Ken Ward, a Rome resident who first visited Ukraine in 1994, will be leaving Friday for the war-torn region again.
A pastor for over 30 years, Ward started his work in Moldova, which is just south of Ukraine, nestled above Romania. He’s been spreading the faith and planting churches in Moldova and the Ukraine for 28 years — 20 churches in Moldova and 17 in Ukraine until the war broke out.
His deep connections with this part of the world came in handy when Russia invaded last spring, and a new type of work began.
Ward is working with an organization called Helping Ukraine (HelpingUkraine.US), which was founded by Emory Morseberger, a former state legislator and Rotarian. Morsberger recently wrote a guest opinion piece in our sister publication, the Marietta Daily Journal, which was well received and led to an influx of donations for Ukraine.
“There are really four areas of concentration in Ukraine,” Ward said. “Blankets, wood burning stoves, generators and, finally, heating points.”
As the Russians invaded, there was a rush of refugees fleeing the fighting and moving away from the occupied areas. However, fighting started in the spring, when the weather was warm and wet. Now that winter has come, keeping warm for the Ukrainians is a matter of life and death.
“We get the blankets from Poland, and they are huge, like comforters,” Ward said. “A family can stay alive if they all get together in the same room and cover themselves.”
Wood burning stoves are also key. Ward purchases them from a company in Odessa, which makes them in an old shipyard using metal from scrapped ships.
“The stoves keep a family warm, and also cook their food,” Ward said. “The real issue was installing them — to put the exhaust pipes through the walls or into the chimney. Most able-bodied men are in the military or elsewhere.”
But Ward wasn’t going to let the lack of a handyman allow a family to freeze to death, so he’s gotten accustomed to doing the installations himself a few times.
Generators are typically installed in cities or larger towns where you have some sort of community center, and ideally some infrastructure that can be powered on and heated.
“The best place to buy generators is Romania; they have a good supply and are reliable,” Ward said. “Plus they know to work with the Ukrainian government, so each piece is identified and doesn’t end up on the black market.”
As with any conflict area, making sure that supplies reach their intended target is usually a huge problem. Theft, extortion and other issues can keep materials from getting to the people who need it, especially if there’s no infrastructure left.
“How can you ask someone to provide a receipt for items they’ve purchased with donated money if there’s no power to charge your phone, or no cellphones period?” Ward said.
Generators need gas, parts and people who know how to operate them, plus maybe even an electrician to connect to whatever electrical gear remains in a shelled community center.
Ward, however, has a very good working relationship with local governments in Ukraine, which he states have been well-served by local politicians.
“All the small villages have really banded together to help each other — especially when it comes to getting blankets and food that last few hundred feet to the person who needs it,” Ward says. “It’s been really inspirational to me how they are helping each other.”
The heating points are the last areas of concentration. These are places where people can come and get a hot meal, charge up their phones and check in.
“We don’t provide the food, but we help organize a place where it can be cooked and even enjoyed,” Ward said. “And charging your phone and alerting friends and family to someone’s well being can bring hope.”
Ward also wanted to thank the Rotarians who’ve been extremely instrumental in getting things done in Ukraine.
“I’m really just one person who’s receiving a lot of support from people across the region,” Ward said. “No man is an island. I’m just grateful to be able to help.”