‘Rebuild Ukraine’ sends supplies and aid to those impacted by war
As the war in Ukraine rages on, Paul Gavrilyuk, day by day, is trying to make a difference.
“We wanted to do something, we wanted to practice compassion,” he said in an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “We founded Rebuild Ukraine because we felt we could not remain passive.”
Through his St. Paul-based non-profit, Gavrilyuk is raising money for items desperately needed on the battlefield — and for ordinary Ukrainians impacted by the war.
“Our principal focus presently is people risking their lives in Ukraine,” he explained. “The supply chain in many areas is broken due to simply the fact that the infrastructure has been partially decimated by war.”
Among the priorities, Gavrilyuk said, are tourniquets and other medical supplies.
“What we’ve been able to send is 5,000 tourniquets over the first 50 days of the war,” Gavrilyuk noted. “What we’re doing, we’re trying to figure out what drugs are needed, and we’re supplying those.”
Gavrilyuk says his team is sending in shipments of medicines to treat thyroid hormone deficiency, diabetes, and high blood pressure, along with antibiotics.
He says donors have provided for 1,000 boxes of prescription drugs and several hundred clothing kits that include boots, raincoats, and camouflage gear.
“We discovered, for example, that the Ukrainian army did not have raincoats, Gavrilyuk notes. “Because the numbers of ground defense volunteers have now swollen to more than 300,000, the country is simply unable to equip them, so what we give them is clothing.”
The group is also donating two SUVs purchased in Lithuania that can be used as ambulances or for other transportation.
For Gavrilyuk, a University of St. Thomas theology professor, this mission is personal.
He left Ukraine in 1993 to pursue graduate studies in the U.S.
Gavrilyuk said he and his brother made arrangements to evacuate their parents — both in their 70s — from Kyiv to the western border during the first days of the war.
It was a four-day, cross-country trip by car, a journey that caused two flat tires.
But his parents arrived in Lithuania safely.
“My parents are now safe and sound in Kaunas, Lithuania, and they’re doing well,” Gavrilyuk said quietly. “Certainly, the plight of my own parents is in my mind’s eye, but even more so is actually the plight of people who now remain in Ukraine.”
Gavrilyuk noted since launching Rebuild Ukraine in late February, the volunteer network has grown to 100 people; 20 are in the U.S., with 70 in Ukraine, and ten others are mainly in Lithuania.
There’s a paid staff of ten people.
“We have now been able to deliver a $250,000 worth of aid in the first 50 days,” Gavrilyuk said. “We have a highly trained and nimble distribution network. These are people who run their own successful small businesses and now their business is saving lives.”
He said the group typically buys items in Europe, storing them in Lithuania.
Then, they’re sent to supply centers in Ternopil and Kyiv and after that, are distributed to needed locations further east.
“People don’t have medicine,” explained Bohdan Prystupa, who helps coordinate Rebuild Ukraine’s supply chain. “On our team already in Ternopil, about ten people. We have friends, we have volunteers — different hospitals in different regions.”
Prystupa, 30-years-old, was trained as an IT analyst.
Now, he believes he and his colleagues are also making a difference.
“I feel I need to do something, I can’t just sit and watch the news about how people are dying,” Prystupa declared. “I’m not a soldier, I don’t know how to use a gun, I never take a gun in my hands, but I can volunteer, I can save lives. It’s an opportunity to be useful, to save lives.”
Gavrilyuk said Rebuild Ukraine has raised about $300,000 so far. He pointed out that about 80% of those donations were collected in the U.S., much of that from Minnesotans. Fundraisers, word of mouth, and social media have helped. Much of the money has come from people willing to donate $10,000 or more.
Gavrilyuk told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there are plans in the wings, including the eventual production of bullet-proof vests.
He said a pilot project has already been started, for a school for one-hundred refugee children and eight teachers in Montenegro, in the Balkans.
“My principal concern today is actually for those who are in a situation where they are threatened by bombing, and threatened by shelling,” Gavrilyuk said. “It is incredibly personal. I feel a sense of tremendous investment in the enterprise.”