Partners with Ukraine: Local YMCAs expanding on long-term relationship

Published 7:43 am Monday, March 14, 2022

WINSTON-SALEM — The invasion by Russian forces into Ukraine and the damage it has caused hits close to home for many at the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, as the organization has had a connection with YMCA Ukraine for nearly three decades.

The YMCA of NWNC is in its 28th year of partnership with YMCA Ukraine, which has 23 locations across its country. The YMCA of NWNC has provided resources and assistance to help this organization build is leadership and boards, and provide outreach to teens.

Bill White, for whom the William G. White Jr. Family YMCA is named, was instrumental in the creation of YMCA Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union.

While the YMCA of NWNC’s connection to YMCA Ukraine brings this crisis close to home, it is even more personal for Ksenia Richards, who was born and raised in Ukraine.

Richards, who once worked for YMCA Ukraine in international outreach and coordination, is a Winston-Salem resident and board member for YMCA Camp Hanes. She met her husband through the connections of both Y organizations and moved to the United States shortly after.

She still keeps in touch with family and friends in Ukraine, including her mother, grandmother, sister, and others who are still in the country near the capitol of Kyiv. In recent days, they’ve begun moving westward when it was safer to do so, Richards said.

As she reflects on the resiliency of those who are fighting back, Richards said there are ways others can make a difference for those affected by this war.

“Any kind of help for the people of Ukraine is beneficial,” Richards said.

About a dozen of YMCA Ukraine’s locations are still open. Volunteers at each of these locations are collecting supplies for local resistance, working with mothers and children who chose to stay behind, helping people get across the border away from conflict and helping disperse supplies that are sent into the country.

YMCA Ukraine has been a trusted resource for the people it has served with programs for youth, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, and refugee assistance.

“YMCA Ukraine has done incredible work in recent years to help refugees who came to Ukraine looking for safety, shelter and a new start,” said Darryl Head, interim president and chief executive officer for the YMCA of NWNC. “Now, they themselves are looking at an unfathomable refugee crisis of their own.”

Shortly after the war broke out, YMCA of the USA, YMCA Ukraine, YMCA Europe and the World YMCA began working collaboratively to make sure financial support and other supplies reach the Ukrainian people affected by the violence. The YMCA of NWNC has ways for people to donate.

If anyone would like to provide resources to help those abroad experiencing this crisis, donations designated for the Ukraine can be dropped off at a local YMCA of NWNC branch.