The long haul: The Corvallis Sister Cities Association provides support and sisterhood during a year of war

Zeva Rosenbaum, News Contributor

The war in Ukraine has left the country as a whole in constant worry of attack amidst rolling blackouts that leave residents without electricity, heat or water for hours at a time in the cold of winter. 

Thankfully, the Corvallis community continues to support Ukraine to this day via The Corvallis Sister Cities Association. The CSCA, founded in 1989, is connected to one sister city in Uzhhorod, Ukraine and another in Gondar, Ethiopia and has been instrumental in organizing fundraising for Ukrainian refugees in the year since Russia launched their full-scale invasion into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. 

According to the CSCA’s Take One Ukrainian Child’s Hand Project newsletter, the CSCA’s Uzhhorod Refugee Fund has raised over $400,000 to help provide basic needs and assistance to Internally Displaced Persons over the past year. In addition to this, 175+ people renewed TOUCH memberships to be a donor or sponsor, raising close to $60,000. 

TOUCH co-director Alice Rampton said their “boots-on-the-ground” URF team in Uzhhorod works to distribute the majority of the funds where they’re most needed. Multiple CSCA members have taken suitcases filled with funds and supplies to Ukraine to help support the Ukrainian army and the refugee population that has been largely based in Uzhhorod. 

According to Rampton, she and her husband, Mark, made two trips since May 2022 and took over eight suitcases filled with supplies for IDPs in Uzhhorod, in addition to two suitcases of non-combat related supplies for Ukrainian soldiers. She said some of the supplies were provided by Corvallis residents, including Misha Zyryanov, who has a relative on the front lines in Ukraine.

Rampton said the suitcases included medical supplies, some of which were donated by Samaritan Health, COVID-19 tests, calendars, hygiene supplies, quilts and blankets, arts and crafts supplies, embroidery kits, board games, weaving looms and more.

Former CSCA president and current TOUCH co-director Sabra Killen and her husband, Randy, also made a trip with the Ramptons and treasurer Sean Fleming and took eighteen more suitcases between them all. Rampton said Delta Airlines waived all of the checked luggage fees for them.

Approximately 47 suitcases have been delivered to Uzhhorod from the CSCA in total. 

Uzhhorod has provided shelter to around tens of thousands of IDPs and donations to the URF have helped purchase hundreds of necessities including blankets, mattresses, clothes, shoes, food, medications, and many other important household goods and basic needs.

“In addition, $50,000 was donated last spring to help renovate a building space in Uzhhorod into a medical clinic where health care is provided by physicians and nurses, free of charge,” Rampton said. 

CSCA board member Pete Bober said, “it’s difficult to identify a single most impressive event or moment, but the overall resiliency and willingness to help by regular folks in Uzhhorod is what stands out for me.”

According to Bober,  a local donor and the Corvallis Girl Scout Troop #20059 came together to donate ten cases of Girl Scout cookies to IDP students in Uzhhorod. He said two Ukrainian Open World delegations have been awarded to CSCA too in collaboration with OSU’s College of Education and Jacobs Engineering.

The Open World program is an exchange program for post-Soviet era countries, including Ukraine.

Bober said the CSCA also worked with a private school in Corvallis to host a school instructor from Uzhhorod for a month-long visit in April.

The URF also helped to purchase 20 generators, helping to maintain power at dorms at Uzhhorod National University in addition to the public library, secondary schools and more. According to Bober, the Zonta Club of Uzhhorod was able to use one of the generators to power a new warming center. Bober said the CSCA worked with Zonta District Eight and raised over $27,000 dollars from Zonta Clubs across the U.S. to provide aid to the three Zonta Clubs in Ukraine, including one in Uzhhorod.

TOUCH maintains an educational fund as well, raising financial support for Ukrainian youth, many of whom come from difficult situations, to pursue education in various fields. According to the newsletter, the fund raised just under $8,000 in 2022, which was given to 16 youths pursuing everything from law degrees to vocational training. 

Rampton said things are difficult in Uzhhorod, particularly due to rolling blackouts that leave residents without electricity, heat, or water for hours at a time in this cold winter. 

“One of the hardest things right now is learning daily that another Uzhhorod soldier that you taught in school or who was friends with your children or with you has been killed,” Rampton said. 

One of Rampton’s friends in Uzhhorod wrote to her, saying, “I think I have mentioned that it breaks my heart to see the graves of so many young people who gave their lives fighting for our independence against the terrorists Russians.”

But even so, Rampton said the Ukrainian people focus on victory and still don’t fear losing the war to Russia. 

“In my view, Ukrainians are resilient, resourceful, and rely on these traits along with their faith, humor and optimism to get them through these times,” Rampton said.

Thanks to connections via the CSCA, news often comes straight from Ukraine in the form of semi-daily email updates from Yurii Kopynets, Ph.D., as well as contributions from CSCA members in Uzhhorod who write in for the TOUCH newsletter.

According to Kopynets, there is an ongoing threat of Russian air and missile strikes across the majority of Ukraine; just on Feb. 17, Russia launched 10 missile strikes, 29 air strikes and 69 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) attacks.

Rampton said Uzhhorod still has about 100,000 IDPs who have permanently settled there and the size of Uzhhorod has essentially doubled since the start of the war. 

“When a city is bombed profusely in the East, more IDPs and refugees still show up in the city, but many in the Eastern part of the country have left (or been killed),” Rampton said. “We see volunteers all over the city of Uzhhorod still feeding IDPs, sharing their resources, and reaching out to them, even nearly one year following the invasion. They seem to be in this for the long haul.”

People interested in supporting Ukraine via the CSCA can donate to the URF via the website, where they can also find contact information to donate physical items as well. The CSCA has a few upcoming fundraising and aid opportunities, including a Spring Flower Basket Sale on April 1, and a first-aid-kit assembly event which is still being planned.

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