Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24, sending missiles into the capital city of Kyiv while a ground invasion advanced from multiple directions.
On Feb. 28, Bogdan Golosinskiy, owner of Strafford-based trucking company Safe Way Carrier LLC, arrived in Poland, desperate to do whatever he could to help.
A native of Cherkasy, Ukraine, Golosinskiy has lived in the United States for three decades and in Springfield for 13 years. He is an active member of Connect Church, where his brother, Peter, is pastor. It is Connect Church that organized the effort to get a three-person team into Poland. In addition to Bogdan, known to friends as Dan, the church sent youth pastor Vlad Loboda, a logistics specialist with Strafford-based Logistics Center Tires LLC, and George Martinov, an agent with ReeceNichols Real Estate.
It turns out, a couple of logistics experts and a real estate guy were exactly the people for the job, as the Connect Church team partnered with Convoy of Hope to set up a system to get supplies inside the borders of Ukraine to the people who have been cut off from food and clean water by the destruction of their homes and cities.
Golosinskiy remembered how it felt when he arrived in Poland and saw the stream of refugees.
“Just getting there in the beginning, you didn’t know what to expect, where to go, what you’re doing there,” he said.
But as the owner of a trucking company, Golosinskiy may be better equipped than most to get his bearings.
“We started to figure out what we can do,” he said.
First and foremost, the Connect Church team partnered up with its fellow Assemblies of God-affiliate Convoy of Hope, an organization that has been providing humanitarian relief worldwide since 1994. Convoy was equipped to provide life-saving food, but a warehouse was needed.
That’s where the Connect Church team mobilized. Within four days, they leveraged their logistics and real estate expertise to acquire a warehouse, including racks and forklifts, in Lublin, Poland.
Golosinskiy speaks Ukrainian, a language that has much in common with Polish, and he was also armed with Google Translate. Luckily for the relief effort, his main language is logistics.
For a few days, the team looked for a warehouse by phone, and Golosinskiy said they made some 200 calls in the process.
They had arrived in Poland on a Monday. On Thursday, Golosinskiy threw up his hands.
“I said, ‘You know what, guys? We give up. Let’s pray about it,’” he said. After praying, they decided to drive around the airport area to look and ask around, Golosinskiy said.
Alongside the road, they spotted two truck drivers standing and talking. Golosinskiy approached.
“My first question was, ‘Do you speak Russian, English, Ukrainian?’” he said. “The guy’s like, ‘I speak Ukrainian,’ and I said, ‘Good! Let’s talk.”
Golosinskiy explained they were looking for warehouses and he offered his phone number. The man said to give him a couple of hours.
Later, Golosinskiy’s phone rang, right on schedule.
“He said, ‘I found a place for you to go look at,’” Golosinskiy said.
The Connect Church team went to look it over and found a perfectly located 22,000-square-foot warehouse with racks and lifts, and it was move-in ready.
“It was just a miracle,” Golosinskiy said.
It was not lost on Golosinskiy that after countless hours of effort, it only took three hours for the perfect solution to materialize after the team paused to pray.
Convoy of Hope stepped in to pay for the warehouse rental and then fill it with food and supplies, and the Connect Church team turned their attention from acquiring space to helping to fill it, purchasing food from a wholesaler.
They also used their contacts with churches throughout Ukraine to help set up distribution points in the besieged country. Connect Church has a multicultural congregation and maintains relationships with places of worship in Ukraine and other parts of the world, according to Connect Church’s executive assistant, Sarah VanOmmeren.
VanOmmeren said the congregation has raised over $100,000 so far.
“It has helped significantly, with diapers, food, basic toiletries, water,” she said. “It’s been quite the effort.”
Urgency to act
The Pew Research Center reported March 25 that 3.7 million Ukrainians had fled to other countries, making this the sixth-largest refugee outflow in over 60 years. The refugees represent about 9.1% of the country’s pre-invasion population of 41.1 million.
In all, 10 million Ukrainians, or a quarter of the population, have been displaced either internally or externally by the war, according to Pew.
Golosinskiy still has family and friends in Ukraine. Though he felt the draw to help them, he knew as a dual citizen of Ukraine and the U.S. that he needed to stay on the Polish side of the border.
“If I were to cross the Ukrainian border, I would be deployed right away,” he said. “I have four kids; I’m not ready for deployment.”
His wife, Galina, who was born in Russia, took care of their children, ages 4 to 10, for the nine days Golosinskiy was away.
“She’s a trouper. It was hard, but she understands,” Golosinskiy said.
His company, which includes 24 people in the office and nearly 100 drivers, also understood, and many of them shared his urgency to help. He said about half of his office staff and many of the owner-operators who drive for the company are Eastern European, and a lot of them offered more than moral support.
“Some of them gave towards it,” he said. “They were just happy that we’re a company not just trying to figure out our own living, but trying to help others.”
His safety manager, Roman Biliychuk, also Ukrainian, ran the show.
“He takes care of business sometimes better than I do,” Golosinskiy said.
Safe Way Carrier has professional drivers working regular hours on U.S. highways. It’s a far cry from the logistics at work to get supplies to starving, homeless people in occupied and heavily damaged cities. Golosinskiy notes there is dire need to get food, water, medicine and hygiene supplies to people quickly.
“If we can’t get significant amounts of food supplies in, people will start dying of starvation,” he said.
He urges people to donate to the effort, either through Connect Church, which earmarks all donations for relief, or through Convoy of Hope.
On the Convoy website, Ukraine updates are posted regularly, and in one video, Christian Rodriguez, response manager, shares a video of the warehouse the Connect Church team helped to procure.
Rodriguez notes in the video, “Here you will find … product that will go into a truck to be shipped into Ukraine, where churches get the supplies they need to the Ukrainians who need them.”
The clip shows Ukrainian refugees at work in the warehouse, cleaning and moving supplies.
The Convoy of Hope website notes unmarked tractor-trailers are taking supplies, including much-needed baby food, across the border.
“As fast as we can get product, it’s going,” said Clayton Gilligan, a Convoy team member stationed at the warehouse. “Everybody’s dropping their everyday lives and figuring out how to help people.”
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