DENVER — Like so many millions around the world, Andriy Smaglyukov watched in horror the night of February 24, 2022, as Russia launched its assault on the country of Ukraine. He was personally safe, scrolling through headlines from inside his apartment in the Denver area, but his family and closest friends were — and still are — in grave danger.
“We were so stupid that we were thinking that they would never do this to us, to my country,” Smaglyukov said with tears in his eyes, recalling conversations with his friends still in Ukraine immediately after the war started. “I couldn’t even think that all this stuff could happen, just in a second — that the whole country, with over 32 million people, started getting bombed everywhere.”
Smaglyukov is from a small farming community in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, which has been one of the hardest hit areas in the war. The region has seen attacks by pro-Russian separatists since 2014. He hasn’t been able to return to see his family for more than three years now. He doesn’t know when he will see his family and friends in person again.
The Ukrainian people stunned the world early in the conflict, holding off Russian capture and maintaining their independence; but as the war drags on, the situation has only gotten more dire. As of late June, the United Nations estimates 4,731 Ukrainian civilians have been killed. More than half have come from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that Smaglyukov called home.
But as he has followed the tragic headlines, he has turned his shock and despair into action.
“One moment, I just jumped from the sofa, and I said, "No, I need to stop reading this news, and I need to start doing something,"” he said.
That “something” was Denver Helps Kyiv, an online fundraiser for aid in Ukraine. Smaglyukov had no grand ambitions to start, but the fundraiser has grown into something incredible. Nearly $120,000 has already been donated here in the U.S. as of this publication, and has bought food, clothing, medicine and even cars, which are then delivered by Smaglyukov’s network of friends still in Ukraine.
“My friends in Ukraine are really amazed at how much money we’re able to raise,” Smaglyukov said. “I was thinking, "How can we send a message to Americans that the Ukrainian people appreciate them?" And we came up with this idea that everybody who will get help from Denver will send a message saying, "Thank You Denver."”
More than 500 “Thank You Denver” pictures have already been sent back by appreciative Ukrainians. With no end to the war in sight, there is no end to Denver Helps Kyiv in sight.
“Everybody needs to understand and remember, this war is not finished,” Smaglukov said. “Ukraine is such a strong nation, we will win this war. It’s only one thing that we need to remember — how many deaths we will [suffer] to end this war.”
If you would like to donate to Denver Helps Kyiv, click here.