BY ASHLEY SZATALA
Three people share how they traveled abroad to deliver supplies and assistance to the Ukrainian people
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, to widespread international condemnation. People around the world leapt into action to provide monetary aid and supplies to Ukraine to help Ukrainian troops, civilians and refugees. Many within the Sigma Chi International Fraternity organization did the same. Some also personally traveled to the country and surrounding ones in order to assist. While those featured below are just a few who did so, for their efforts they have been selected for the summer quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-Action Leadership Award.
Andy Roman, FLORIDA SOUTHERN 2020, couldn’t sit at home and do nothing when the invasion happened. He’s of Ukrainian descent and has cousins in Ukraine, so Roman hopped on a plane in early March to help get his cousins out of the country. Men ages 18 and up were banned from leaving, so the rest of Roman’s family decided to stay as well.
Roman started volunteering while abroad by sorting supply boxes going into Ukraine and then met a church group of different denominations working together in Ukraine and the Czech Republic that was driving supplies like food and medicine into Ukraine. He began assisting that group, and after unloading the supplies, he’d transport 10 to 14 refugees back to Poland.
Roman returned to the United States in late March and with the help of his mother started a nonprofit called Ukrainian Peace to help with the safety, housing and care of refugees during this time of war and to help with the rebuilding process and support of Ukrainians once the war is over. To date it has raised over $20,000, Roman says.
A Florida state representative connected the Martin County Sheriff’s Office in Stuart, Florida, to the nonprofit, and the sheriff’s office donated more than 100 bulletproof vests to be delivered in Ukraine because they were past their warranty and required the office to purchase new ones despite still being safe to use.
“My garage is full of bulletproof vests right now. I’ve delivered about half. They’re really, really heavy, so it’s hard to get them across into Europe. [To do so] I pretty much my check luggage. I had four giant duffel bags just full of bulletproof vests,” Roman says. “If you told me a few months ago that I’d be delivering bulletproof vests in a war zone to the military, I would be like, ‘What are you talking about? That makes no sense.’”
Since his initial trip in March, Roman returned in May and intends to go again in order to deliver to rest of the bulletproof vests and supplies and to assist refugees. He estimates he has already driven about 100 refugees out of Ukraine.
“I feel like I’m kind of bad luck because every city I visit seems to get bombed when I leave. I’ve been very fortunate I was never in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Roman says. “It’s been just one blessing after the next. It was never my intention to start a nonprofit. I was just going to help my family. But then everything fell into place, and it really did feel like God’s plan. I met everybody I needed to meet, and then there were a lot of scary situations where I really thought I was going to run out of fuel or I was really lost. Everything just ended up working out.”
The International Fraternity’s senior director of conference and travel services, Natalie Konowal, has been assisting Ukrainian orphanages through the nonprofit Ukrainian Children’s Aid and Relief Effort, or UCARE, for over 20 years. Konowal, who is of Ukrainian descent and who serves on UCARE’s board, and a few others started the Chicago-based UCARE chapter in order to assist with the medical and educational needs of the country’s more than 100,000 orphans. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, UCARE’s mission switched to aiding the children affected by displacement.
In April Konowal spent 16 days in Poland and Ukraine helping refugees and providing much-needed supplies by purchasing them with a combination of her own money and UCARE funds. Before leaving the United States, she bought $2,000 worth of over-the-counter medicines like allergy pills and Tylenol to bring with her. In total, the medicines weighed 200 pounds, she says. Upon arrival in Warsaw, Poland, a man took them to Kharkiv, Ukraine, where they were desperately needed. While in Poland Konowal, who is fluent in Ukrainian, volunteered as a translator at a train station where refugees were arriving. She also visited facilities in Poland that house refugee families and was able to purchase bed sheets, mattresses, shoes and food for them.
A group contacted Konowal to let her know 64 orphans had escaped Mariupol, Ukraine, so quickly that many did not have proper shoes, only house slippers. She purchased new shoes for all of them as well as toiletries and food. In Lviv, Ukraine, Konowal also visited a facility housing refugee orphans and one housing refugee families, and in Poland she purchased shoes, underwear, socks and food for them. During her visit, the Lviv orphans were decorating cookies for the army in town.
“I was very saddened to hear their stories of escape and felt their anxieties on what is next for them,” recalls Konowal, who has visited Ukraine four times in the past to volunteer with orphanages. “Anything they asked me to help them with during this trip I tried to accommodate.”
Konowal continues to stay active in supporting Ukraine since her return. In May she helped organize a humanitarian drive at her local library to collect items to send to the country and also organized a Ukrainian Culture Day at the library where a Ukrainian dance group and bandura group (bandura is Ukraine’s national instrument) performed. In addition people could see a pysanka, or hand-painted Ukrainian eggs, demonstration and exhibits and explanations of other cultural items and traditions.
“All the people helping both in Poland and Ukraine were inspirational to me,” Konowal says. “They helped from their hearts. I used that energy and need for hope to help all those I could.”
John Endres, WESTERN MICHIGAN 1984, and his business partner Rick Finsterbusch started talking about the war in Ukraine shortly after it started and how terrible it is for the Ukrainian people. The pair, along with another business partner, own JANZ Corporation and JANZ Medical Supply, which provide medical equipment to the federal government, primarily the U.S. Department of Defense, and support active-duty soldiers, their dependents and retirees with the equipment.
Because they have access to this type of equipment and supplies, in March they flew to Munich, Germany, to offer aid to Ukraine. Endres and Finsterbusch began working with the Ukrainian Catholic Charity in Munich to pack supplies that would be driven into the country.
“Primarily they need medicine and trauma equipment because people are getting shot, and it’s not only for soldiers, it’s for the Ukrainian people who basically took up arms,” Endres says. “So we started sourcing stuff like that.”
JANZ has a store in Stuttgart, Germany, so the men went there and grabbed stuff to donate. Then they went to the U.S. special forces base in Stuttgart, where the men and women there donated high-quality trauma gear like tourniquets and bandages.
“We brought that, and people were overwhelmed with emotion because it’s exactly what they needed,” Endres says. “[Through use of the equipment] we basically have the ability to save lives.”
While abroad, a friend of Finsterbusch’s son said she had two family members in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Together they figured out a way to get the mother and child on a train from Kharkiv to Kyiv and then to the Polish border. They were able to get to Germany and on a plane to Costa Rica because it is one of the countries that is accepting refugees, requires no visa, and they already had a connection to the country.
“When they got to Munich, we picked them up at the train station,” Endres says. “We got them taken care of, got them squared away in the hotel, got some fresh clothes, got all the food that you can eat, gave them some money, and just basically got them kind of settled down because you look in their eyes, and they’re still terrified.”
Endres and his company are still working with the Ukrainian Catholic Charity to get life-saving supplies over there, including bulletproof vests and helmets, medicines and additional medical equipment.
“So we’re continuing to try to source everything and try to send it over. And that’s been a labor of love,” he says. “The will, tenacity and spirit of the Ukrainian people were outstanding and tremendous. And that’s what gives me hope [for the people there during the war].”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.