This could be the most important community-building post “06880” has ever published.
For the comfortable, sometimes contentious town of Westport. And — far more importantly — for the devastated, frozen yet determined town of Lyman, Ukraine.
An important railway juncture in the Donetsk region, Lyman was occupied by Russian troops from May 24 through October 1. When the forces fled, they left behind unfathomable destruction.
Over 150 of the 240 homes were demolished. Three hundred families have no roofs. The entire town lacks electricity, heat and running water. Nearly every school is gone.
Lyman does not get the publicity of other towns and cities. You have never heard of it.
But Brian Mayer has.
The young Westporter — a 2002 Bedford Middle and 2006 Hopkins School graduate — put his New York tech career on hold this year to help Ukraine. He and his brother Marshall (Staples ’09) founded an organization — Ukraine Aid International — and personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for humanitarian help and medical supplies.
He traveled overseas, and teamed up with the on-the-ground group Alex21 for Ukraine, founded by Liz Olegov and Richard von Groeling, to ensure aid got where it was most needed. Liz and Richard traveled several times to Lyman.
UAI invited Liz and Richard to Westport. They met 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, and introduced the idea of a “sister city relationship.” She knew the concept well.
In the years after World War II, Westport helped rebuild the French town of Marigny-le-Lezon. For many years we sent money, supplies, food and Christmas gifts to our Normandy “sister city.”
They never forgot us. Last spring, they named a room in their town hall for a Staples High School French teacher who was a driving force behind the relationship. In the aftermath, they wondered if our 2 towns — Westport and Marigny — might join together now to help rebuild a third, in Ukraine.
Today, we announce a project to do just that.
On Friday, Tooker and I joined a Zoom call with Brian, Marshall, Liz and Richard; 3 members of a Westport group working on this Ukraine “sister city” project, and 2 officials from Lyman (pronounced LEE-mon).
Using Starlink — the only reliable communication service, after a missile strike just hours earlier — Mayor Alexander Victoravich Zuravlov described the urgent needs of his community: Plywood, roofs, and other housing material. Generators. Medication. Starlinks. Tractors. Trash and debris removal equipment.
Ruslan Goriachenko, chief of the Ukrainian national police human rights department, added more needs: police and fire trucks.
It was one of the most powerful conversations I’ve ever been part of.
When it was over, the Westporters stayed on the line. Stunned by the needs in Lyman, yet empowered by the opportunity given us, we asked Brian, Liz and Richard to prioritize their needs.
They said: Building and construction materials to fix windows, roofs and entire houses. Wood-burning stoves. Generators. And a large water filtration system.
How much would that cost? $250,000, they said, would cover every home and apartment building in Lyman that needed it.
And, they promised, they could deliver it all within 3 days.
So that’s the challenge, Westport. Let’s raise $250,000 by Christmas Day. That will provide real, immediate,, on-the-ground help — roofs, warmth, water, electricity, communication — for an entire town that has been attacked, occupied, ravaged, and now ignored by the rest of the world.
It’s not impossible. It’s imperative.
We’ve done it before. We helped Marigny (and they will join us soon in this effort).
Every family, every resident, every organization, school and religious group in town can help. It’s just $10 for every Westport resident.
And it could not be easier to donate to the non-profit organization. Just click here. Click the “I want to support” box; then select “Support for the City of Lyman.” Scroll down on that page for other donation options (mail, wire transfer and Venmo.) You can also donate directly, via Stripe (click here).
Your donation will be direct. Your impact will be immediate. This is a Westport-generated project — and it’s Westport run, with the support of our 1st Selectwoman, “06880” and Brian Mayer — but its really universal. Please spread this appeal to your friends and relatives everywhere, via links and social media.
It takes a village to help a village. As 1st Selectwoman Tooker says: “I was so honored to meet with these brave Ukrainian leaders. Their courage and love for their country and people is beyond inspiring. This is a wonderful opportunity for Westporters to make a tangible difference.”
This is just the start. We promised the mayor of Lyman that we will be there for them for a long time — just as we were for Marigny.
But we’re starting now. We’re starting quickly. And we’re starting big.
There’s no better time than the holiday season. We have so much, and Lyman has so little. Thanks for clicking here, Westport.
PS: If I didn’t appreciate what we have here, and what they lack there, I sure do now.
During the Zoom call, I sat in my warm, well-lit home office, a hot cup of coffee on my desk. As the mayor told his counterpart here about conditions in Lyman, she listened with sorrow.
Toward the end of the meeting, our 1st Selectwoman held up a sign. “We Stand With Ukraine,” it said.
The reaction was immediate. We hardly needed an interpreter to understand what the Ukrainians said: “Thank you for not forgetting us. You have boosted our morale today!”
Jen Tooker’s sign lifted 2 men’s spirits.
Now, our $250,000 — raised by Christmas — will do much more. It will give 13,000 men, women and children shelter, warmth and water.
And the knowledge that they have 25,000 new friends, halfway across this fragile globe.
Slava Ukraini! Slava Lyman!