The YMCA of Northwest North Carolina has a decades-long connection with YMCA Ukraine. The ongoing refugee crisis there is being aided 5,000 miles away here in the Piedmont Triad.
Twenty-eight years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, William G. White — for whom a Winston-Salem YMCA was named – helped start YMCA Ukraine after traveling there, falling in love with the people of that country and recognizing the need.
Interim CEO Darryl Head says the Northwest North Carolina YMCA has continued supporting Ukraine's programs, now more than ever.
"We have the ability here if they give to their local YMCA and put, ‘We want to help Ukraine,' we can send that money to YMCA Europe and YMCA Europe gets the money to Y Ukraine," says Head.
Ksenia Richards was born and raised in Ukraine of Russian parentage and identifies as a Russian Ukrainian. She eventually worked for the YMCA's international outreach program there. Today she resides in Winston-Salem and serves on the board of YMCA Camp Hanes. Some of her family members are still in Ukraine and were only recently able to move further west away from Kyiv and some of the worst shelling.
"All of our grief, all of the people that are in Ukraine be that they are Russian or Ukrainian or Belarussian, we are all just, you know our countries are so through generations so tied together," says Richards. "That's why it's a tragedy for all of us."
Richards says she hopes and prays that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is able to negotiate an end to the bloodshed.