A Ukrainian refugee in Colorado hits Putin with grassroots energy efforts
Jan. 28 – The mayor of a bombed-out Ukrainian village, face red from the cold, thanked strangers in a faraway place called Colorado for the lifeline they had provided.
“We are grateful,” said Victor Zozulya, who oversees the town of Nves’ke, which has a population of 136. Nves’ke is considered a crisis area because it is so close to Russia – only about 70 miles from the border.
“This is very, very, very important for our people who live on zero,” Zozulya said in a cellphone video.
“The Zero” is a term for the front lines of almost daily Russian attacks. Nves’ke is in the Luhansk province, which borders Russia’s southwestern border and is a gateway to Crimea for Russians.
Townsfolk have not felt safe for months even as the Ukrainian military repelled Russian attacks near 11 settlements in the eastern regions, including Nves’ke, according to Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform on Thursday.
Like many rural areas in Luhansk, Nves’ke has lost all but 10% of its power.
“They want to burn our village down,” Zozulya said in Ukrainian.
Behind Zozulya stood boxes of generators, space heaters, propane tanks, batteries and magnetic lights, funded by Coloradans and strategically delivered thanks to a fugitive who fled war-torn Ukraine to Colorado Springs in May.
Yana Malyk is a 35-year-old Ukrainian businesswoman who brought her contacts and experiences from the 2014 Russian invasion to the United States after spending weeks on the run with her family. Luhansk is their homeland.
As local and international politicians debated for weeks on whether to send military tanks into the ground war with Russia, the dynamic refugee launched something of a counterattack — quietly raising money to rescue fellow citizens trapped in an occupation they didn’t demand .
She is a warrior in high heels. And during those late-night zooms and texts, you can tell she’s winning visual battles in a pair of sweatpants, her long blonde hair piled atop her head. Those days, the dark circles under her eyes are well deserved.
Malyk’s “weapons of war” are a computer, a phone, and a homestay in Colorado Springs who are her adopted pals.
Colorado Springs power couple Marc and Whitney Luckett have embraced the Ukrainian cause.
“I need help. This wonderful family has protected me and help me in everything,” Malyk said in a text.
At least half of all of Ukraine’s power generation infrastructure was destroyed or disrupted by Russian attacks as Vladimir Putin attempted to weaken civilians by freezing and starving them into submission.
Used to these types of tactics and the harsh winter months ahead, Malyk launched Ukraine Power in December when temperatures were hovering in the 20s. Because it would take too long to gain nonprofit status, she launched a grassroots campaign through social media, phone calls, and fundraisers, with support from Luckett.
The Gazette in December covered the story of Ukraine Power raising needed donations.
In just a month and a half, Ukraine Power raised $80,000 – every penny of which delivered 46 generators at $1,000 each, 60 electric heaters, 70 propane tanks and lamps to Luhansk.
“She’s like a timber wolf chasing prey through the snow,” said Marc Luckett. “The woman is not sleeping.”
This week’s new round of Russian bombings killed 11 people and destroyed scores of power systems across the country. Visiting dignitaries such as French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna raised the alarm: “What we have seen today, new strikes against civilian Ukrainian infrastructure, does not lead to war, but to war crimes.”
Register for free: Springs AM Update
Your morning run-down of the latest news from Colorado Springs and across the country overnight and stories to follow throughout the day, delivered to your inbox each night.
Check out all our newsletters.
Success! Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.
Check out all our newsletters.
Thousands of miles away in the shelter of the Rocky Mountains, Malyk could hardly sit still.
“The situation in Ukraine is critical, so now we need to make even more efforts to help,” she said.
Donations come from concerned Colorado residents watching the war on their TVs.
This week, Ukraine Power branched out of state and met with the Rotary Club of Petaluma, California, who donated $1,000. This amount of money is enough to buy a generator.
How the power of Ukraine began
The David and Goliath effort began with a text to a man named Oleksiy Smirnoff, the deputy governor of Luhansk.
“What do you need?” Malyk wrote to him. Because of the nine-hour time difference, it was the middle of the night for her and daylight for him. Smirnoff did not hesitate. “Generators,” he replied.
Malyk and the Lucketts knew “absolutely nothing about generators,” went online marketplace and discovered a UK Amazon site that eliminates unnecessary US-based shipping costs.
Triple A batteries? Who knew you could buy them by the thousands?
Last week, Ukraine Power became a 501c3 nonprofit.
Sending government aid to Ukraine has become an unwelcome target for some in Congress, who want to see the money go to American causes, particularly to better protect the southern border, contain the fentanyl crisis, and curb inflation.
US Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, is one who wants to take the reins to send aid to Ukraine, saying international aid “is not a priority for American citizens.”
Malyk disagrees with this view.
“I believe that countries in trouble should support each other. You never know what may happen to us and when, but rest assured that those we help will definitely help us,” she told the Gazette.
Mark Luckett gets angry when politicians refuse to send aid.
“The total amount of aid the US has sent to Ukraine is a tiny percentage of the total US military budget,” he wrote in an email to The Gazette. “Yet with that support, the Ukrainian army has forced the Russians to expend vast amounts of their own military capabilities, reducing what was once considered the second-strongest army in the world to a small fraction of its former strength — all without costing the life of a single American soldier. “
Still, the war is almost a year old and there is no end in sight. Malyk is now concerned about the growing number of orphans. She also wants to find a way to raise awareness among Ukraine’s wounded warriors.
The small woman with big ideas makes a difference. Earlier this month, four armed and camouflaged Ukrainian soldiers, one of whom has his face covered by a Ukrainian flag to keep his identity a secret, posted a video to Ukraine Power’s Facebook page.
They were gathered around a brand new generator sent by Ukraine Power. A bundled soldier said, while snowflakes swirled around his head, “Thanks to you, we are approaching our victory together.
At the same time, they quickly shouted: “Slava Ukraine!”
Donations can be sent to ukrainepower.org.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE GAZETTE