Glendale warehouse of Meest, a small shipping company that specializes in sending packages to Eastern Europe.
Julia Stadnik, whose Ukrainian American family manages Meest’s California office, came out to check the contents. Inside the truck was a pallet loaded with carefully packaged generators and portable power banks, some earmarked for the Red Cross, others procured by local churches and individual families.
The generators, along with medical supplies and cold-weather essentials like warm clothes and sleeping bags, were to be trucked to LAX, then flown to Germany, then driven into Ukraine.
As Russian air attacks continue to devastate Ukraine’s energy grid, Stadnik said it was critical the supplies arrive as soon as possible.
“Because there are thousands of people without light, without ways to charge their phone to let their loved ones know they are OK, without any gas,” Stadnik said. “This way there is a power outlet on them, they can plug in a heater to keep warm, charge their phones, plug in a microwave, warm up some food.”
Russia has repeatedly bombed Ukraine’s energy infrastructure since September; in recent days there have been additional attacks. As of last week, the United Nations was estimating that 50% of Ukraine’s energy grid had been destroyed.
Millions of people have been left without power, and at times without water, as temperatures in Ukraine have steadily dropped, by now to below freezing.
Stadnik, whose relatives are in the western city of Lviv, checked her phone for current temperatures and grimaced.
“During the day it is 27, and at night it gets to 15 degrees,” she said, “and it is snowing right now, 60 to 80%.”
LA’s Response To The Crisis
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began last February, the Ukrainian community in Los Angeles has been collecting funds and supplies to ship to Ukraine, like first-aid supplies for soldiers, baby formula, and other survival basics.
Ukrainian churches in Los Angeles and around the state have taken on new roles as donation centers, while L.A.’s decades-old Ukrainian Culture Center, established by immigrants who came generations ago, has organized into a fundraising hub for Ukraine’s resistance and relief.
As the current crisis has unfolded, with many Ukrainians unable to heat or light their homes, the community’s focus has shifted to cold-weather aid.
Last week the local Meest warehouse, which has itself become ground zero for Ukraine relief shipments, was piled high with boxes of supplies. Some were being sent by Ukrainian churches as far away as Sacramento, or by individuals desperate to help relatives in Ukraine survive.
“The minute it got colder and they realized that the war is not ending, and the power outages started, the gas began cutting out, people started sending out more sleeping bags, more blankets, more thermal wear,” said Stadnik, whose immigrant father has owned and operated the local Meest warehouse since the 1990s.
A Critical Need For Generators
Not far away in Silver Lake, in the basement of the Saint Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church, volunteers sorted through boxes of donations. Last spring, the church became a collection point for a local grassroots aid effort that has since coalesced into a non-profit, called Post Angeles.
They’d just sent out a shipping container of medical and other supplies by sea, said Natasha Rudenko, a volunteer. Now they’re turning their attention to winter aid.
“We just did not anticipate the attacks on the infrastructure at that level,” Rudnenko said. “I don't think anybody could.”
For now they’ve collected hand warmer packets, clothing and smaller items in the church’s storage area. Seva Mohylyak, who helped organize the group last spring, said there’s a critical need for generators and that they’ve tried to buy them in Europe to expedite the process, but these have become scarce.
“Everything is sold out,” Mohylyak said. “A lot of people, they buy and resell…you know, everyone makes money on war. So that's a problem right now.”
The plan now is to gather power supplies here, he said, and ship them by sea.
Mohylyak, whose relatives are also in Lviv, said it can be hard to grasp the hardship that people in Ukraine are facing as winter takes hold. He said even in Lviv, considered a relatively safe zone in the war, his parents have been lucky just to have a couple of hours’ worth of electricity a day
“I recently called my mom and dad, and they had like no lights at home, you know?” he said. “And my mom is like sitting there with a flashlight talking with me on a cell phone, you know, while she still has a charge on it. And I'm like, this is just crazy.”
‘It Is Only Going To Get Worse’
In the Meest warehouse, as workers packed and loaded boxes for that evening’s shipment to LAX, families and volunteers dropped by the office to send supplies.
Among them was Borislav Alexandrov, a regular customer, who helps run a small group of volunteers that collects supplies for Ukrainian soldiers. He was dropping off some boxes.
“I have sleeping bags and winter boots right now that I am shipping to Ukraine,” Alexandrov said. “They are sleeping in the trenches, it is freezing cold, their feet are cold, their boots are still summer boots…they need a lot of winter stuff.”
Meanwhile Julia Stadnik’s father, Igor Stadnik, and longtime employee Roberto Ramirez wrestled with a large box containing two propane generators that would go to LAX with the other supplies that night.
Julia Stadnik said this would be their first air shipment of power banks and generators; she said that at first, as the power crisis in Ukraine began, donors were sending used gas generators, which they had to ship by sea because they’re considered hazardous.
This time, the generators and power banks they were sending by air were all new. Most were battery powered, and required special safety packaging, done by an outside company, because they are also considered dangerous goods, she said.
It would be more expensive than sending them by sea, but if all went well, they would get to Ukraine within the week. Stadnik said a sea shipment could take at least two months — and the need exists right now.
“Now, it’s cold,” she said, “and in January it is only going to get worse.”