Tag Archives: Marshall Mayer

Tooker, Koskinas Return From Historic Visit To Ukraine

Westport 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas have just left Poland, after a historic trip to Ukraine.

The officials were part of the first-ever delegation of US officials or politicians to the liberated territories of Donetsk, since the Russian invasion began.

Their visit launched a new era of cross-cultural collaboration and friendship.

Tooker and Koskinas met with their sister city counterparts, Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov and Police Chief Igor Ugnevenko of Lyman, Ukraine.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas and 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker (far left and middle), Easton 1st Selectman David Bindelglass (far right) and Ukrainian officials, entering Lyman. Their bulletproof vests and helmets were not for show. Fighting still rages nearby.

Westport and Lyman formed the first sister city partnership in the US, last winter. Ukraine Aid International — founded by Westporters Brian and Marshall Mayer — facilitated the program.

Other Connecticut communities including Easton, Fairfield, Stamford and Greenwich have also formed sister city relationships, through UAI. Easton 1st Selectman David Bindelglass joined Tooker and Koskinas, and met his counterparts from Sviatohirsk. The Governor of Donetsk was also involved.

The delegation’s tours of Lyman and Sviatohirsk were very emotional. Both towns have suffered greatly from Russian attacks.

Police Chief Foti Koskinas, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov, at one of Lyman’s many ravaged apartments.

“Walking through our beautiful sister city that has faced unprecedented devastation, I am humbled by the resilience and spirit of its people,” Tooker said earlier today.

“Witnessing the devastation first hand has only deepened my commitment to this partnership. Together we will help rebuild, restore and breathe life back into these unjustly shattered communities.”

Tooker and Koskinas were accompanied by the Mayers, and Liz Olegov of UAI. The group saw firsthand the destruction of schools and municipal buildings, the bombing of railways, and the ecological disaster caused by the accumulation of trash and debris in Lyman,

The trip — which did not involve any municipal funds, and was not announced previously due to security concerns — ended with a summit in Sviatohirsk. Against a backdrop of ruins surrounded by greenery, an official memorandum cementing the sister city partnership was signed by Tooker and Zhuravlov.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Mayor Alexander Zhuravlov, with their signed sister city partnership.

Several high-ranking Ukrainian officials were also present. They expressed deep respect and gratitude for the Americans’ visit, in a high-risk area amid an ongoing war.

Fighting continues to rage not far from Lyman and Sviatohirsk.

Throughout the visit, the American delegation was protected by the National Police and the Patrol Police of Ukraine.

Ruslan Goriachenko, head of the Department of General Inspection and Human Rights of the National Police of Ukraine, played a pivotal role.

“We were so fortunate to meet our fellow officers in Donetsk Oblast,” said Koskinas.

Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas with his Lyman counterpart, Igor Ugnevenko.

“Their bravery and leadership in protecting the people of this region and keeping order is incredible. We look forward to working more closely with our Ukrainian friends, and helping with anything they need.”

Officials discussed how to strengthen communication between Westport and Lyman, deepen governmental-level ties, and foster enduring partnerships based on mutual respect and shared aspirations.

From left: Foti Koskinas, David Bindelglass, Jen Tooker, Alexander Zhuravlov, Igor Ugnevenko, Brian Mayer and Liz Olegov, with Westport and Lyman flags.

In just 3 weeks over the holiday season, Westport raised $252,000 for Lyman. The funds have helped rebuild housing, and paid for police and garbage vehicles, communications equipment, bulletproof vests for frontline utility workers, thousands of seeds for planting, and more.

In addition, holidays meals were delivered to residents. Each child still in Lyman received a Christmas gift.

Bedford Middle School and other Westport youngsters have sent cards and posters to their new friends in Lyman.

A new round of fundraising will be announced soon. To contribute now to Westport’s sister city of Lyman, click here. Under “Designation,” click on the dropdown menu to find “Lyman.”

Connecticut and Ukrainian officials, at the Sviatohirsk meeting.

Presenting the Connecticut flag.

Affirmation, on a Donetsk sign.

Ukraine — And Westport — Mark Grim Anniversary

One year ago yesterday, Brian Mayer was working at a tech job in New York.

That day, the Russian army matched across the border to Ukraine. The largest war in Europe since World War II began.

Mayer and his brother Marshall — Westporters, who grew up here — quickly pivoted. They headed to Ukraine, and put their organizational skills to work.

Addressing 2 of the greatest challenges — fundraising, then ensuring that goods and materials reached their intended targets — the Mayers formed Ukraine Aid International.

In one year, the non-profit has achieved astonishing success.

They and their partners on the ground have delivered over 1 million pounds of aid directly to civilians on the front line.

They’ve supported more than 100 communities in liberated areas, and driven over 100,000 miles to provide aid to the hardest-to-reach towns, and most-impacted villages.

Every day, they provide over 125,000 Ukrainians with infrastructural support (electricity, heat and cleaning water).

That’s the big picture. Equally remarkable, Ukraine Aid International has been instrumental in helping Westport partner with Lyman, a town in the Donbas.

The Mayers and Liz Olegov, their COO, worked with 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Lyman mayor Alexander Victoravich Zuravlov to develop an initiative. “06880” helped lead a fundraising effort that, in just 3 weeks during the holiday season, brought in over $252,000.

UAI has put the money to extraordinary use.

The first delivery — at Christmas — was 400 meals, 2,000 loaves of bread, and 491 gifts (one for every child remaining in town).

Christmas in Lyman.

In January they delivered 2 police patrol cars and 2 trash vehicles to Lyman (the Russians had taken them all when they fled), plus printers, laptops, tablets, Starlink communication devices, socks, shoes and sweaters.

This month, a 20-ton truck carried repair materials for 6 apartment buildings, and bulletproof vests and helmets for utility workers near the front lines.
Local contractors are already lined up, to ensure that 2,000 Lyman residents now living in basements and elsewhere can return to their homes this spring.

An apartment building in Lyman.

The Westport town flag now hangs in the Lyman office, and on the sides of the donated vehicles. Lyman’s flag, meanwhile, has been donated to Westport.

Holding the Westport flag (from left): Lyman’s police chief and mayor. With the Lyman flag: Marshall Mayer, Brian Mayer, Liz Olegov.

Much more is on the way — for Lyman, and other devastated areas in Ukraine. 

It’s been a brutal year for the war-torn nation.

But it’s also been a very productive one for 2 Westport brothers who saw a need. They thought they could help.

They moved mountains — in the form of countless tons of building material, communication equipment, clothes and more — to make a difference.

The war continues. It’s now in its second year.

So, fortunately, is Ukraine Aid International.

Ukraine Aid International continues to raise funds for Lyman, and the rest of the country. To make a tax-deductible contribution, click here. Click the “I want to support” box; then select “Support for the City of Lyman.” Scroll down on that page for other tax-deductible donation options (mail, wire transfer and Venmo). You can also donate directly, via Stripe (click here).

Westport Flag Flies In Lyman

A day after 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker formalized Westport’s sister city relationship with Lyman, our town flag was delivered to the war-torn Ukrainian town.

Soon, the Lyman flag will be sent here.

Brian and Marshall Mayer — the Westport natives who founded Ukraine Aid International, and helped forge the sister city partnership — met today in Lyman with Mayor Alexander Victoravich Zuravlov and the chief of police.

‘The Westporters, and Liz Olegov of the on-the-ground organization Alex21 — provided a report of the goods and materials on the way to Lyman. They also presented the flag, which Tooker had given them in Westport.

The flag was designed for Westport’s 150th anniversary, in 1985, by native Westporter and renowned artist Miggs Burroughs. He is of Ukrainian descent.

The mayor handed them the Lyman flag, and thanked Westport for its help. In 3 weeks, the town raised $252,000 for Lyman.

Holding the Westport flag (from left): Lyman’s police chief and mayor. With the Lyman flag: Marshall Mayer, Brian Mayer, Liz Olegov.

“I am excited to build ties with America and the West — especially Westport,” he said.

“Spending time with you Americans, I realize the only way we differ is our language.”

Mayor Zuravlov then gave the Mayers and Liz a tour of the town. Among the sites: a school, recently destroyed in a missile strike.

The most recent casualty in Lyman: a school, destroyed by a Russian missile.

Marshall Mayer’s Typhoon Aid

Nearly a decade ago, Marshall Mayer took the 1st Chinese class offered at Staples High School.

He graduated in 2009. Last month — Washington University diploma in hand — Marshall headed to Beijing. His goal was to increase his fluency in Chinese.

Then Typhoon Haiyan hit. Marshall contacted Young Pioneer Tours, and offered to help. The organization — “group tours for people who hate group tours” — is sending more than 50 volunteers from 8 nations to the Philippines. Their goal: rebuild Santa Fe Elementary School, on Batayan Island. Local officials want life to return to normal as quickly as possible there, but residents are busy reconstructing their own homes.

Santa Fe School is in ruins.

Santa Fe School is in ruins.

Marshall and his fellow volunteers will live on school grounds, at their own expense.

Young Pioneers asked Marshall to join its leadership team. They recognized his skills — many of which were honed in Westport.

Marshall joined Westport’s Emergency Medical Service at 16, and earned EMT certification. As a Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 39, he learned survival and camping skills. He has Third World construction experience, thanks to Builders Beyond Borders.

A crew athlete at the Saugatuck Rowing Club, he knows how to kayak — a key form of transportation between Philippine islands.

As for his organizational ability — well, he was a prime mover behind a harmless, yet hard-to-pull-off, Staples senior prank.

Marshall Mayer

Marshall Mayer

Marshall is excited about his work. He’s also working hard to raise funds. Every dollar goes directly to the relief effort: tools, building equipment, a small generator, food for the locals, school and medical supplies. If the group has extra time and money, they will move on to the next school on  Batayan.

As Thanksgiving nears, Westport should give thanks to volunteers like Marshall Mayer, who help strangers halfway around the globe. And we should thank too our own town — and the many organizations in it — which provide young people with the educational and extracurricular opportunities to make a difference.

(To donate to the Young Pioneers Tours effort, click here. To contact Marshall directly, email msmayer8@gmail.com.)