Student shares personal story in collecting donations for Ukraine

Roger Coda
Christina Witters with some of the donations

Christina Witters with some of the donations she received last Friday in the Williams Center. A second collection will be held Friday, March 11.

“My heart’s there in Ukraine, but I can’t be there to help, so I want to do all that I can. I can’t imagine what my family and friends are going through right now.”

That’s the driving force behind the humanitarian aid campaign that Christina Witters, a junior Biology major from Rochester, N.Y., is conducting at SUNY Fredonia to support Ukrainians whose homeland is under siege by Russian military forces.

Donations of first-aid kits, hygiene and feminine hygiene products, disposable tableware and cash to purchase additional first-aid supplies can be dropped off at the information booth near Tim Hortons in the Williams Center on Friday, March 11, from 2 to 6 p.m. Donations were also accepted there last Friday.

Community members are welcome to make contributions.

“My heart’s there in Ukraine, but I can’t be there to help, so I want to do all that I can. I can’t imagine what my family and friends are going through right now.” - Christina Witters

Response to last week’s collection drive was amazing, Ms. Witters reported.

“We had a lot of first aid, clothing and food donations made! Many donors thanked me for organizing something to help and asked if there was anything else they could do to help out! It filled my heart seeing how many people were willing to help out and donate,” Witters said.

Collection drives underway in Rochester, home to a large Ukrainian population, inspired Witters to launch a donation effort on campus. She’s delivering them to the Alpha European Grocery & Deli in Rochester, which is collaborating with Meest, a transportation and logistics operation, that’s shipping donated items to Ukraine.

Since the Russian invasion began, Witters has been constantly on her cell phone, speaking with family members, and on social media to closely monitor news reports. “Honestly, it’s hard to focus on anything else. I’m just so worried what is happening to my family, my home country,” she said. Witters’ mother is also in daily contact with family members in Ukraine.

“It’s been heart-breaking watching the news, seeing what my family is going through, talking to my family, hearing the fear that they have every day. They don’t know if they can make it through the night without their home being bombed. Thankfully my mom’s hometown hasn’t been hit yet, but they’re saying that it can happen any minute.”

She recently spoke with a cousin and a best friend who remain in Ukraine. “They tell me how scary it’s been; my best friend is in an area that’s not been hit yet, and spends the nights not being able to sleep,” Witters said. Her friend is worried about bombs hitting her home, so she’s packed her bags and is ready to go at a moment’s notice.

All told, about two-dozen members of Witters’ extended family are still spread throughout Ukraine, including in Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border, that was seized by Russian troops in 2014. A cousin was killed in combat when Russia invaded the region.

Some of Witters’ relatives have been able to flee the war to Poland.

“I’ve had several cousins who have left; they’re not letting men currently leave from the ages of 18 to 60, so only the women have left. A lot of my family who have husbands aren’t leaving because they don’t want to leave their husbands alone,” Witters said.

“All my life I grew up immersed in Ukrainian culture,” Witters, a graduate of Western Schroeder High School, said. She attended a Ukraine school on Saturdays to learn about the country’s history, language, culture, poems and dance and also belonged to a Ukrainian youth group. Witters began attending a Ukrainian summer camp at the age of three, and continues to serve as a volunteer.

Until this year, Witters, who is fluent in Ukrainian, had visited Ukraine every few years. It was heart-breaking, she recalled, to see the capital city of Kyiv lay in ruins after Ukrainians took to the streets of Maidan back in 2014 to overthrow and oust the pro-Russian government that was run by Viktor Yankovich.

Witters, a member of campus’ Operation Smile’s e-board, will be assisted by members of the campus chapter of Operation Smile at Friday’s collection drive. She’s also discussing additional campus collections with Fredonia for Global Health, a student group formerly known as Partners in Health.

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