East Lansing resident sparks massive humanitarian aid effort

“I witnessed first hand, people residing in the harshest winter conditions you can imagine.”
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 6:12 PM EST
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - As the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate, local groups in Mid-Michigan are stepping up to provide relief efforts.

Related: Russian missile barrage slams into Ukrainian cities

“You can see that the tanks have sent shells directly into civilian homes. So this suggestion, that the Russians are only hitting military targets, is garbage,” said Ody Norkin, with the East Lansing Rotary Club and Greater Lansing Jewish Federation.

Norkin lost his Ukrainian grandparents to one of the worst mass murders of the Jewish population in Ukrainian history: the Odessa Massacre of 1941. So when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in 2022, he wanted to help however he could. He got on a flight to Ukraine at the start of the war and has made four additional trips over the past year.

He has been able to deliver four ambulances and one vehicle, but that’s only the start. Rotary clubs from Lansing, East Lansing, Williamston, Ukraine, as well as the Greater Lansing Jewish Federation, are all working as one.

“Concentrated milk, and nutritional material that we brought over from sparrow hospital, I saw it being served on the (Ukrainian) table. So from Lansing Michigan to Chernivtsi Ukraine, it’s making a difference,” said Norkin.

In his five trips to Ukraine in the past year, he has personally delivered five vehicles, food and medical supplies.

“I witnessed first hand, people residing in the harshest winter conditions you can imagine,” said Norkin.

He recalled seeing people live in collapsed and charred buildings without windows, water, electricity, or heat.

With donations pouring in from far and wide, it’s been a big group effort to coordinate delivery. They are currently preparing three separate shipping containers to be delivered to Ukraine.

“One in Chicago, which is focusing strictly on helping fire departments, the same way ours is focused on helping the medical community, and then we’ve now found one in Detroit that’s focusing on helping children and educational materials,” said Raj Wiener, with the Williamston Rotary. “And in doing so, and in expanding the network with these other efforts, I think we’re sending a strong support message to our policymakers and government. The American people stand with the people of Ukraine.”

Working as a cohesive unit, you can donate items to the three local rotary clubs. They’ll get the supplies where they need to go, in order to head straight to Ukraine.

“Reaching out and calling everybody you know, saying ‘Do you have something? Do you want to do more than give your credit card?’ This is a very local, totally organic effort.” said Wiener. “It’s priceless because it’s going towards saving civilian lives. It’s going into areas that have sent everything they have to the front. So they don’t have the things they need in their towns right now, that are being shelled.”

It all started as an idea, inspired by Norkin’s loss of his Ukrainian grandparents. Norkin, unable to speak Ukrainian, Russian, or Romanian, knew it might not be successful.

“I’ll go do what I can, come back, say I tried. That was my only expectation,” said Norkin, “to go and make an effort. If I succeed, I succeed. If I don’t, I don’t.”

With the help of the Greater Lansing Jewish Federation and the four rotary clubs, the trips quickly turned into something much larger.

“The help that is needed is immediate. and everybody can play a role,” said Wiener. “Before I learned of this effort, all I thought I could do was use my credit card and not know where it went. Now I know exactly where it’s going, I know the faces of the people in the rotary club in Dnipro, who are going to receive it. I know through them, how and where they’re going to distribute.

A state-wide effort based in Mid-Michigan, saving Ukrainian lives every day. They say they will continue their humanitarian efforts for as long as it’s needed. If you would like to support their work, you can donate by reaching out to the rotary clubs of Lansing, East Lansing, and Williamston.

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