Rev. Vasyl Sendeha, pastor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Palos Park, speaks during a March 26 press conference at a warehouse in Broadview, where community leaders gathered to send-off supplies to people in Ukraine. | Michael Romain

A contingent of elected officials, clergy and other community leaders, many of them based on the West Side gathered inside of a warehouse in west suburban Broadview on Saturday morning in a gesture of solidarity and mutual aid for Ukraine.

Russian President Vladmir Putin has waged an invasion of the Eastern European country since Feb. 24, in violation of international law.

“We’re sending these eight tractor trailers to our friends in Ukraine to let them know that together we stand, but divided we fall,” said Rev. John Harrell, the cofounder and president of Black Men United, a national community service organization based on the West Side.  

Harrell, who spoke in front of a backdrop of the Ukrainian flag that was held by various attendees, said the organization will ship 22 pallets of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The aid includes masks, gauze, medical gowns, sanitizers, wipes and protective shoe covers.

During a brief press conference held inside of the Broadview warehouse, the pastor and elected officials formally presented the supplies to a group of Ukrainian American leaders that included Serhiy Koledov, the consul general of Ukraine in Chicago; Dan Diaczun, the president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) Illinois Division; and UCCA Vice Presidents Marta Farion, Maria Korkatsch-Groszko and Pavlo Bandirwsky.

Rev. Vasyl Sendeha, pastor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Palos Park, said Saturday’s humanitarian gesture in Broadview was in line with many acts of solidarity and kindness organized by communities around the world.

“I grew up in Ukraine during the Soviet Union,” Sendeha said. “I’m so blessed to live here now in the United States of America and to enjoy the freedoms we have and those are the freedoms that the Ukrainian people are fighting for. I know the United States is helping them a lot and they continue to help.”

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, whose office helped organize the March 26 event, said the humanitarian gesture represents the commonality that unites the suffering of African Americans and the suffering of Ukraine.

“I cannot say enough about Black Men United,” she said. “I work with them every week. We are bringing the gap between biases that exist in this country against African Americans and helping the people of Ukraine.”

Farion echoed the sentiment, saying that there are commonalities between Ukraine’s fight for freedom and that waged by African Americans.

“African Americans understand what it’s like not to be free,” she said. “The African American community demands equal rights and democracy. That’s what Ukraine wants and that’s what they’re fighting for. It’s so important that we come together, because we are one humanity and we help each other.”

Larry Huggins, the founder of Christmas in the Wards, an organization that provides support and resources during the holidays to families in need in Chicago and the suburbs, said he’ll make sure his organization brings some merriment to Ukrainian refugees in the Chicago area during the Christmas season.

“My understanding is that a lot of Ukrainian families will be coming here to Chicago,” he said. “Christmas in the Wards is going to make sure that when they get here, they’ll become part of our family and at Christmas time, they get the gifts they need.”

Huggins acknowledged Dave Dickens, the owner of Sherman Dodge, who provided Black Men United with its first truck that the organization has utilized to provide food for hundreds of thousands of families in need.

Try Our Pallets, a national pallet manufacturer based in Maywood, provided the pallets on which the organization loaded the humanitarian supplies.

Several Proviso Township mayors — including Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey, Maywood Mayor Nathaniel George Booker and Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson — were in attendance on Saturday.

 “I am proud that America is leading the effort to provide security and humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” said Thompson, before describing Saturday’s send-off as “part of a local effort to recognize the plight” of the Ukrainians.

“I pray the world leaders will see the true face of evil and they will stop that evil,” said Sendeha. It was good when President Biden officially said that Putin is a war criminal. It’s good, but there’s more that needs to be done. And what you’re doing here, what communities in the United States and all over the world, are helping to make it stop and I know it will. I just hope it will be sooner than later.”


This story is part of an ongoing series of articles that Austin Weekly News publishes about issues, events, people, places and things that take place west of Austin Boulevard, but that nonetheless resonate to the east of it, as well.