From a vigil to donations, Ridgefielders rally behind Ukraine as invasion continues

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

RIDGEFIELD — Support for the country and people of Ukraine has mounted in recent weeks as communities worldwide continue to denounce ongoing attacks from Russian forces.

Ridgefield is no exception. A Ukrainian flag was hung at a former gas station, while Women for Ridgefield will hold a candlelight vigil in support of Ukraine at 7 p.m. Sunday at the gazebo in Ballard Park. Candles will be provided.

Young children are showing solidarity, too.

Last Sunday, Branchville Elementary School siblings Mathéo and Daphné Albis held a rummage sale to benefit Ukraine. They scoured their rooms for toys and books they no longer needed and organized the items on a table outside their home on Silver Spring Road.

“We’re fortunate to live on a street with a lot of foot traffic, and neighbors passing through would donate without even buying an item,” said their father, James Albis. “They recognize the plight of these children that are getting blown up and killed everyday. They know that they’ve been blessed and want to pay it forward.”

The siblings raised more than $200 for Hope For Ukraine, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that was incorporated after the Russian invasion of Donetsk in 2014-2015. It mainly facilitates medical and family support projects for Ukrainians but pivoted to assist refugees after the war began.

“Since this whole conflict broke out we’ve been working 24/7,” Hope For Ukraine President Yuriy Boyechko said. “It still feels like a nightmare.”

James Albis is the director of revenue for Rubenstein Public Relations, which will soon launch initiatives to promote Hope For Ukraine on a national scale. He is also the co-founder of Redleaf, a mobile app that employs half a dozen developers in Ukraine.

He shared with Hearst Connecticut Media an email from Redleaf’s head of product, Iryna Vasilenko, who was in Chernihiv, Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“It is like a horror,” she wrote. “We hear a lot of terrible explosions and the sky at 1 a.m. (is) not black (but) in flashes.”

She continued, “I … don’t want to leave my country.”

Hope For Ukraine is hosting more than 80 refugees at its base in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine. It is also working with partners in Warsaw, Poland to provide food, housing and medical support to the 1 million refugees who have arrived there since the war started.

Boyechko described the efforts of Russian troops to cut off resources in Ukraine. A train ride from Kyiv to Lviv normally takes eight hours, but it took one family 48 hours to get to safety, he said. In one city on the Ukraine-Crimea border, now occupied by Russia, troops disconnected all Ukrainian television, radio and cellular signals.

“There are people staying at the center who (don’t know) if their relatives are still alive in that city,” Boyechko said. “It’s a lot of stress that these people have to go through.”

Josephine Berisha, of South Salem, N.Y., has experienced this stress before, when her relatives fled Kosovo during the Balkan War in 1999.

“When you see what’s happening you can’t believe it’s 2022,” she said of the current invasion. “It’s going to take a long time for (Ukrainians) to rebuild again, but I’m praying it does end soon.”

Berisha’s children hosted a bake sale in front of Books on the Common on Saturday to benefit relief efforts in Ukraine. Her daughter, Viktoria, takes dance classes in Ridgefield and her son, Jozef, fences in town.

Along with their friends, Ian and Oliver Potter, also of South Salem, the Meadow Pond Elementary School students raised more than $600 from selling sweet treats. Additional donations from community members brought the total donation to $1,000.

“A young man came in after the bake sale was over … and took $10 out of his wallet (to give) to one of our staff who knows the moms, which I thought was extraordinary,” said Ellen Burns, the owner of Books on the Common. “We are all devastated by what’s happening there, (but) all of us … are trying to do what we can to help and inform people.”

If you or someone you know is doing something to benefit Ukraine during the Russian invasion, please email alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com .