Uniting together an unprecedented act of charity for Ukraine — Hometown Station | KHTS FM 98.1 & AM 1220 — Santa Clarita Radio
Aksenia Krupenko, a Ukrainian expatriate, based in Washington, has built a funnel of humanitarian aid. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict, 13 planes carrying 150 tons of humanitarian goods have traveled from the United States to Ukraine. David Kezerashvili, the former Georgian defense minister, donated the first jet plane, and since then plane after plane has been sent to Ukraine. Here is the incredible story behind one woman’s determination to help her people.
The first steps of an important project
Thanks to the unwavering commitment of Aksenia Krupenko, the supplies first began to flow to Poland on an overnight flight from the JFK cargo terminal, and then they were sent to Ukraine by ground transport. She managed to pack an Airbus A330 with donated goods, including clothing, medical supplies, equipment for outdoor activities and personal hygiene supplies.
Krupenko freely transported non-military goods from the United States at the start of the war. She co-founded the Revival Foundation with her diaspora community to ask for help. Her DC apartment quickly filled with donated items. A benefactor donated warehouse space near DC, Maryland that volunteers used to sort and store donations. Once this quickly overwhelmed, another free warehouse in the tri-state area was donated. Help from a wide range of people and organizations came from all over the world.
Freighting cargo to Ukraine was difficult, however, as all major US cargo airlines advised Aksenia that it would take weeks to get a plane and it would cost $1 million to charter one. Shipping would be even slower.
Krupenko sought out other Ukrainians for information on Eastern European airlines who might be willing to help. She met with Ukrposhta CEO Igor Smelyansky. Smelyansky told him that due to the closure of Ukrainian airspace, cargo planes were taking off from Poland. Ukrposhta has partnered with Ukrainian airline Windrose for global flights. Ukrposhta loaded Ukrainian mail and exported goods aboard Windrose charters to the United States. CEO Volodymyr Kamenchuk agreed that the return flight would be filled with humanitarian aid. More importantly, he told Aksenia he would do it at cost – for $250,000 – a quarter of the original price he was offered! Now Aksenia had to find the money.
Georgia goes to the plate
Krupenko phoned everyone he knew to support the theft, including Revival Foundation co-founder Temuri Yakobashvili. They knew the Ukrainians needed relief quickly. Yakobashvili (former Georgian vice president and ambassador) linked Krupenko with donor David Kezerashvili. Kezerashvili, a former Georgian defense minister and now a successful entrepreneur, generously paid the $250,000 needed for the first plane.
Ukraine and Georgia have had close ties for a long time. Both nations were invaded by Russia, with the invasion of Georgia beginning in 2008. In addition to external pressure, both countries worked mightily to resist internal pressure, corruption and the force that Russia used against their democracies.
In this fight, the two countries have often helped each other. During the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, which occurred while Kezerashvili was Georgia’s Defense Minister, Ukraine supplied Georgia with weapons and helped in its defense. There is a large Georgian military force that has been serving for quite some time on the front lines of the current Ukrainian conflict against Russia. The same quiet cooperation continues in other parts of the world. This is all done unofficially. This is because Georgia’s current government, elected in 2013 and has remained in power ever since, has maintained a passive, and sometimes even friendly, stance towards Moscow. There have been frequent prosecutions in absentia of former Georgian politicians who are/were hostile to Russian interests.
The strategy remains firm
With Windrose’s help, Ukrposta has kept Ukrainian commerce alive, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that lack access to mass industrial logistics. It was a calculated act of defiance against Moscow’s economic shutdown plan. Ukraine has also asked major market players to maintain the circulation of products. Etsy and eBay were the first to respond, and others followed, helping Ukrainian manufacturers succeed. Warsaw was the main airport for migrants, while Lublin handled important cargo flights.
Once the humanitarian aid plane landed in Lublin, Ukrposhta unloaded them and transported the aid to Lviv, Ukraine. Due to the war, Ukrposhta and Ukrainian National Railways forged a closer bond to help with ever-changing logistics. Roman Senishin, Lviv station master, helped coordinate Krupenko’s aid with Ukrposhta across the country. Ukrainian Railways and Ukrposhta are currently paying the expenses of Lublin airport. Georgians, of course, help every step of the way.
At their final destination in Ukraine, where the boxes were being unloaded, members of the armed forces came to personally thank Aksenia Krupenko and receive some of the assigned goods. Medicines, yoga mats (for sleeping), large size shoes and boots (hard to acquire in Ukraine) and other items are included in the package.
Determination and teamwork can accomplish anything
At the end of March, the first plane carrying humanitarian aid flew from the United States to Poland. Krupenko had achieved the impossible, building an international supply network in days. While she was flying planes from New York with help for Ukraine, bigger organizations and international charities hadn’t even crossed the Polish border.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Aksenia Krupenko has coordinated 13 flights and delivered more than 150 tons of humanitarian aid and she has no intention of stopping before the end of the war.