By Molly Walsh
At 5 a.m. Eastern European Time, Olympia resident Hanna Ilchenko turned on the news. She couldn’t believe the events unfolding onscreen: Russia had launched a full-scale invasion on her home country of Ukraine. Initially, Ilchenko said the reports emerging of explosions and invading forces were difficult to process. “I couldn’t believe in what’s going on,” she said. “Like, really, it’s happening in (the) 21st century?”
One of Ilchenko’s first thoughts was of her parents, who still live in Ukraine. It took her an hour to reach her parents by phone to ensure they could reach a safe location. As the invasion intensified over the following days, Ilchenko continued to worry about family and friends in the country, spending morning and night glued to the news for updates. “First week, I didn’t sleep at all,” she said. “(It) was like one or two hours per day or night. It was maximum for me, and stressful about friends and others.”
As Ilchenko watched scenes of Ukrainian citizens forced to leave their homes with few belongings, she wondered what steps she could take from halfway around the world to help those affected there. “I can’t just, like, stay at home here in Olympia being safe,” she said, “and other people are innocent. They’re affected by war, and some lost their houses. Some, just, they’re running out of the house in slippers, whatever they had at the time.”
Ilchenko went online to search for relief efforts for those affected by the war. She was unable to find any organized efforts in Olympia but started receiving messages from friends and other community members asking if there was anything that could be done to help. This inspired Ilchenko and her husband to launch their own organized effort, called “I Support Ukraine.” She’s collecting and shipping bandages and first aid supplies, clothing, diapers, food, hygiene products and other necessities to Ukrainians affected by the war.
Many of Ilchenko’s efforts are organized through an I Support Ukraine Facebook group, which at the time of this publishing had just over 125 members. To help her get donations into the right hands, she’s working with shipping company Meest and the Ukrainian Association of Washington State. She can thus ensure all supplies collected are shipped to Poland. Trucks can then transport donated supplies into Ukraine, where they can be distributed to Ukrainians in need. In-demand products vary from week to week, depending on the capacity of shipping carriers.
Initially, Ilchenko was worried about the potential response to starting a charitable cause because she was still relatively new to the area. Originally from Kyiv, she moved to Olympia in summer 2020. In the first weeks of her charity’s operation, though, facets of the South Sound community have banded to collect supplies for and donate funds to I Support Ukraine.
After hearing about the launch of I Support Ukraine, Ilchenko’s neighbor hosted a fundraiser that sold coffee and glazed donuts, with proceeds benefitting the cause. Such small, local businesses as Gabi’s Olympia Cards & Comics, Olympia Family Chiropractor and the Olympia Food Co-op contributed to the cause or offered to be drop-off sites for I Support Ukraine.
Ilchenko said I Support Ukraine has collected over $9,000 in donated items and financial contributions at the time of this publishing. Financial contributions allowed Ilchenko to purchase food and supplies for Ukrainian people. Multiple local artists have also stepped forward, contributing skills and artwork to help raise funds.
Pianist Teaches Classes for the Cause
Local pianist and music teacher Dilyara Shiderova was one of the first contributors to I Support Ukraine. She first heard of the organization after Ilchenko posted to a local Facebook group. Ilchenko and Shiderova formed a quick connection because both have friends and loved ones in Ukraine, navigating the invasion. “We tried to learn more about each other during conversation,” said Ilchenko, “but we ended hugging each other and just crying about invasion to Ukraine and all the news and what’s going on. It was really difficult.”
Moved by the humanitarian need within Ukraine, Shiderova wanted to do more than contribute her own money or supplies the cause. As a musician and teacher, she said she knows of many people who have shown interest in starting piano lessons but never had the time or opportunity. Thinking back on that potential demand, Shiderova was inspired to host virtual, introductory piano lessons and donate all proceeds to I Support Ukraine.
“It’s painful to watch those news [reports], just in general, even if you don’t know anybody there,” said Shiderova. “But if you can put a name to that event, it’s just, well, it’s hard. It’s tough to watch everything.”
Through four virtual lessons and live question-and-answer sessions, beginning pianists can learn basic keyboard skills while providing additional aid to Ukrainians. Shiderova took to social media to advertise the piano course. Soon after, news of the lessons spread widely on Facebook. By the time of this publishing, Shiderova had raised over $1,200 for I Support Ukraine.
Piano Crash Course to fundraise for Ukraine by Dilyara Shiderova, pianist and music teacher
Mandala artist Yulia Drozdova said she knew she needed to get involved in relief efforts for Ukrainians. Her roots connect her to Ukraine, as her great-grandmother was from that country. Drozdova has friends who currently who live across Ukraine, including in Mariupol. While watching the invasion unfold, Drozdova felt compelled to do more than make a personal donation. She wanted to use her art for a higher cause.
Drozdova specializes in mandala art, with geometric shapes, kaleidoscopic colors and symmetric patterns springing to life off of ceramic plates. Proceeds from her artwork will be split between four relief organizations, including I Support Ukraine. By the time of this publishing, shed’ raised over $1,000 for the cause. Previously a resident of Houston, she recently relocated to Poulsbo. Through her fundraising efforts, she’s seen support from members of her new, Puget Sound community and friends from Houston.
While creating new art pieces, Drozdova has reflected on friends living through the invasion. At the forefront of her mind are stories of uncertainty, trying to traverse humanitarian corridors to safety, and families separated when members stay behind to volunteer for Ukrainian defense forces. Knowing her friends’ experiences, Drozdova said she wanted to do what she could to help Ukrainian people through these trying times. “To be honest, I was very low spirit,” said “Drozdova, “and that’s another reason I said I need to do something to help my friends—even maybe personally to them, but to Ukraine. And that is why I started to paint, and it helped me a lot. So I do something for them … When I paint of this point-to-point technique, I pray about Ukraine, about those people. I like imaging how my money, whatever I buy for them, like medicine, socks, whatever, will help them. I hope so.”
Mandalas Art Fundraiser for Ukraine by Yulia Drozdova
Pieces starting at $40 + shipping