By Elaine Farquharson
I sit here helpless as I write this article; air alarms are sounding, and Lyuk from Dnipro SUP in Cherkasy, who reached out to contact me and others in our SUP community, has had to take shelter. It’s been 20 minutes since he sent me pictures and information about the devastating challenges they face. It’s a painful quietness, and I feel the real-time reality of his communities situation, and it feels very vain that we are to continue in our own worlds whilst they suffer.
So if I may, I want to take you on a journey. If you were to close your eyes and remember your favourite paddle. What was special about it? The community you belong to or the gentleness of the blade in the water. The silence. Sunrise or sunset. How it brought you a sense of wonder or a time of contemplative calmness. The wildlife, perhaps a playful seal. If you’re a parent, can you hear the laughter of your children as you lark around on the summer holidays together? Perhaps you felt the black shadow and the eclipse of light as you remember catching your first epic wave. Maybe you stood on the start line to your favourite race, the golden sand on your feet, waiting for the horn to blow as you charge into the sea to battle the bay against your fellow SUP peers. Perhaps it was the after-party and the celebration you shared with your friends. The innocence. Freedom.
Please open your eyes to the sound of that air alarm. Hear the cries of the children. Imagine the destruction of your favourite serenity and the vulnerability of all the nature you love. How devastating it must be to be separated from your family as you help them flee into the life of a refugee, unknowing of the dangers they face. Then you’re left to battle the bullets and shrapnel from explosions and tanks instead of battling the bay. You now stand instead in a line side by side with your friends on the frontline of the war. This is the new reality for the Ukrainian paddling communities, people who a few weeks ago were just like us. Innocent.
Lyuk Kolomiets from the Dnipro SUP team based in Chersky, Ukraine, reached out to us to raise awareness, find support for their civilians and help the people stay to defend their beloved country. He and his team last year organised the largest SUP event in Ukraine. Here’s what he wrote;
My name is Lyuk, and I am Ukrainian. I am the chief of our local SUP community Dnipro SUP Team. Our team organised one of the biggest SUP events in Ukraine; we made a movie for our national television about ecology situation on our local rivers; we love everything around us. I will show you some: Festival (2020 only, as video from 2021 is in progress): https://youtu.be/tpXg-xFQ1gc Film-manifest about our team: https://youtu.be/thdZUjCeUr8 TV-program: https://youtu.besRHCDACn5MA.
But 43 days ago, we lost all this.
My wife and kids leave our home, and now they are refugees in Germany. I stayed here. I am not a soldier, but I am trying to help my friends as much as possible because many of them are on the front lines of the war in Ukraine. That’s why we created a small team. We’re fundraising to help locals who are protecting our hometown. I know that many international organisations are already helping – but all humanitarian aid and supplies are going to big cities and the most dangerous regions. Our defenders stay with nothing: they don’t have food, equipment, and protection. If you’d like to donate, here’s all information https://help.cherkasy.ua/
We’ll buy needed goods and supplies and deliver them directly for your donations.
Or if you could share some content about our campaign via your social channels – it also would be very helpful.
It’s now morning, and after a tumultuous night of air raids, Ukrainian soldiers managed to shoot down rockets and prevent them from reaching their targets. Lyuk and his community are, for now, safe. I asked him some questions so we could get a better picture of what they are going through and how we might be able to help them; here’s what he said.
How big is your community?
SUP is relatively young in Cherkasy and Ukraine overall. But as we live on the bank of one of the most significant European rivers – Dnipro, we have a lot of fans as people love to spend time in and on the water during hot days. Generally, we have over 100 SUP paddlers with their own boards and thousands who come and rent one.
How far are you from the front line?
Our town was bombed in the first hour of the war, and we woke up not from the news that the war had started but from the noise of detonations. The next few weeks after February 24, Russians regularly tried to attack us from the air without success.
Our city is located in the central part of Ukraine, that’s why everything is going around us.
However, a brave Ukrainian army stood in their way. Today, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are repelling the occupiers on all fronts, and in some areas, they are even counterattacking. So, for now, we are 200 km from the front line, and it helps to be not only the geographical centre of Ukraine – it is possible to be a reliable rear for combat and hometown for people from all corners of our country, where hostilities are taking place. During the first 14 days of the war, we received more than 50,000 people.
Where are you currently getting resources and supplies from?
We are all from IT. From the first days, we communicate with our clients, partners, and colleagues from abroad. Additionally, everybody in our team has their own life preference: paddling, running, hiking, cycling, etc. So we are trying to engage people around our lifestyle who are very close to our souls.
We’re Ukrainian citizens, friends from abroad, and colleagues from international companies. Mike Kosiakov (UX/UI designer from Avast, Cherkasy), Anastasia Tarasova (Talent finder from Wise, Cherkasy), Lyuk Kolomiiets (UX/UI designer from Avast, Cherkasy), Sheena Lydon (Wise, London), Anastasia Reznikova (Interior designer, volunteer, Cherkasy), Vlad Tsybulsky (volunteer and logistics coordinator, Wroclaw), Natalia Romanova (office manager at Wise, Budapest) and many more who are helping us on different stages: consulting, delivering, border crossing, logistics through Ukraine and Europe.
How do you access supplies and bring them into the country?
We have volunteers and logistics coordinators in Poland, Hungary, Estonia and Italy. But many more who are helping us on different stages: consulting, delivering, border crossing, logistics through Ukraine and Europe.
Your organisation is it just your local community or larger?
Now all of Ukraine is a big community with a thirst for real bees working for the victory against a big angry bear.
In Ukraine, big and mighty funds and charity organisations exist, but primarily they work in hot spots like Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mykolayiv. They support the Army and civilians who are already involved in the conflict.
Our friends are already fighting at the front – helping them directly, supplying them with protective equipment, uniform, thermal imagers, and tactical gear essential is our responsibility. As yesterday they held paddles in their hands and enjoyed a peaceful life, and today they took up arms to defend our home.
How is the healthcare system holding up?
Everything is overloaded. Routine care, even tests and procedures for cancer, have stopped. Many international volunteers and many people who need deep medical help have had a chance to cross the border for care, but resources are stretched and limited.
I am left speechless at the bravery and drive the Ukrainian communities have shown. A community that yesterday was the same as our own has been robbed of their freedom, security, and right to a healthy life. It is a desperate situation, but we can help and make some difference. If you would like to help, please visit help.cherkasy.ua
They have further details of the three missions to help their defenders, support their civilians, and share information on their site. So please share, talk to your friends and family, and continue to fundraise and support causes for Ukraine. Offer your time in voluntary ways or help with medical or humanitarian care. We can do so much, and we all have the resources and time to make a difference.