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Whatever it takes: Ukrainian community buys armored vests, medical supplies ahead of personal delivery

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Posted at 6:14 PM, Mar 31, 2022

BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio — Since Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in late February, Greater Cleveland’s tight-knit and well-connected Ukrainian community has opened their hearts and wallets while rallying others to do the same. As part of the community’s efforts, hundreds of bulletproof vests and first aid kits have been collected to be hand-delivered to the war-torn country.

Dozens of volunteers joined the congregation of Slavic Full Gospel Church in Broadview Heights on Thursday afternoon to assemble and package the newly-purchased armored vests that will be delivered to the Ukrainian army and volunteers next week. In addition to the vests, which can cost upwards of $500 apiece even if purchased directly from the manufacturer, the community-led effort has also assembled hundreds of tourniquets, first aid kits and other supplies. Totaling tens of thousands of dollars, the relief drive has been financed through the generosity of others.

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“We literally are going to save lives of Ukrainian people through our fundraiser,” said Roman Sheremeta. “People need to understand that this is an urgent need. We need to ship these vests as soon as possible because every day that we delay, it’s another 100 or 1,000 people that could be dead.”

The congregation at Slavic Full Gospel Church is almost exclusively Ukrainian. And although the church has helped to spearhead and continue the relief collection efforts, they have been strongly supported by a neighboring church, Cuyahoga Valley Church.

In order to keep purchasing and delivering the potentially life-saving goods, the church will be hosting a fundraiser event on Saturday, April 2. Pierogis and other baked goods will be provided and donations will be collected.

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Every dollar counts, deacon Roman Skalsky said, and speed is critical.

“It’s why we are trying to hand-deliver them because we know the [best locations]. We know who needs them. It’s not going to be sitting there,” Skalsky said. “We are going to be delivering them to the spot — almost to the front line.”

Both Skalsky and Sheremeta will be among a small group of volunteers that will be tasked with transporting the hundreds of pounds of supplies.

Getting the supplies to Poland — and later, Ukraine — is the tricky part.

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Shipping by cargo ship would take well over a month and most logistics companies have stopped servicing Ukraine because of safety concerns. Instead, the group will pack the vests and first aid supplies in traditional luggage as they fly on a commercial airline to Warsaw, Poland.

The group expects to need between 30 to 40 suitcases.

“It’s not cheap but that’s why we need the fundraiser,” Sheremeta said. “We have a friend of our church, a deacon, that was recently shot on his way to Kyiv. He was delivering humanitarian aid, trying to get people to evacuate. He did five trips. On the sixth, he was killed. If he had one of these, his life would have been spared. We literally want to save the lives of as many people as we can.”