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Ballroom dance event raises funds used to deliver aid to Ukrainians

Sarasota Herald-Tribune logo Sarasota Herald-Tribune 5/17/2022 Earle Kimel, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA – Shortly after the Russians bombed Kyiv, Bohdana Zimich left her home and job as a personal assistant to move in with her sister Katya Grybovska and her two children Max and Polina in the village of Byshiv, about 40 miles southwest of the capital city.

After Russian bombs destroyed the town center – including the school where Max, 7, and Polina, 5, attended, – the family fled farther west, to their parents' home, with an eye toward escaping the country through Poland.

Earlier: Ukrainian Sarasota residents pray for their loved ones

Last Saturday evening the family – along with their aunt, Sarasota resident Zhanna Holivii, with whom they have been living since late March – attended a fundraising program hosted by Sara Dance Center that featured ballroom dance exhibitions, a rendition of the Ukrainian National Anthem sung by Nataliya Bratash, Maryna Savage and Nadia Sawa, and brief talks by representatives of nonprofits raising money for Ukrainian war relief.

Sarasota resident Zhanna Holivii, left, poses with her nieces Bohdana Zimich and Katya Grybovska and Grybovska’s children Max, 7 and Polina, 5, Saturday evening at Sara Dance Center, which hosted a Ballroom Dance-based fundraiser for the Ukrainian army. Zimich, Grybovska and her children have been staying with Holivii since late March, after fleeing for their safety. Grybovska’s husband is still in Ukraine, helping to defend the country. © EARLE KIMEL / HERALD-TRIBUNE Sarasota resident Zhanna Holivii, left, poses with her nieces Bohdana Zimich and Katya Grybovska and Grybovska’s children Max, 7 and Polina, 5, Saturday evening at Sara Dance Center, which hosted a Ballroom Dance-based fundraiser for the Ukrainian army. Zimich, Grybovska and her children have been staying with Holivii since late March, after fleeing for their safety. Grybovska’s husband is still in Ukraine, helping to defend the country.

Holivii, said that she had friends in Poland where her nieces and the children stayed.

“They found them a place to rent in Krakow; they stayed in Krakow for two weeks,” she added.

Then, after speaking with State Department officials at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, the family received a tourist visa to travel to Florida and stay with their aunt.

Grybovska, who had been working in a factory that made ingredients for laundry detergent, still contacts her husband – who stayed behind to help defend the country – daily.

This aerial image shows the damaged center of the village of Byshiv, Ukraine. © PHOTO PROVIDED BY ZHANNA HOLIVII This aerial image shows the damaged center of the village of Byshiv, Ukraine.

Despite the ongoing war, civilian communication is still readily available between people remaining in Ukraine and those who have left for safety in other countries, including  Zimich, Grybovska  and the children.

“Now they can ask for temporary status,” Holivii said. That means an opportunity to study in the U.S. for up to two years, she added.

Zimich said it’s too early to say when they might return.

Based on the outpouring of support on Saturday night, the entire Eastern European community on the west coast of Florida from North Port north to St. Petersburg have embraced Ukrainians taking refuge in the region.

Overhearing a conversation between the family and a reporter, Olga Akroush – a friend of event organizer Ruta Jouniari who moved from Ukraine 20 years ago – said she wanted to help the young family.

She, too, has relatives in Ukraine and can keep in touch by the internet, through Facebook or the Viber video chat app.

'It takes a village to help a village'

Jouniari, a Massachusetts native whose parents emigrated from Lithuania, said there is no donation too small to help.

“It takes a village to help a village,” Jouniari said. “If any of us give $10, $5, $1,000 – tourniquets, it all helps in some way.”

She noted how her employer, Dr. Barry Gordon, a retired emergency medical physician from Ohio who now operates the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, worked with six area pharmacies from Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice and North Port to ship close to $700,000 in medicine used in emergency medical treatment to Ukraine.

“We’ve seen our supplies in the hands of the soldiers,” Gordon said in a brief talk that included the revelation from his sister, the family genealogy expert, that their great-grandmother was from Lviv.

“This affects us all because it's a fight for freedom,” he later added.

Vasyl Boichook, a representative of the Orlando-based Ukrainian Project Inc changed the focus of its efforts from cultural awareness to raising funds for the Ukrainian army. © EARLE KIMEL / HERALD-TRIBUNE Vasyl Boichook, a representative of the Orlando-based Ukrainian Project Inc changed the focus of its efforts from cultural awareness to raising funds for the Ukrainian army.

That freedom fight prompted the Ukrainian Project Inc., the nonprofit responsible for the Ukrainian Festival in Orlando, to quickly morph from a cultural awareness focus to raising money to prevent what many on Saturday referred to as a potential genocide.

“Plans were for nice and happy things. Then the war started,” said Vasyl Boichook, a co-founder and vice president of the Orland-based nonprofit.

A three-day festival was planned for Feb. 25-27 in Apopka.

“And on the 24th the war started,” Boichook said. “Instead of doing happy dancing, we changed the songs we were singing and we turned it into a fundraiser rally.”

The nonprofit has both raised funds to pay for medical supplies or vehicle repairs to benefit the Ukrainian army and wired between $30,000 to $40,000 in cash to help.

“It’s hard to ship bulletproof vests,” Boichook said. “It’s easy for them to get it in Europe.”

The nonprofit works with Ukrainian army commanders, or commanders of the territorial defense to determine exactly what is needed and in most cases purchase those items and ships them to to Ukraine.

"We like to control every single dollar where it goes, Boichook said.

Locally, the nonprofit is represented by Bratash, the singer.

Funds collected through Saturday night’s admission, as well as the sale of homemade food went to the Ukrainian Project Inc.

More information about the group is at https://www.ukrainianfestivalorlando.org

Jaroslaw Palylyk, president of the Westchester, New York branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, addresses the crowd Saturday night at “Ballroom Dancers Unite for Ukraine,” a fundraiser for the Ukrainian army hosted at Sara Dance Studios. © EARLE KIMEL / HERALD-TRIBUNE Jaroslaw Palylyk, president of the Westchester, New York branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, addresses the crowd Saturday night at “Ballroom Dancers Unite for Ukraine,” a fundraiser for the Ukrainian army hosted at Sara Dance Studios.

Jaroslaw Palylyk, president of the Westchester, New York, branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, argued that the Russian attack is part of an effort to recreate the former Soviet Union.

“This is not the reunification of Russian speaking people to the homeland,” Palylyk said of justifications Russian leaders have used for the invasion. “It is not the liberation of Russians from a Nazi regime.

“If Russia is saving Ukraine, why are all Ukrainians fleeing to the west and not to the east?”

Holivii noted that at least four families from Byshiv fled to her parents’ town because it’s closer to the Polish border, where they too will seek haven.

“They’re like refugees,” she added.

Adelia Moyano, a Bradenton resident who recently returned from a mercy mission in Ukraine, addresses the crowd Saturday night at “Ballroom Dancers Unite for Ukraine,” a fundraiser for the Ukrainian army hosted at Sara Dance Center. © EARLE KIMEL / HERALD-TRIBUNE Adelia Moyano, a Bradenton resident who recently returned from a mercy mission in Ukraine, addresses the crowd Saturday night at “Ballroom Dancers Unite for Ukraine,” a fundraiser for the Ukrainian army hosted at Sara Dance Center.

Adelia Moyano, a Bradenton woman who recently returned from a personal mission to bring aid to Ukraine, said that she was still jet-lagged from the return trip. Moyano, who has no affiliation to a nonprofit or non-governmental organization, used her personal savings to help.

“I just bought a ticket, rented a car and went,” said Moyano, who spent 20 days in Ukraine, delivering medical supplies or shoes to soldiers and ferrying refugees to safety.

“I have so many stories,” she said, then added that a common refrain, sadly, was “I had 15 minutes to gather my life.”

Earle Kimel primarily covers south Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at earle.kimel@heraldtribune.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Ballroom dance event raises funds used to deliver aid to Ukrainians

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