SaveUkraineNow: Peace Corps activist on fundraising and plans to go back to Ukraine

Since the war in Ukraine started, millions of concerned people worldwide joined the rally against Russian aggression to help the Ukrainian army, displaced persons, and animals. Among these activists was Ashleigh Graves-Rosler. She fell in love with Ukraine and Ivano-Frankivsk when she volunteered here for the US Peace Corps mission. Ashleigh involved all colleagues, friends, and relatives in raising funds and donations to support the SaveUkraineNow initiative. Ashleigh told us about her way to being the most efficient and her dreams of coming back to Ukraine to help rebuild Ukrainian cities.

Ashleigh, what connects you with Ukraine?
In 2017, my husband Bryan and I moved to Ukraine as volunteers on a two-year community development assignment with the United States Peace Corps. “Warm City” was my host organization. I had been hearing about Teple Misto’s stellar reputation and progressive projects ever since I arrived in Ukraine, so I was really excited to work with such an amazing team. It was a wonderful experience and we did some interesting projects together. During my service, I came to really love Ukraine and Ukrainian culture.
At home in Idaho, I still cook many Ukrainian recipes!
Tell us about your experience in Ivano-Frankivsk.
Ivano-Frankivsk feels like a second home to me. I think anyone who visits immediately knows that it is a very special place. On every street, you can find something interesting to see or learn. The city has a “warm” mood all its own and I love that.
In Ivano-Frankivsk, I met so many interesting civic activists, urbanists, artists, and civic leaders who were doing creative work to improve the community. Ivano-Frankivsk is a model for social innovation. Projects like the Promprylad renovation, Urban Space, City Grants, and Urban Space radio - these are really successful and progressive projects that other communities can learn from and replicate.

What were you doing when you heard the news about the russian invasion of Ukraine?
Bryan and I were sitting at home glued to the news. We were watching live when the first strike Kyiv, which was late in the evening on US time. We stayed up as late as we could to watch everything. It felt like the world was ending. I remember that reporters were starting to put on flak jackets and helmets while talking to the camera. I could not believe this was happening in a peaceful city I knew so well, on a normal peaceful morning.
How did you come to the idea of help?
After the war broke out, I was sad. Then, very quickly, sadness was replaced with anger. I’ve never been so angry. Finding something useful to do is a good way to deal with anger, so I started looking for ways to be useful. Because my professional work is in fundraising, that seemed like a good place to start.
Can you be specific about your initiative: how it works, who the donors are, and your results so far?
Immediately when the war began, hundreds of former Peace Corps Volunteers who had lived in Ukraine formed a network to coordinate aid, resources, and information. I joined several initiatives that came out of this network. For instance, a group of us coordinated a national humanitarian aid drive to secure specific supplies, mostly medical, requested by organizations working with refugees. We collected and shipped thousands of pounds of supplies in just a few weeks. We are also helping to coordinate direct support for some local communities, helping arrange transportation and accommodations abroad, raising awareness and advocacy in America, and basically doing whatever we can to support Ukraine.
When I heard about the #SaveUkraineNow project, I was so happy there was a way to directly support efforts in Ivano-Frankivsk. I contacted every American I knew who had lived in the Ivano-Frankivsk region to ask for their support. Some of my family and friends were interested to hear about this project and decided to make a contribution as well. My amazing sister Mab - who I think you will talk to later - sold digital downloads of two paintings to raise funds for #SaveUkraineNow and to send medical supplies to the Ukrainian army.

Learn more about SaveUkraineNow

If you would motivate someone to support Ukraine, what would you say?
I would say: Ukraine is going to win this war, but we can’t let them do it alone! Donating some money, attending a rally, calling our political representatives to demand more aid and military support for Ukraine - these are simple things that everyone can and should do to show their support for the Ukrainian people.
Why are social initiatives like yours important?
Americans are very eager to help Ukraine, but a lot of them don’t know how to do it. Maybe they don’t know any Ukrainian NGOs or they don’t know any Ukrainian people. Also, a lot of Americans have lost trust in some of the large US-led charities that do international aid work. I think that it is very important for Americans to donate money directly to Ukrainian organizations. My goal is to help other Americans contribute to Ukrainian victory by supporting Ukrainian NGOs.
Are you planning to visit Ukraine sometime?
Yes! As soon as it is possible, I can't wait to return to visit. I wish more Americans would visit Ukraine to enjoy the beautiful country and learn about and appreciate the culture. I hope that after the war, many people will be interested in visiting Ukraine to experience all that it has to offer.
Bryan and I would also like to live in Ukraine again someday. We are inspired to see that Ukrainians are already thinking about how to creatively rebuild and reimagine damaged cities. I think it would be amazing to support the rebuilding of Ukrainian cities and the many new civil society initiatives that will undoubtedly happen as well.

Pictures provided by Ashleigh Graves-Rosler

The Coordination Center #SaveUkraineNow was established by Ivano-Frankivsk Municipality, Ivano-Frankivsk Business Association, the Territorial Defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Ivano-Frankivsk, «Teple Misto» сharitable оrganization, innovation center Promprylad.Renovation and Ivano-Frankivsk Drama Theater. In cooperation with other partners, the Coordination Center of Resistance is aimed to meet urgent humanitarian needs and needs of the Territorial Defense Forces in Ivano-Frankivsk city and the region, the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The main goal of the Coordination Center SaveUkraineNow is to coordinate, analyze, collect, and send any sort of help to places that are in dire need. We have created an online database to sync demand and supply and streamline the provisioning process. We aim to ensure accessible and prompt aid to our defenders and temporarily displaced civilians. We welcome everyone to support us in our struggle for peace and to donate.

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