Tag Archives: Ukraine

Roundup: Wreaths, War, WPD Toys …

Each Christmas season, the Wreaths Across America program honors fallen servicemembers, and all who serve. Over 2 million volunteers take part, in all 50 states and overseas.

This year, for the first time, Westport joins in.

The date is December 17. The time is noon. The cemetery is Assumption, on Greens Farms Road.

It wouldn’t have happened without Patty Kondub. The popular Westport Family YMCA and Senior Center (and Staples High School girls golf coach) is the local coordinator.

As part of her many other Westport activities, she’s also vice president of the VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 Auxiliary.

Click here to sponsor a wreath (the deadline is November 29). To designate a wreath for a specific veteran at the Assumption cemetery, email Patty: nortonpk@aol.com. You can also email her to volunteer to mark graves before December 17, and place them on that date

For Patty, the project is personal. Her father — John Kondub — was a World War II Marine, and VFW Post 399 member. He earned a Purple Heart, for hand-to-hand combat in the Japanese Islands.

He is buried at Assumption Greens Farms Cemetery — almost across from the farm where he was born, before I-95 was built.

“There are over 200 veterans buried in this cemetery,” Patty says. “I hope they all get wreaths.”

=====================================================

Liz and Richard are true heroes.

She’s from Florida, and speaks 5 languages. He’s a German attorney. They met and formed a group that braves drones and missiles to drive desperately needed supplies to the front lines in Ukraine. Their supplies include water filtration systems and wood burning stoves for civilians, who are starving and bracing for a cold winter.

In Ukraine they met Brian Mayer. The Westporter spent several months helping coordinate relief efforts. He also helped fund Liz and Richard’s work.

After several months of non-stop work, the pair needed a rest. Brian invited them to Westport, for a few days of R&R.

On Monday they met with 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Ken Bernhard, another Westporter deeply involved in humanitarian aid.

Liz and Richard were taking a breather. But they did not stop working. The group discussed how Westport can be even more helpful in the global fight against Russian aggression.

(From left): Richard, Brian Mayer, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, Liz and Ken Bernhard discuss how Westport can aid Ukraine.

=====================================================

One of Westport’s favorite toy drives takes place soon.

The Police Department Benevolent Association and Westport Police Athletic League will again collect gifts for underprivileged children in Fairfield County.

Officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys — plus cash donations — in the ASF Sports & Outdoors parking lot (1560 Post Road East), on Saturday and Sunday, December 3-4 and 10-11, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Toy collection boxes will also be available at:

  • Westport Police Department, 50 Jesup Road
  • ASF Sports & Outdoors, 1560 Post Road East
  • PAL ice rink, Longshore
  • Awesome Toys & Gifts, 429 Post Road East
  • The Toy Post, 180 Post Road East.

Questions? Contact Officer Craig Bergamo: 203-341-6000; cbergamo@Westportct.gov.

Westport Police accept toy donations at ASF.

======================================================

Speaking of police: As they do every year just before Thanksgiving, dozens of Staples High School students dodged cops.

The teenagers and officers had a ball.

The event was the annual Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball tournament. Each team of students included at least one member of the Westport force.

They hurled dodgeballs at each other. They protected their teammates.

The event — sponsored by the Westport Youth Commission and Staples’ Teen Awareness Group — was for a great cause. Entry fees supported the Toys for Tots holiday drive.

Staples school resource officer Ed Woolridge (back row, white shirt, blue headband) was on the winning Dodge-a-Cop team. The winners posed with Andrew Colabella — longtime Dodge-a-Cop referee, former Youth Commission member, and current RTM member. (far right).

======================================================

The poster evokes the Roaring ’20s:

That’s appropriate. Longshore — the site of this Saturday night’s first-ever Café Noir — is said to have been the setting for nearby resident (okay, renter) F. Scott Fitzgerald) when he later wrote “The Great Gatsby.”

But the music and vibe will be “classic house, funk and disco” at 9 p.m., when a pair of Westport DJs (self-described “middle-aged British dudes, aka “Bangers and Mash”) host the event at Longshore’s La Plage restaurant.

“We’re looking to introduce a bit of suave and sophistication to the evening,” says Phil White, who is Banger.

Tom Fielding is Mash. He’s also an accomplished house DJ. He founded London’s famed dance club The End back in the late 90s.

White DJed in college, then toured Europe putting on raves. before getting sucked into “the big bad world of global advertising.” (Hey, at least he’s advertising Café Noir well.)

The pair will run their Saturday night events at La Plage through Christmas. In the spring, they’ll take their act out on the terrace.

“So get out,” White urges. “Get your groove on. And dress to impress!”

=======================================================

Westporter Jen Dennison and her colleague Kelly Gipson (who grew up here) are teachers at the Learning Community Day School on Hillspoint Road.

Recently, their class read “Pearl and Squirrel Give Thanks.” (The plot, if you don’t have a preschooler, is about 2 homeless pets.)

The class talked about people who have no homes, or money for food. They decided to help.

The children took home a letter about donations. In 3 days, they collected a truck full.

“They were so proud,” Kelly reports.

On Tuesday, they brought their donations to Operation Hope in Fairfield.

It’s never too early to learn about giving. Thanks and congratulations — you are a true Learning “Community.”

Giving back, at the Learning Community.

====================================================

Given the alleged nature of La Plage at Longshore ( the original millionaires party venue for the Great Gatsby?)…we’re looking to introduce a bit of swarve and sophicats to the evening proceeding and get 06680’s well healed and otherwise housebound cognoscenti to get out and get their groove on!

No shoe? No problem!

Ryan Smith — Bates College’s men’s cross country captain, and a Staples High School running star with the Class of 2019 — lost a shoe in the first mile of the 8K NCAA East Regional Championship, at Bowdoin College.

When his shoe was stepped on, there were 100 runners behind Smith. He could not slow down to fix it, so he kicked it into the woods and kept going.

He finished 11th out of more than 200 runners, helping the Bobcats to 2nd place overall. That helped them qualify for the NCAA Championships, (Hat tip: Brian Strong)

Ryan Smith

====================================================

Westport’s founding fathers did not wear t-shirts. And they sure didn’t have mouse pads.

But you can sport a tee (or tank top, sweatshirt or hoodie), wrap yourself in a fleece blanket, drink from a mug or use a mouse pad that commemorates 1835 — the year Westport became its own town.

Those items are part of Finding Westport’s newest offerings. There are 2 lines: the 1835 Collection, and one called Westport Est.

Daniel Nash would be proud.

===================================================

The Y’s Men of Westport and Weston took a brisk 5-mile walk Monday — in Manhattan.

The group headed out from Grand Central to the United Nations, Sutton Place, Rockefeller University, Carl Shurz Park and Gracie Mansion.

It was the 7th in their series of New York City explorations. Many Y’s Men spent their careers working there. They seldom had a chance to be tourists, though.

Y’sMen at the New York Daily News building. (Hat tip and photo/Dave Matlow)

======================================================

It’s not even Thanksgiving, but the raccoons are scavenging.

Jill Grayson went to fill the back yard bird feeder, and found a skunk. A short time later, these 2 guys appeared.

All creatures, great and small — and smelly — are part of our “Westport … Naturally” world. Happy Thanksgiving1

(Photo/Jill Grayson)

=======================================================

And finally … Michael Butler, the wealthy financier and producer who brought “Hair” to Broadway in 1968, died earlier this month in a nursing home in California. He was 95.

He was hardly a hippie. But he made his mark on American theater with the “tribal love-rock musical.” Click here for a full obituary.

(“Easy to be hard …” — and easy to support “06880.” Just click here. And thank you!)

Roundup: Riverfront, Banned Books, Banned Dogs …

If you’ve lived here for more than 6 minutes, you’ve got some ideas about downtown.

Don’t keep them to yourself.

The master plan for downtown parking and pedestrian areas — called “Reconnecting the Riverfront” — has moved into the “public engagement” phase.

Click here to take a survey. The link also offers a “Comments” section, for various parts of the proposal.

The survey follows a “visioning charrette” last month. There will also be pop-up displays at downtown locations this fall.

======================================================

Irony is not dead.

A lone protestor took to the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge yesterday. In what looks like a reference to Monday’s controversial Board of Education meeting about a banned books display at Staples High School, he urges the teaching of reading:

(Photo/Chris Grimm)

=====================================================

Speaking of the local controversy: Fox News has taken notice.

The network includes a story about the Westport Board of Ed meeting on its website. The piece is illustrated with video from a Southington Board of Education meeting about a “woke worksheet,” and 2 photos from a Virginia Board of Ed protest about Critical Race Theory.

Click here for the Fox News story.

Screen shot of the Fox News story.

======================================================

The Westport Library and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are serious about democracy.

On October 18 (noon, Trefz Forum), they’ll sponsor an interactive candidate forum.

State Senate District 26 candidates Toni Boucher and Ceci Maher, State Representative District 136 hopefuls Alma Sarelli and Jonathan Steinberg, and State Rep District 143 nominees Nicole Hampton and Dominique Johnson will appear.

The debate will be moderated by Chamber director Matthew Mandell, and archived on Vimeo.

=======================================================

Two sides of the same coin:

An “06880” reader sent this photo of a new sign at Wakeman, the athletic fields adjacent to Bedford Middle School:

She writes:

“Many people feel it’s hard to have a dog in Westport. So many restrictions, especially during the warmer months. But now this new sign just went up in a few places at Wakeman.

“It was all the talk this morning with the moms and dads, where many walk their dogs, and bring them to weekend soccer, baseball and lacrosse games. It’s a shame our town can’t be more accommodating.”

But a youth sports coach had a different reaction.

“It’s about time,” he tells “06880.” “Now maybe I won’t have to walk the fields before practice every day, picking up poop.”

=======================================================

Frank Accardi writes that yesterday at 7:45 a.m. on Whitney Street, a woman driving a gray Volvo SUV began honking repeatedly as a school bus stopped to pick up children.

Several times, the driver attempted to pull into the opposite lane to pass the bus. Its lights were still flashing.

“If ever there was an instance of thumbing your nose at the community, this is it,” Frank says.

Sure, it’s a pain to be behind a school bus that stops every few feet.

But attempting to pass it, while children are getting on?

That’s worse than any Entitled Parking photo I’ve posted, for sure.

Those lights are there for a reason.

=======================================================

A proposal to restrict the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in Westport — scheduled for the October Representative Town Meeting — has been removed from that agenda. Discussion and a possible vote will be postponed to a future date.

=======================================================

Next week, the very local Westport Farmers’ Market will be the site of an effort for international aid.

Lawn signs supporting Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression will be on sale next Thursday (October 13, Imperial Avenue parking lot). 100% of all money raised will go to Ukraine Aid International, organized by Westport native Brian Mayer. UAI provides food and medicine to Ukrainians isolated near the Russian border.

Westporter Ken Bernhard and Weston Kiwanis Club member Amy Jenner have already raised $3,000. They have 200 signs left.

If you can’t get to the Farmers Market, email kbernhar@optonline.net for details on purchasing a lawn sign.

Amy Jenner, Ken Bernhard and their Ukrainian lawn signs.

=======================================================

Congressman Jim Himes is featured at a “Rosé and Reproductive Rights” event (October 11, 7 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club). He’ll discuss the impact — both nationally and locally — of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and take questions from audience members.

In May, Congressman Jim Himes spoke at a Westport rally protesting the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade ruling. Governor Lamont and Senator Blumenthal (left to right) spoke also. (Photo/Dan Woog)

=======================================================

Westport’s Unitarian Church hosts a potluck brunch Sunday (October 9, directly after the 10 a.m. Sunday service). The group will then carpool to Stamford, for a 2 p.m. Women’s march.

The Church invites everyone interested to attend. For more information, email janetluongo.wellness@gmail.com.

Unitarian Church members making signs for the women’s march.

=======================================================

Staples High School squash players were among a large crowd that packed Intensity Fitness yesterday.

They saw a great exhibition match between 2 top players. Paul Coll is ranked #1 in the world; Diego Elias is #4.

The Wreckers hope to duplicate some of that success soon, when their season begins.

Intense exhibition squash at Intensity. (Photo/Seth Schachter)

=======================================================

It’s osprey time again!

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo shows one of our favorite raptors, enjoying a meal in Ester Clanton’s neighbor’s yard.

(Photo/Ester Clanton)

=======================================================

And finally … today’s “06880” Roundup features a number of signs: on the Ruth Steikraus Cohen Bridge, Wakeman Fields, Farmers’ Market, and for reproductive rights and the women’s march.

So of course our featured song is …

Anna Danchak: Report From Ukraine

Anna Danchak and her family have lived in Westport for 20 years. Her daughter graduated from Staples High School in 2021. Her son was a freshman there last year, but has moved to a school near Boston to play ice hockey. She has 2 other children, in the Westport schools.

Since the Russian invasion, Anna has worked to raise funds and support for her native Ukraine. Her family recently traveled there, to help. She writes:

We brought burn kits, bleed stops, water purification tablets and very specialized items like air release kits and bone marrow injections to a group in Ukraine which brought them to the front lines.

Steve (in the photo below) is an incredible Canadian guy who has gone back and forth for 4 months. He delivered supplies to Brian Mayer, the Westporter who has also done tremendous work in Ukraine.

Steve and the Danchaks, in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, we volunteered with a UK-based organization. Our week at the border was full of busy days at the train station. I didn’t expect to see so many people still coming from Ukraine — tens of thousands, many from Odesa and Mykolai, some from Donbas.

We met a worker who was going back to Ukraine to the infamous nuclear station. I recognized him from TV to be the guy saying calmly to the Russian soldiers, “please do not fire at the nuclear reactor. It will cause a nuclear accident.”

We drove am elderly family to the airport. My daughters helped them check in for a flight to London. They had never been on an airplane, and were very anxious.

The Danchaks volunteer with children.

There are many children and women, and many elderly people. I got emotional when we were touring the train station for the first time. My grandfather who lived in Ukraine ran from Nazis 80 years ago. He was at a train station with his mom and siblings. She had no idea where to go.

I felt her despair. It was a very surreal moment for me.

We all hope this nightmare will end soon. But for now, thank you to everyone for being a part of the light.

Kerstin Rao Helps Save The Children

When she retired in 2021 after 34 years as a teacher — including 2 decades with Bedford Middle School’s Workshop program for gifted students — Kerstin Rao did not slow down.

Nearly 40 years after leaving art behind for a career in education, she created a small business. Vivid Cottage is an online shop for art, stationery, home goods and gifts.

Kerstin Rao, with her prints at the Westport Book Shop.

She also blogs, hoping to inspire other woman-owned businesses. Whenever she can, she shares uplifting stories.

Like this one, about the power of giving back, and giving thanks.

Though her expenses still exceed her income, Kerstin never misses a chance to help children in need.

When she drew a sunflower bouquet the same day Russia invaded Ukraine — and then learned that sunflowers are a symbol of that embattled nation’s identity — she knew she could do something for Ukrainian children and families.

She designed sunflower-themed individual and boxed cards, and tea towels.

Kerstin Rao’s sunflower card.

At the end of June she sent 10% of the profits — and a hand-written card explaining the “sunflower” concept — to Save the Children, the international organization long headquartered on Wilton Road, now in Fairfield.

Whatever goes around, comes around.

A few days later Kerstin received her own note.

Save the Children CEO Janti Soeripto thanked Kerstin warmly for her contribution. She added:

 I wish you all the best in your young venture. Your inviting website is very creative and I have no doubt that through it and the many places your work has exposure around the region, your enterprise will grow like the lovely flowers portrayed in your products.

Kerstin — who calls herself a “little” CEO — was thrilled to hear from her big” counterpart.

But the big CEO was thrilled to be the recipient of such a thoughtful donation.

It takes a village to save the children, for sure.

(To sign up for Kerstin Rao’s art newsletter, click here.)

(“06880” is your hyper-local blog. Please click here to support us.)

Ken Bernhard: Report From Ukraine

Ken Bernhard has a very impressive resume, as an elected official and volunteer. 

He spent 8 years representing Westport in Connecticut’s General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader. He was our 3rd selectman from 1987 to ’89, then served on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Ken Bernhard

The longtime Westporter has been a board member of the Westport Library, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Norwalk Human Services Council, Earthplace, Westport Historical Society, Levitt Pavilion, Aspetuck Land Trust, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, and Connecticut League of Conservation Voters,

Further afield, he has worked with Syrian refugees. His latest project is in Ukraine. Ken writes:

I just returned from Poland/Ukraine. I helped deliver medical supplies, including (tourniquets, compression bandages, catheters, bandages and more.

All was donated locally, to Westport EMS, Colonial and Achorn’s Drug Stores, Walgreens, CVS, and Norwalk Hospital.

The equipment was requested by Westporter Brian Mayer, who has been in country for 3 months helping with the crisis. His parents, Jeff and Nancy, joined me with duffle bags of their own list of requested supplies.

(From left): Ken Bernhard, and Jeff, Nancy and Brian Meyer, unloading supplies.

Brian is a remarkable young man (34), who helps, works and coordinates efforts  in Ukraine each day until 3 p.m. Then, with the 6-hour time difference, he goes online to work at his US office for hours.

He is connected with a  group of fascinating young volunteers (in their 20s) from all parts of the world. They drive supplies from Kviv to the troops on the front lines (round trip takes 40+ hours).

After working all day, these volunteers stopped for a beer. One has been in Poland/Ukraine since the first week of the war. He plans to stay a year. Another drove 18,000 miles in June, taking wounded soldiers to Germany for medial care.

Their stories of determination and courage of providing supplies and equipment, where the government and not-for-profits are overwhelmed, leave me in awe.

For 5 days we met dozens of other volunteers who have come to Ukraine because they felt the need to do something to help. The internet and chats groups are remarkably effective. Strangers connect, meet, organize and mobilize in efforts to bring food and medical supplies where they are needed.

This young volunteer has driven several times to the border towns, delivering supplies. She saw Russian drones overhead, and sped up to hide. She has helped wounded people after missile strikes. She is 25, speaks 5 languages (including Russian), and feels she has found her mission.

It was a true honor working with each and every one of them. The crisis is so much more palpable and critical when seen first hand.

I would be remiss if I didn’t pass along a request.

Mykolaiv (population of 200,000) is a key shipbuilding city in the south. Its infrastructure, including water purification systems, was destroyed by Russian missiles. Most drinking water is contaminated. There is a need to construct new systems.

The group that Brian works with has located a supplier who will deliver and construct small purification systems, each capable of providing enough daily potable water for 4000 people.

The first system was installed at the local firehouse a few weeks ago. Water is piped from a tributary off the Black Sea, and exits at a pipe in the firehouse where it can be accessed 24/7. Each system costs $6,000.

Jeff, Nancy and I can vouch for the dedication and trustworthiness of this hard-working international team of volunteers. For more information, click here. for Brian’s blog.

Tax-deductible contributions can be made to Brian’s newly created not-for-profit, Ukraine Aid International.

The need is urgent. Our help is impactful, and greatly appreciated by the people of Ukraine. Thank you in advance.

Lines of cars leaving Ukraine for Poland. (All photos courtesy of Ken Bernhard)

Pic Of The Day #1894

Ukraine’s flag flies proudly on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge today. Westport’s annual jUNe Day celebration is set for tomorrow (Saturday). (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Report From Ukraine: The Sequel

Mark Modzelewski read a recent “06880” story on Brian Mayer with interest. The Westport native described his work overseas, delivering much-needed supplies to Ukrainian citizens.

Mark — a past president of Westport’s Community Emergency Response Team, and board member for the American Red Cross Connecticut/Rhode Island region — worked with Brian, at the Ukraine/Poland border. Mark writes:

Since my return people have said, “It seems like so much charitable funding is already going to Ukraine. With all the options, where are donations most needed?”

Once I started to look into where to donate money, I was amazed at the number of different avenues. It would have been expedient to pick one and be done. But I was in a position to get directly involved to follow the money, and determine whether it was reaching those in need.  I now know where I would continue to fund.

If you are considering donating, I recommend putting the work of Brian at the top of your list.

Brian Mayer

He works incessantly. Between supply convoys, he shuttles passengers between the Przemyśl train station, the refugee transition center, and the border. The last-minute, critical supply convoys have gone directly to the border and deep into Ukraine, using funds Brian, I and others have raised.

I was gratified to be part of this humanitarian experience, because we served as “fixers” addressing the disruptions, gaps and lags in the supply chain.

Small- to mid-size NGOs on the Poland side have struggled to find transport vehicles and drivers to take donated goods across the border. With heavy use of WhatsApp, Google Translate and Google Maps, the dedicated collective of multinational, freelance volunteer drivers with rented and owned vans were on call and agile.

We organized convoys of supplies transported across the border to the last mile to those most in need (not just warehouses but orphanages, convents and people in bomb shelters). With volunteer drivers among various points in the supply routes, we got real-time reports on transport conditions and the needs of the displaced, which allowed us to supplement the next convoy of food supplies.

Volunteers load supplies.

From my disaster relief operations experience, there is almost always an imbalance of resources (supply v. demand), whether facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel or funding.

There are indeed gaps in funding for this operation. Ongoing contributions are critical, as funding in the initial stages of a disaster comes flooding in and then tapers off, presenting a planning challenge for ongoing service delivery.

Whatever charitable organization you choose, a steady stream of contributions is more helpful to the cause, as expenditures can be managed more efficiently to consistent trends of charitable inflows.

With Brian’s work and the collective work of the transport “fixers,” the funds go to work in a less-flashy and behind-the scenes manner, but with a more effective and immediate impact.

Brian has just established a US aid umbrella: Ukraine Aid International.  You can Venmo @ukraineaidinternational, or send tax deductible contributions to: Ukraine Aid International, 88 Partrick Road, Westport, CT 06880.

(“O6880” relies entirely on reader contributions. Click here to donate.)

A group of tired but committed volunteers. (Photos courtesy of Mark Modzelewski)

Brian Mayer: Report From Ukraine

In April, “06880” reported on Westport native Brian Mayer’s work in Poland.

iThe New York tech executive was there, helping deliver supplies for Ukrainian refugees, and the army.

He’s still at it. Here’s his latest report:

I’m writing to you from one of the countless border crossing lines I’ve waited on in the last 2 weeks. I’m on my way to pick up several more suitcases of specialty medicine from Sauveteurs Sans Frontières. Then I’ll take it back to Ukraine for onward delivery to the east. I’ve gotten pretty good at these crossings, and it helps to have priority access when laden with humanitarian aid. My record cross time so far is 28 minutes. But you don’t want to hear about border logistics.

Stalin said that one death is a tragedy, and a million deaths is a statistic. I thought about this the other day when driving through Ivano-Frankivsk. Traffic ground to a halt for a funeral procession: A hearse was led by a priest and a coterie of singing babushkas, with a young widow draped in black and two dozen family and friends in tow. It was simple but mournful, routine in any other place. But this isn’t any other place.

This scene is repeated thousands of times in every town and small village, every day across Ukraine right now. Wives are becoming widows and children are becoming orphans. People are going back to work to find desks of coworkers empty; so many poker nights are now short a player. And all for the sake of a completely unnecessary war, and a 19th century imperial fantasy in the deranged head of one wrinkly old crackpot in Moscow.

I realized talking to my new friends here that the initial anger and shock that we all felt in the first couple weeks of this war has faded into the background. Anger and frustration are not productive emotions. You learn quickly that it doesn’t help make queues go faster or prices go down or gas become available or goods reach their intended destinations quicker.

Everything on the ground is harder than it should be, but you suffer it because you must, and there is no other option. You push forward because your anger has yielded to something more powerful and more useful: a desire to win, at all costs. A recent column said it best: Putin has to lose. There is no other option.

This is why so few expats I’ve worked with on the border have been able to stay away, even as some have taken much needed breaks back home in Europe or Canada or wherever they are from.

Many have pushed harder and deeper into Ukraine, taking on more and more dangerous missions, following the urgency: families that need evacuation, orphanages that need resettlement, soldiers that need medical care, children that need cancer treatment, villages and towns that need food, soap, toothbrushes, underwear and medicine, all before the Russians close in and martial law is imposed.

Brian Mayer

I am thankful I have a day job, which keeps me grounded and in a routine. After all, I have to be at a high speed WiFi connection at 4 p.m. Ukraine time every day. If I didn’t, I could see myself being pulled further east, as the demands from the front lines are impossible to ignore. ‘

Many of my new friends here quit their day jobs as receptionists and roofers and bricklayers and students and are now routinely dodging rocket strikes while shuttling crucial supplies across the pockmarked landscape. One of my new driver friends told me their joke: “In the UK, you drive on the left. In Europe, you drive on the right. In the Ukraine, you drive on the part of the road that’s still there.”

I’m closely watching how this war is affecting the expats here. There are no psychological services available for volunteers and aid workers, and certainly nothing to prepare many in civilian life for talking to rape victims or seeing corpses or having friends murdered.

When a volunteer Irish soldier showed me a picture of his mates and a Ukrainian family they rescued, then told me “10 minutes later everyone in this photo was dead,” and proceeded to tell me in excruciating detail what it was like to wear the same pair of underwear for two weeks and fight in the trenches with no food, because humanitarian groups consider feeding soldiers to be outside their purview — you don’t really have an outlet for hearing these sorts of stories, let alone experiencing them firsthand.

This is also the reason why everyone’s anger is pointed not at the Russians — after all, we are united in our common purpose against them and, as discussed, this anger is not productive — but at the governments and NGOs on our side that don’t seem to understand the reality on the ground. The governments continue to make humanitarian border crossings a nightmare, holding up trucks for days, especially the empty trucks going back to Poland to pick up more supplies.

Fuel price caps and various other regulations have worsened diesel shortages, and this whole supply effort runs on diesel. NGOs talk about donations going to “humanitarian purposes only” as if it is possible to separate civilian needs from the war effort. Humanitarian aid is useless if the Russians have cut off supply lines. Medicine is useless if the recipients are killed. Most importantly, soldiers are people too, and they need to eat and brush their teeth and have clean socks and underwear. Where is the help for them? And how can we possibly be expected to win this war without it?

I am also shocked by the failure of last mile logistics from NGOs here. I’ve now been at the warehouses of at least 4 major internatonal NGOs in Poland, all with the same general pattern: a supply drop of hundreds of pallets of humanitarian aid in a warehouse given to a project manager with absolutely no budget or even a plan for getting the supplies into Ukraine.

These poor project managers, many of them first timers, are being asked to move hundreds of pallets without trucks or forklifts or money or local contacts or translators, and many of them are even forbidden from crossing the border. How are these goods supposed to make it into Ukraine, let alone to the front lines where they are needed the most?

The truth is, that task is left to the volunteer drivers working here who are risking their lives every day to bring supplies to the front. They will receive no parade back home, no medals or recognition for their work, and certainly no accolades from the Ukrainian government. They’re paying for their own gas and lodging.

Aid convoys have been bombed and volunteers have been killed, and they will receive no military honors or benefits for their families back home. And many of these volunteers are expats who don’t need to be here. They are here because they see this war for what it is: a fight for our civilization and our values. And though diesel fuels their cars, it is duty that drives them to the front.

That is why we need your help more than ever, to cover food, medicine, and most importantly, diesel!

We just established our US aid umbrella, Ukraine Aid International, which means we can now take tax deductible contributions. Please Venmo @ukraineaidinternational or send tax deductible contributions to: Ukraine Aid International, 88 Partrick Road, Westport, CT 06880.

Thank you for all your support. (Hat tip: Nancy Diamond)

Roundup: TTCS & Ukraine, RTM & Roe, Holocaust Talk …

The Conservative Synagogue continues to help Ukrainian refugees.

The congregations sponsored a planeload of 132 refugees. The flight left from Budapest on Tuesday, for Israel.

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn reports that the families have been welcomed to Israel as new citizens.  Mazel tov!

From Ukraine to Israel — with help from The Conservative Synagogue of Westport.

=======================================================

The Representative Town Meeting’s next session is June 7.

In addition to the usual requests for appropriations and ratifications of Planning & Zoning Commission decisions, there is this agenda item: to adopt a sense of the meeting resolution “that Westport supports the constitutional rights and principles established in Roe v. Wade, and opposes the elimination of those rights by any subsequent Supreme Court decision.”

The town’s non-partisan legislative body has passed similar “sense of the meeting” resolutions before — including, in 1969, a resolution asking President Johnson and Congress to “take immediate action to withdraw from the (Vietnam) war.”

Joanne Woodward spoke in support. After 3 hours of long, impassioned debate, the RTM voted 17-15 in favor of the resolution. The New York Times ran a long story about it.

=======================================================

On Thursday, Holocaust survivor Judy Altmann gave an important presentation to all Bedford and Coleytown Middle School 8th graders.

The Westport school district has made the link publicly available (and posted it on their website). Click here for her talk. To learn more about Judy Altmann, click here.

Judy Altmann

===================================================

The Levitt Pavilion kicks off the holiday weekend with a pair of free “open house” concerts this weekend. No tickets are required for the 2 shows, today and tomorrow (Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29, 5 p.m. both days).

Tonight it’s Michael Coppola and Harvie S Jazz Duo. Tomorrow features The Esperanto Duo: Dave Giardina & Chris Payne (“old time and gypsy jazz”).

Click here for more information.

=======================================================

Just in time for Memorial Day, a new flagpole has been installed outside the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Long may she wave!

(Photo/Dan Woog)

==================================================

Also just in time for Memorial Day: The ice cream hut at The Porch is open for business.

A servicemember and his family kicked off the holiday weekend yesterday, with a treat.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

=======================================================

Jerry Kuyper snapped today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo in his unmown meadow (“aka yard,” he notes).

The snapping turtle’s shell was about 12 inches long. And, Jerry adds, “the scars on the back might be from a lawn mower.”

No wonder the turtle snaps.

(Photo/Jerry Kuyper)

=====================================================

And finally … on this day in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. It denied many Native Americans their land rights, and forcibly relocated them.

Thus began one of the most shameful parts of our nation’s history.

 

Arlene And Alexey: United By Ukraine

Nearly 15 years ago, Arlene Gottlieb waited to be seated at a restaurant in Rome.

She and her husband David are 50-year Westport residents. But that night, she was alone.

A young man tapped her shoulder. “Would you like to join my wife and me for dinner?” he asked.

She was surprised, but grateful. As they ate and chatted, they discovered a connection. Alexey and his wife Victoria lived in Kyiv, Ukraine — Arlene’s grandmother’s home.

A friendship formed. Over the years, Arlene and Alexey exchanged emails and texts. He invited the Gottliebs to visit.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Arlene asked how he was doing. He texted back: “It’s getting bad here.” He wanted Victoria and their teenage children to leave. She did not want to go.

Finally, she agreed. Alexey drove his family to the Polish border. Then he returned home, to fight.

Luckily, they’d just gotten Canadian visas. This summer, they planned to visit Victoria’s sister in Toronto. They moved up their departure date. As soon as they could, they flew to Canada.

A couple of weeks ago, Arlene called Alexey. He was underground in Kharkiv, as a sniper.

Victoria told Arlene he needed military equipment. It cost $6,200. Arlene promised to raise the funds.

The Gottliebs’ friends pitched in. A journalist friend of Victoria’s in Odessa made sure it was delivered to him.

The other day, Alexey texted Arlene. He sent photos, of himself with the equipment.

As she described the latest twist in this unlikely friendship, her voice broke.

“I still wonder how and why he picked me out to join him for dinner,” she says. “And how we kept up with each other, through all the years.

“There’s a Jewish word, ‘beshert.’ It means ‘meant to be.’ That’s all I can believe.

“I’m not a praying person. But I pray every day that he is okay.

“This is a love story, all around. I’m just glad we can help Alexey, and help Ukraine.”

David and Arlene Gottlieb