Ukrainian Americans prepare for 100,000 refugees
As the United States prepares to accept 100,000 refugees from Russia’s war in Ukraine, existing communities in cities like Sacramento are already mobilizing to provide food, shelter and support to people fleeing their homes. . (March, 31st)
It was an anniversary that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, but Taras Kosciolek’s greatest gift will be for his people.
Like many on that February night, Kosciolek was distraught when Russia started bombing and invading the sovereign nation of Ukraine.
“Essentially, since I came out of the womb, those are my people there,” said Kosciolek, who was born in America to his Ukrainian-born family. He speaks and writes the Ukrainian language fluently. “There are more civilians than soldiers dying. It’s like you can’t even call it a war. It’s devastating.”
Encouraged by his church, Kosciolek requested and received permission to begin a supply drive at Minisink Valley High School, where he is a sophomore and a member of the Warriors varsity football team. Thanks to the efforts of Minisink’s future American business leaders (FBLA), simple medical supplies are collected as part of a larger tri-county effort and shipped to those in need in Ukraine.
“We tell (students) that, hey, kids your age are leaving their homes with nothing but a backpack,” said FBLA faculty advisor Seth Johnson. “Taras has done a really good job of letting everyone know how personal this is for him.”
“I am so grateful to be able to be part of the school and they are helping my people and even me in this situation,” Kosciolek said.
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Collected supplies include first aid kits, bandages, painkillers and other select items. “Even a bandage can save a life,” Taras said. The response has been good at Minisink, plus three other schools where Kosciolek’s friends from Ukrainian American Youth Association attend: Pine Bush, New Paltz and Rondout Valley.
The Minisink school drive ends Thursday – the last day before spring break – and the supplies will be delivered to Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Kerhonkson. From there, a shipping company that has turned its efforts to humanitarian aid will send the supplies to Ukraine. Taras’ father, Peter, helped transport the donations to the church.
“I had two loads that I could barely fit in a van where I couldn’t even fit into Taras when I had to pick him up from soccer practice,” Peter said. “He was kind of in a hurry.”
Peter Kosciolek said overall support for the relief effort has been very strong, stretching across Ulster, Orange and Dutchess counties.
“We all pray like crazy,” Peter said, “but being able to have something tangible that you feel, touch, put in a box, put an address on and know it went to someone and helps someone… I think that’s probably the most profound thing he can do.
Minisink sporting director Tim Bult praised Kosciolek’s efforts.
“It’s great,” Bult said. “It’s a very important cause. (Having) one of our players give their time and energy to help people in Ukraine is amazing. We are very proud of him.”
Kosciolek was a sophomore on a senior-laden Minisink college football team, so he let the older players lead the way, but he sees himself taking on more of a leadership role over the next two seasons. His father said Taras was a “mediocre” football player in eighth grade, but his time with local club Cedar Stars and a few seasons in the Minisink program have steadily improved his game.
“He’s a defender by trade,” said Minisink coach Kevin Burns, who started Kosciolek as one of his three central midfielders. “He is extremely talented. He has great vision, great foot skills and is very creative. He is very quick with the ball and he is a very technical player. He has a lot of experience playing a high level travel ball. Burns said he sees Kosciolek becoming a star and collegiate player in Section 9 if he continues his work.
Leading the Minisink relief effort is a sure sign of Kosciolek’s leadership skills.
“I’m a people person,” Taras said. “I’m not the most social person but I don’t want to see people fail…I never want to see people fail. When you fail, you get back up. I want to be that person who helps them up. I want to inspire people in some way.
Minisink donations are collected in rooms 119, 212 and 232 of the school and in the school store. The community can also contact Johnson at: [email protected].