When Sparrow, my husband, announced his intention to hold a benefit for Ukraine here in Phoenicia, my initial reaction was, “Great! I’ll help with the event, but don’t expect me to organize anything.” Our friend Mary Bosakowski, who has a personal connection to Ukraine (and works at the Phoenicia Library), dived right into the planning. A few weeks ago, the determined spirit of the organizers gave me the urge to get involved with spreading the word about the event. I spoke to Mary and Sparrow separately to understand what motivated them to donate their time to helping Ukrainians.
Mary Bosakowski: My family is ethnically Polish, but my father’s ancestral village is in what is now Ukraine, near Lviv. When I visited the village in 1996, I realized I’m not Polish or Ukrainian, I’m American. I haven’t gone through these wars. Three old men were showing me around the village, and we came to a river that runs through the town. My great-aunt Agnes had told me about it. She was the youngest of the family who came to the U.S. She had been on the run for four years with her mother during the First World War, until her mother died of breast cancer. Agnes came over in 1919, when she was 15 years old. When I got to the river, I asked the old men what was its name. They said, “We call it the River of Blood.”
This carnage and brutality and horror we’re witnessing today has been going on for a long time in Ukraine and that part of the world. Some of my second or third cousins moved to Lviv, and others to what is now eastern Poland, where my cousin Dariusc [pronounced DAR-ee-oosh] lives. He and his mother are taking in five Ukrainian refugees at a time. They stay there until they find a place to go, and then Dariusc takes another five. Our family in the U.S. made a collection of money to send to them.
Talking to friends in Germany, I heard of cab drivers who go back and forth to the border to pick up refugees. A friend in Berlin is opening up their home to families. There’s a line of services in place ad hoc to serve refugees. They may not know where they are going, and their hearts are broken, but they’re safe. Not the ones still in Ukraine. It made me think there’s a need to support people who are still in the country.
I’m in a place of privilege in the U.S. No one is dropping bombs on my head. But as a human being, I have this heart connection to other human beings who are being brutalized. There is an imperative to do something.
Violet Snow: Why did you pick Be a Hero for Ukraine, a small organization in Poland, to be the beneficiary of the fundraiser, instead of a more well-known group like Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders?
Mary: Phoenicia’s not going to raise a million dollars, but we’ll raise something. It seemed more practical to give to an organization on the ground, doing work at the moment, without a lot of middleman stuff. I don’t want the money to go to someone’s postage or email blasts. I want it to go to people who need it. Not to disparage effective non-profits, but I’m a big fan of Timothy Snyder, a brilliant American professor of European history and the author of On Tyranny. He also advocates for trustworthy, effective, nimble, smaller groups that get the work done. He wrote an article that mentioned Be a Hero as one of five or six organizations that are doing excellent work on behalf of the Ukrainian people. They get food and medicine to displaced civilians, bulletproof vests and sleeping bags to soldiers. They’re not providing bullets. If I had a son going off to war, I would want him to be protected. Snyder’s name and advocacy are meaningful to me, and I trust him. Dariusc knew someone in Kyiv who was diabetic and needed insulin, and he found a way to get it to him. These small groups have networks. Forget the big bureaucratic stuff.
Violet: Sparrow, what made you want to put together a fundraiser for Ukraine?
Sparrow: I turn the BBC on the radio at night while I’m doing the dishes. It’s excruciating to listen as an innocent country is invaded for no reason. I started to think, What can I do? Two years ago a group of us organized a Black Lives Matter vigil in Phoenicia. So I put out an email to our group, the way Commissioner Gordon sends up the bat signal for Batman, and people responded. I had in mind a very local event, mostly bands and singers from Phoenicia. Maybe in the back of my mind, I was thinking of one of those Frank Capra movies where a group of ordinary Americans band together to save the building and loan association from being taken over by the greedy developer. Where, one by one, the honest hardworking people pull dollar bills out of their mud-stained jeans to help their fellow humans.
Violet: It seems to me there’s a kind of community feeling around these events, like a sense that our little town can have some input into national or international affairs, even if only in a small way. At least we’re taking action, we’re not totally passive. It gives us a sense of togetherness and strength.
Sparrow: I was assuming there were a lot of other people with the same frozen sense of helplessness that I feel, who would want to do something. I’ve been going to activist demonstrations since I was 12 or 13. I want to avoid depressing, guilt-inducing speeches. I want the event to be joyous, about music and life. To me, activism should be fun. I feel strongly about that.
Violet: How has the community stepped up to help?
Sparrow: Almost everybody we asked wanted to perform. The Methodist church in Phoenicia agreed to host the event. Our liaison to the church is Peter DiSclafani, who’s also the Shandaken town supervisor. He’s been warm and supportive. Samantha Awand-Gortel from Ulster Savings Bank was immediately responsive when I asked if the bank would co-sponsor the event. James Kopp came forward to stage manage, Janet Klugiewicz and Tommy Rinaldo are helping with publicity, and David Congdon is running the sound. Ana Silva and her family offered to raise money by serving pierogies from Helena’s Specialty Foods, a Polish and Ukrainian family business in Kerhonkson. Bread Alone is donating baked goods to sell. Bread Alone and Boiceville Market are making donations.
Overall, there’s been a lot of enthusiasm. Black Lives Matter is a somewhat divisive issue in the U.S. and in Phoenicia, but most people can get behind trying to alleviate the suffering of the Ukrainian people.
“Slava Ukraini! Benefit for the People of Ukraine” will take place on Sunday, May 29, 3p.m.-6 p.m., at the Phoenicia United Methodist Church, 29 Church Street, Phoenicia. Admission is by donation. Entertainment will include music, poetry, and dance. Pierogies and craft items will be on sale. MASKS will be required inside the church. If you are unable to attend, consider donating via this link: https://slavaukraini.betterworld.org