From their apartment just an eight-minute walk from Berlin’s main train station, Sam Panzer and Kalyna Rieland have watched news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with growing horror.
They are not just geographically close to the action (Berlin is just about 700 miles from Kyiv), they are also emotionally connected with close friends, clients and family members living in Ukraine.
Kalyna’s grandparents, Anatol and Daria Lysyj, emigrated from Ukraine to Minneapolis but kept a home in Kyiv as well and remained active in supporting their home country’s fight to seek and maintain freedom.
“They were just wonderful people,” Kalyna said. “They were in the U.S. for 60 years but they were proud Ukrainians as well. My grandpa was an OB/GYN and he worked to get medical supplies back to Ukraine. He connected with religious leaders through the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Minneapolis and he donated time and money to the Ukrainian Institute of Harvard.”
In their honor, and in support of Ukraine as a whole, Sam and Kalyna have jumped into action. They organized two fund drives for medical supplies and connected with doctors in Berlin to help purchase them. Then they loaded up their car and drove the supplies to a truck headed to the Ukrainian border. They later received word that the truck had made it into Ukraine and successfully delivered supplies.
Additionally, they have offered up a room in their apartment for refugees currently pouring into Berlin.
“We have a friend who speaks Ukrainian and is volunteering at the main train station,” Sam said. “She called a few nights ago and said there was a young mother and child looking for a place to stay. We said we needed two minutes to set up a room.”
A Ukrainian family showed up to help out the young mother, so Kalyna and Sam made the living room they’d converted into a guest room available to any refugee who needed it.
“We’re just trying to help in any way we can,” Sam said. “This whole situation is just so alarming. Kyiv is often called the next Berlin and feels so familiar to us with a turbulent history, east-meets-west culture, clunky eastern bloc architecture, legendary techno and rave scene and an incredible tech sector. I keep thinking about the many Ukrainian software engineers I’ve worked with over the years and wondering if they’re now picking up guns to defend their homes.”
“Ukrainians have a special resolve. They have a self determination that is unique in the region and they’re showing real courage right now.”
To support that courageous resolve, Sam and Kalyna have marshaled their own resources, including friends and family back in the United States.
“I think we saw this grassroots movement of Ukrainians to help their families either get out of the country or get them the supplies they need. There are people with a lot of money and a lot of good will but they are very far away. We just figured we could collect money via Venmo and spend our euros here,” Sam said.
Even with a warehouse chain membership, bulk supplies aren’t readily available in Berlin.
“They have supplies of gauze for a kid who has cut his finger, not for a nation at war,” Sam said.
So, assembling a carload of supplies took some logistics.
“On Monday, I went to four pharmacies and two drug stores – they’re not the same thing over here,” Sam said. “Then I went to our Costco twice.”
A network of doctors helped collect antibiotics and painkillers, and then Sam and Kalyna loaded them up and drove them to the supply truck.
“We don’t have much money and we don’t have much time but we can secure things that will move really really fast,” Sam said. “It feels like that’s a more effective use of our resources.”
After that first chaotic week of refugees arriving with no plan or resources, the German government has stepped in with a more organized approach. They announced earlier this week that they have established a placement plan that will not depend on private housing, though the room in Sam and Kalyna’s apartment will still be used by a friend’s mother who took a harrowing path out of Ukraine.
Sam and Kalyna will remain active in their efforts to support Ukraine and to protest an unjust invasion, though they are relieved to see the government step in to help with the overwhelming surge of refugees.
“You can’t get stuck on what’s the right thing to do when there are 200,000 troops sweeping through a country,” Sam said. “There is a sense of urgency to do whatever you can as fast as you can do it.”