LOS ANGELES -- "When I first heard about the war I was sitting with my family eating dinner. I remember the time, 6:37 pm," recalls Katya Sussman, the founder of Raise UP UA. "My mom called me which was like three o'clock in the morning their time and she said 'Katya, I think there's a war.'" What followed was a long and treacherous road that Katya's mother, Lidiya Nenchina, and stepfather, Andrii Karpuhiv, embarked upon.
"For an entire week, from the first day of the conflict, we were hiding in the basement of a 9-story building," Lidiya says. "Andrii was very ill, he just had a stroke. So we needed to do something, go somewhere because the blasts were getting closer." Their journey driving west took much longer than normal, with hundreds of people trying to escape alongside them. When they finally reached Hungary, Katya bought their tickets and they flew to her home in Los Angeles.
"We left a lot of things in Ukraine," says Andrii, "our home, our son and his family, our granddaughter. We do miss it all a lot. That's why we hope and believe."
Having her parents in L.A. gave Katya piece of mind, but she couldn't stop thinking of all the other people still struggling. "I really wanted to do something meaningful in my life and I think if I didn't do this, if I didn't start helping people, I would not look at myself in the mirror. I didn't want to be the person that was looking back in time and saying, wow, I didn't do anything for my country, for my people, for my friends."
Working with different volunteers on the ground, Raise UP UA provides critical humanitarian aid to children, soldiers, animals, and any vulnerable people or groups affected by the war. This summer, Katya flew to Ukraine to meet her team and bring donations in person to all the people she was helping. She traveled to rehab facilities for wounded soldiers, a children's hospital, and an animal hospital to see how the equipment and aid they provided were helping the people there.
"We want to express our great gratitude," said one mother who received school supplies for her child ahead of the school year, "thank you very much for being with us."
"I just want people to be sympathetic and empathetic to other people's troubles," says Katya, "I think it's very important to open up and see how you can be helpful and apply yourself as a human being."
To find out more about Raise Up UA, visit raiseupua.org.