The lobby of a local Honda dealership has seen hundreds of Burlington residents in recent days. Though the location is typically filled with individuals interested in purchasing or repairing a car, many are there for another reason: to drop off strollers, suitcases, sleeping bags and other everyday essentials.
The materials brought to the dealership are donations for Ukrainians, with aid ranging from diapers and clothes to flashlights and blankets. The campaign started through a Facebook post by Lisa Eddins, a Honda saleswoman who wanted to do more than just watch the war from her television.
“I can’t not do anything. I have to do something,” Eddins said. “But I’m just a salesperson, so what can I do?”
Since the war began on Feb. 24, the United States has been the largest single-country donor of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. The Biden Administration announced on March 24 that the United States is prepared to “provide more than $1 billion in new funding towards humanitarian assistance for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine.” Aid such as everyday essentials and needs, but also war supplies, has been sent to Ukraine and surrounding countries taking in Ukrainian refugees, such as Poland, Romania and Moldova.
Cities throughout Ukraine such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol have been under attack for weeks, and supply and every day essentials are quickly running out. Though she’s just one person, Eddins said she hopes she can inspire more people in the area to donate and remind them that life can be taken at any moment.
“Every second that we have with our phones, with our TVs, with our pets, with our friends, with our families — can be gone in a second,” Eddins said. “I think it’s so important for people to see that all of this is temporary.”
In addition to collecting donations since the beginning of March, Eddins has also been connecting with Ukrainian communities in North Carolina.
Eddins, who had no prior connections with any Ukrainians, eventually found the Ukrainians in the Carolinas and the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina.
Both organizations work to bring Ukrainians together in the state and are currently shipping aid items to Poland, which has taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees since the war began. The items Eddins is collecting will be sent to the groups, then shipped across the world.
Working with Eddins is Donna Goldstein, co-president of the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina. Goldstein was one of the first Ukrainians Eddins met, which exposed her to a localized story about the war. Goldstein, who currently has family in Ukraine, said the war has made it hard for her to reconcile with her emotions, even after a month into the fighting.
“When I saw the bombs falling, when I saw the footage on TV of Russian tanks pouring across the Ukrainian border, I was just in complete disbelief. I was in shock,” Goldstein said.
Though her family is located in the western part of Ukraine, she said she contacts them every day.
Since its inception in 2005, the Ukrainian Association of North Carolina has been a group of supporters and gatherings, but now it’s needed more than ever. Goldstein said the association has seen the membership grow since the invasion.
“This is a place for us to cry on each other’s shoulders,” Goldstein said. “You can see how shattered Ukrainian-Americans are because they have family. They’re worried about their family, and they just see their country being destroyed.”
Reflecting on history
Through connecting with more local Ukrainians, Eddins eventually found Galyna Karpenski, an elementary school music teacher at Triad Math and Science in Greensboro. The two were connected because of the donation drive in Burlington, but now they’ve found a way to raise additional funds for animals in Ukraine through Karpenski’s nonprofit, Fine Whines and Lickers. Karpenski said she has enjoyed working with Eddins.
“She’s just not going to sit back and watch, she felt that she had to do something about it. So she reached out to us and we spoke,” Karpenski said. “She has been amazing advocating for Ukraine in Burlington.”
Though Karpenski said she is happy to see hundreds of essential living items be shipped to Poland, other emotions of fear, stress and disbelief fill her mind every day as she tries to keep up with the war. Karpenski has family still living in Ukraine — her father who recently evacuated to another part of the country and her aunt in Mykolayiv. Like many other Ukrainian- Americans, Karpenski lives a double life, trying to keep up with the war through the news and family, while maintaining work and everyday life. Karpsenski said she has an app that tracks which towns have been bombed or need to evacuate so that she can update her family.
“It’s horrible for us to know that our family are not safe,” Karpenski said. “But I cannot even begin to imagine how horrible it is for people living in Ukraine through those bomb air raids.”
Watching everything unravel from the United States, Karpenski said the current state of Ukraine can be compared the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II. She said she’s concerned with how far Russia will go.
“It took way too long for the United States and other countries to jump in and actually do something about it, took too long, too many lives,” Karpenski said. “The same thing is happening in Ukraine right now.”
And although she said she is aware of the aid the United States has provided to Ukraine and other surrounding European countries, she hopes people here will not turn away from this historic situation.
“If we just choose to look away, we’re going to have a history that will just repeat itself,” Karpenski said.
Though the war is physically separating people, Karpenski said it has symbolically pulled more Ukrainians together — especially when it comes to recognizing their identity.
Goldstein has felt this way since the 2014 Maidan Revolution — a series of deadly protests in Ukraine that led to the removal of the country’s pro-Russian president.
“I think what we saw in 2014, and what is really galvanizing here now in 2022, is the complete flourishing of the Ukrainian identity, separate from an independent of Russia,” Goldstein said. “It’s very difficult to watch. It’s very painful to watch. I think the only glimmer of hope that I see in this entire conflagration is that Ukrainian identity has been clearly cemented.”
According to Eddins, the donation drive will continue into April while she works with other Burlington residents to find more ways to aid Ukraine. While shipments are constantly being sent to Poland, it will be a while until assistance from the United States will end.
“It doesn’t just stop here. It’s whatever the need be,” Eddins said. “If these organizations say we’re going to keep doing this, then I’m going to keep doing it.”