Groups Host Art Benefit for Ukraine

This Saturday, February 24, from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm two local (one here, one in the Tri-Cities) non-profits will present what they are billing as a “Ukrainian Cultural Exchange” to the Emporium. KoloHub and Restore Ukraine will bring an afternoon of Ukrainian food, art, and music to the event. An art auction will benefit housing restoration in Ukraine, while raffle ticket sales and donations will go toward a range of needs in the warn-torn country. Attendees will be entertained by a concert featuring Knoxville-based Ukrainian artist Marki Lucky.

I spoke with the founders of each organization to get an idea of their backgrounds, motivations, and what their organizations — both 501(c)(3) — hope to accomplish. Their passion and commitment to helping the country of their birth flowed throughout the conversation, as well as a desire to promote healing and focus on a positive future.
KoloHub (kolo means “circle” in Ukrainian) founder and president Olena Korotych was born in Cherkasy region, Ukraine, but has lived in Knoxville for the last eight years, teaching at the University of Tennessee. She holds an “M.S. in Physical Chemistry (2009) from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and Ph.D. (2014) in Colloidal Chemistry from Ovcharenko Institute of Biocolloidal Chemistry.” Her husband is also a scientist working at ORNL. She said she, “loves the local community.”
She founded the organization just after the Russian invasion in Ukraine. “We were heartbroken because we both have family and friends there.” Initially they independently tried to raise money quickly, hoping the war would end quickly, but soon realized that would not be the case, and the suffering would be protracted.
Transferring money into the country proved very difficult for individuals and the need for a non-profit organization became obvious.
They began to co-ordinate with organizations in Ukraine working on a range of urgent needs. They also began lobbying efforts to get support for continued U.S. funding for the war and for humanitarian assistance from the U.S. She said they experienced a supportive response from Senator Marsha Blackburn (though she voted against the aid package just approved by the Senate), but despite repeated and persistent efforts over the course of a year, have not been able to meet with Representative Burchett. Additionally, they want to expose people to the culture of Ukraine so that it is seen more as a vibrant country and not simply a place that is devastated by war.

Another concern for Olena is the impact of Russian propaganda, which she’s seen for many years in Ukraine, and is now experiencing here. She said it takes the same form in both places: sowing discord and doubt between groups. Locally they’ve experienced it in their social media. “For non-profit’s it (social media) does not have a lot of attention, but every time I make an advertisement for an event, I’m getting hundreds of comments. If you open the pages of people who comment, they have no friends and they only spread Russian narratives trying to break relationships between Ukraine, U.S. and allies.” Curious, I followed an “angry face” emoticon on a recent post and found an empty FB page, launched days before, with no friends, no one following, and no posts.

Outside the art, the money raised will go through KoloHub to three organizations inside Ukraine, each addressing specific needs. The first, Dobrodiy Club works with children, providing psychological support to offset the trauma they continue to experience. Each session costs $5 and each child is given four sessions. The second organization, Happy Paw, provides treatment and homes for the displaced animals, while the third, Hospitallers works to train paramedics, an obvious and massive need, as well as medical supplies.

Olena visited Ukraine in December and said it was much better for the country than last winter thanks to the allies and the work on the energy grid and air defenses. She said there were air attacks, but no outages. She fears the U.S. election will make further aid difficult to obtain. “I appreciate any support. If you have questions or would like to support us, please feel free to contact me . . . On the behalf of local Ukrainian community and people in Ukraine, we are very thankful for our local community and for American and Ukrainian alliance because without support, Ukraine would not be able to stand against Russia.”

Restore Ukraine started days after the beginning of the war by brothers Yaroslav and Stanislav Hnatusko. Both are Ukrainian born and raised. I spoke to Yaro who studied English for two years after high school to be allowed to study in the U.S. He moved here in 2017, attending college on a tennis scholarship.

As the war started, the two brothers worked with employees of Altant, a “Ukrainian distributor of construction materials,” facilitating thousands of hot meals to feed people hiding in metro stations. They also helped convert warehouses into shelters, but they realized their efforts were too small. The two agreed to start a non-profit, recognized in both countries, that could do much more. The result was Restore Ukraine.

They reached out to every contact and soon funded $1,000 per day, but knew it wasn’t enough. They joined forces with many international aid organizations and raised $2,000,000 and distributed 2.8 million pounds of supplies over the next two years, providing food, medical supplies, and construction materials. The current fundraiser will focus on building materials.

The focus in their fundraisers is always to send a positive message about the future and about the culture of Ukraine. “We want to share more about the people and culture and about the hopes for the country.” To that end, Ukrainian artists were recruited to produce art showing the “beautiful side of the country,” not the devastation it is currently experiencing. All money raised through the effort (there are four auctions in February and March in different cities) will go toward reconstruction of damaged homes.

The money will go directly to impacted families in Kharkiv, in the form of $1,000 vouchers for repair materials such as bricks and flooring. The value translates roughly into $3,300 purchasing power in the U.S. By allowing the purchase of materials there rather than shipping them in, the economy is boosted, the money goes farther, and shipping costs and delays (it takes about two months to send materials from the U.S.). Unemployment in Ukraine is over 16% and this keeps people employed.

Yaro said the artists are each unique and the culture of the country comes through in the work. “All people know about Ukraine now is the war. These works show the beauty, people, history, and landscape. This is my mission.”