By Jan Worth-Nelson
A little more than halfway through a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for Ukraine at the Dom Polski Hall Wednesday night, the kitchen ran out of food. Almost everyone added extra cash to the donations box, and blue and yellow “Support Ukraine” and “Stand Up for Ukraine” signs sold briskly at a side table.
“We had enough for 225 people, but this looks like more than 250 already,” said Nyk Bartkiw, chairman of the organizing Peace in Ukraine Committee from St. Vladimir Ukranian Catholic Church of Flint.
“You can always count on Americans to come through,” Pearl Bartkiw, Nyk Bartkiw’s spouse, said as she sold another sign. “We are just absolutely grateful.” She said both her and Nyk’s parents came from Ukraine.
Food was supplied by an anonymous donor, according to Genesee County Clerk John Gleason, who helped organize the event. He added with a chuckle, “I’m Irish, but I gotta say it’s a lot easier working with Ukrainians than the Irish.” Dom Polski donated the hall, and all cooks and servers were volunteers.
Proceeds will go to the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America for humanitarian aid — primarily medical needs, Nyk Bartkiw said.
Teddy Robertson, a retired professor of Eastern European history from the University of Michigan – Flint who lived in Poland for four years and has traveled extensively in the region, said she feels emotional about the situation and cries some nights when she sees footage from the war-torn land.
She said many Russians, young people as well as artists like pre-eminent dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, have been writing open letters to Putin, castigating him for “killing Russian culture” for a whole generation. “They are ashamed,” she said. “I don’t know how Russia will ever come back.”
Ukrainians, on the other hand, she asserted, will find a way to rebound.
“Ukrainians will want to rebuild their country,” Robertson said. “You’re in a better situation if you have right on your side, obviously, and Russia has been shamed.”
Meanwhile, from the podium, John Gleason led the crowd in a call and response, “Glory to Ukraine!” and “Glory to the heroes!” in both English and Ukrainian. Several already knew the Ukrainian version, “Slava Ukraini” and “Heroiam slava,”shouting it from the crowd with gusto.
“Alas, for Polish people in this case, the association with political activist Stepan Bandera these phrases harken to a bloody and terrible time in west Ukraine when Ukrainians massacred Poles. At one point, Bandera did ally with the Germans; he was looking for any support for Ukrainian independence (at that time from Poland). This is where Putin got his “de-Nazification” line. This was so bad that I feared older Poles might not respond well, but to their great credit, they have,” Robertson said.
Volunteer Jenifer Almassy of Flushing Township said, “This cause is near and dear to my heart. My family is from Croatia, not too far away…and they have dealt with so much there too. We’re in a time and place in the world where we should not let this happen.”
Serving the last of the spaghetti, volunteer Calvin McQueen of Flint Township added, “This is the world we live in, nothing surprises me — greed is always around…so, we’re doing our part, making sure that we give back.”
EVM Consulting Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.