Local Residents Assist Ukrainians Escaping War

A shelling partially destroyed a block of flats in Obolon district, Kyiv, 14 March 2022.

Sheridan Lee
UJW-DC Spring 2022

What is happening in Ukraine has the world’s eyes watching every move. 

Russia has aimed weapons and bombs at a maternity hospital in Russia, killing women, newborns and some yet to be born. The homes of civilians, their houses and apartment buildings, have been targeted too. Family photos, heirlooms and other valuables have been torn to shreds all across Ukraine. 

People here in the United States have found it difficult to do nothing. Locally, in the Washington, D.C., region, individuals and agencies have been lending a hand. Montgomery County resident Steve Wasser is helping a Ukrainian family resettle here in the Gaithersburg area. Tamara Woroby, the president of the Parish Council at St. Andrew Ukrainian Othodox Cathedral, says the church is preparing care packages for people in Ukraine and those at the Ukraine borders and in surrounding countries. The Biden administration had already contributed billions of dollars to Ukraine and their aid. In May, at press time, the president had signed an additional $40 billion Ukraine aid bill. In addition to that level of support, people have shown kindness and are helping as many of the displaced families as possible. 

The hope is that “there will be people all over the country who do the same thing,” Wasser says.

Help is desperately needed. Russia’s military invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 with the intention of conquering the sovereign nation. The attack has even targeted civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin is using his military and weapons to destroy people’s homes and businesses and kill innocent people, forcing millions of them to leave what they know behind to find safety. More than 3,000 people, including women and children, have been killed in Ukraine since Putin ordered the assault. The attacks have injured just as many, mostly civilians, according to the United Nations human rights division.

The country is being destroyed into ruins. The onslaught of missiles and shelling targeting civilians is creating a refugee crisis experts say they have not seen since World War I. While the deaths and casualties continue to mount, people are doing everything they can to assist displaced residents who fled Ukraine. Wasser, who is half-Ukrainian, says his motivation for helping the Bodak family is “the desire to help others, pay it forward.” 

He said he learned of the Bodaks — Anna, her husband Sergei and their two sons — from mutual Ukrainian friends who live in California. Together, the friends decided they were going to help this family that Wasser describes as “kind-hearted people.” The Bodaks were able to drive from Ukraine to safety in Poland for a few days before the family flew to the United States. 

Now settled here in Maryland, the Bodaks are relieved to be together and to have escaped danger. “Our main focus was to get the kids out of the country, to get to a safe place,” said Anna Bodak, who fled with her family just days before the invasion began. Her husband said he is astonished by the help and support they are receiving.

“We came to the United States without any understanding of what was going to happen,” Sergei Bodak told NBCNews. “We had no idea of what our future was going to hold for us, and we are feeling in awe of how many people came through.” 

Biden plans to use the $40 billion on new military and humanitarian assistance to support the Ukrainians. Woroby, who is leading the efforts at St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, Md., says they are also trying to do what they can to help. The church receives donations from local citizens and from the state of Maryland. It has organized a system to put together care packages that they send to people who are still in Ukraine and those who are along the Ukrainian borders and in neighboring countries. The care packages consist of medical supplies, baby care items and hygiene products. With so many supplies to be packed, they welcome students who need service hours.

“The biggest challenge has been getting stuff to Ukraine and from the U.S.,” Woroby said. 

The help and support  Wasser and his friends are providing the Bodaks are just the beginning. “We’re going to find a way to house other people,” Wasser said, “and we’re going to find a way to help out.”


Founded in 1975, the Washington Association of Black Journalists is an organization of Black journalists, journalism professors, public relations professionals and student journalists in the D.C., metro area. WABJ provides members with ongoing professional education opportunities and advocates for greater diversification of the profession.