A PARTNER HIGHLIGHT: Unlocking Communities & YMCA Ukraine
“Bitter and bloody” the Russian Invasion of Ukraine has drastically changed the lives of citizens in Eastern Europe. Considered the largest attack on European soil since the end of World War II, the world watches with bated breath and bleeding hearts as the Ukrainians fight tooth and nail for Independence.
With a history of Disaster Response running through our veins, Wine To Water (WTW) teams activated immediately after the first bomb in 2022. We called partners, collected water technology, researched, and hit the ground running.
Since then, WTW and our Global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) Partners have impacted over 384,884 lives in Ukraine.
But we’re not done yet.
Recently, WTW checked in with our partner organizations Unlocking Communities and YMCA Ukraine for an update from the frontlines.
About The Partnership
Josh Goralski is the Founder and CEO of Unlocking Communities, a fellow sustainable water organization that works in Haiti. In 2015, he met Marta Huretska, a National Board Member of YMCA Ukraine. Marta knew Stanislav (Stas) Krymchuk from their youth, who joined her as a vital volunteer for Ukraine YMCA. Together, Josh, Marta, Stas and our Disaster Response Team joined our varying connections and resources for aid to the front lines.
Day One of the Invasion
When the first bombs hit Ukraine, Marta was in Berlin, Germany.
“It was a Thursday. I still remember it,” Marta said. “I got up to endless messages from my friends and family saying the war started. I felt numb - and I think I was numb for a couple of weeks. I just cried non-stop and called my Mom and Dad every ten minutes to see if they were still alive.”
Josh and Marta started disaster aid conversations almost immediately. Initially, Josh recommended water filters. When life changes so much, the need for basic necessities comes into perspective quickly, he said.
Within days, his prediction came true. On the front lines, water began flowing brown within weeks of the invasion. Seeing the need for clean water technology, Unlocking Communities and YMCA Ukraine joined with Wine To Water for clean water access to those on the front lines.
“At the very beginning of this whole project, I didn’t believe we could do it. I thought it would be impossible,” Marta said.
Despite lockdowns, constant shelling, and war, Wine To Water sent thousands of membrane filters to Ukraine from our headquarters in Boone, N.C. These membrane filters use advanced dialysis technology, removing 99.9999% of bacteria and protozoa including disease-causing organisms such as salmonella, cholera, E.coli, and giardia.
Marta and Stas have distributed over 3,000 filters from our warehouse on 10 trips to the front lines. Often, the villages and towns that Marta and Stas visit are in active combat areas - Ground 0.
The Children Come First
The bombs stop for no one, and nothing is safe in its path. In a town near Lutsk, a school library was decimated. When Marta and Stas connected with the locals, the townspeople didn’t ask for anything but educational books and resources for the kids.
Some kids have nothing now, Marta said.
“It’s months and months of sitting in a house or basement,” Marta said. “Living without internet, electricity, drinking water. Not going to school, not reading books, not having toys to play with. As soon as those places were liberated, we were reaching them.”
Equipped with a contact from the village, Marta and Stas called their friends and family, collected a couple of boxes of books, and shipped them to their contact in the village.
The package arrived a couple of days later around 11:00 a.m. Unfortunately, the contact’s house was bombed at 9 a.m. that same day.
The contact and his wife died. The contact’s children survived, though the son was injured. Marta and Stas have maintained a connection with them and have provided moral support and resources after the tragic loss.
“It’s not just about giving out things, it’s about providing support. Even though their parents passed away, life goes on and there are still people that care about them even though they are strangers,” Marta said.
Helping the Helpers
After a year or so at war, Marta and Stas emphasize that Ukrainian Emergency and Disaster Services are exhausted. Noting that, our partnership reevaluated the strategy and started a new focus; helping the helpers.
This new outlook prioritizes non-military, everyday men and women who stay behind and help the war front on the backend. Some of them have families that fled long ago, but they have stayed behind and kept their communities taken care of.
In the Kherson Region, Stas met plumbers who deliver water to the elderly. These elderly folks live far away from the town center and have a difficult time driving and walking.
“They are the real heroes,” Stas said.
Marta and Stas have focused mostly on providing membrane filters and high-capacity filtration units to places like hospitals, schools, churches, community centers, and military personnel since switching focus from civilians to those in service.
Conclusion & What Now?
“They are reaching places that so many other organizations have overlooked because they are so hard to get to,” Josh said.
We are immensely proud of this partnership and all it has accomplished.
Marta and Stas’ intimate knowledge of the locale and the needs of the people and their bravery in going to the frontlines is admirable and inspiring for us at Wine To Water, and to everyone they’ve impacted.
For now, our effort continues. However, Stas is planning on serving in another way soon.
Recently, he enlisted in the Ukrainian army and is planning on departing for certain in October. There are concerns about the upcoming Winter.
“We are more prepared than we were last year,” Marta said. “At least for the beginning of winter, we have things to give people.”
Last Winter, the bombing ruined electrical plants and knocked out heating. Blankets, flashlights, and clean water remain a priority as we near the cold months.
The war marches on, and so do we. Wine To Water is committed to the partnership and continuing assisting Marta and Stas on the front lines along with Unlocking Communities.