It was late winter in Kyiv when Putin’s military began to attack Ukraine and the world.
As a second winter of war now looms, Yorktown’s Max Bukhover reflects on watching the horrifying news late that evening, on Feb. 24, as his native land was besieged by airstrikes – missiles raining down on the capital city – while a land invasion pounded the nation and shook the planet.
This was no distant abstraction for Bukhover.
Moments after the invasion, Bukhover successfully called his cousin in Kyiv, critically imploring him to take his mother, Bukhover’s aunt, to the western portion of the beleaguered country for safety.
The world watched in horror, so many beset with a soul-crushing feeling of powerlessness as the population endured the unprompted assault.
But by the next morning, Bukhover had already taken action to play his part.
He and his friends quickly realized the best way to help was by getting supplies and tools to the Ukraine defense forces.
“I think the invasion started about 10 pm our time, and the next day I took off work to go to (New York City) and protest with friends,” Bukhover recounted. “We started raising money and donating/buying supplies at the end of February and sent our initial aid by the middle of March.”
Soon after, Bukhover and three friends started AidUkraineNow Inc., a nonprofit organization.
With the February invasion feeling like a lifetime ago, and as Ukraine braces for its second bloody winter – this time from the outset of the bruising season – the small handful of volunteers at AidUkraineNow Inc. are focused on a newer initiative: coats for kids.
“The scale of destruction, especially in the east, and the fact that millions of people were displaced guarantees a rough winter for many people there,” said Bukhover, who was born in Kyiv, grew up in the Bronx and has lived in Westchester for the past two decades. “We hope to have a few more drives and help out where we can.”
Bukhover had the perfect connection to help facilitate the local coat drive idea. His wife, Anna, a native of Poland who also moved to the Bronx as a child, has worked at the Country Children’s Center (CCC) in northern Westchester, a nonprofit daycare organization for about 20 years.
Max and Anna’s daughter, Sophia, now a sixth-grader, started at CCC when she was just a few months old, so the family connection to the center runs deep.
Bukhover asked the center’s executive director, Polly Peace, if she wanted to help. She was all in.
“Polly loved the idea, and we ended up shipping out 13 boxes of very nice – in many cases brand new – kids’ winter clothes,” said Bukhover, a tax manager who previously worked as a certified public accountant and personal trainer.
The drive took place at the half-dozen CCC locations around the area while the packing and shipping were conducted at Bukhover’s house in Yorktown Heights.
“Efforts like this help not only those in need, (like) the Ukrainian children, but everyone involved,” Peace said. “We all feel a little warmer when we do good things for children. We are grateful to Max for the opportunity.”
It’s important to understand the grassroots nature of Bukhover’s small nonprofit.
Bukhover and his three friends – the friends are Ukraine-born and live in the New York City area – are all working professionals, and the nonprofit relies entirely on volunteer efforts.
“Even our in-person meetings we just pay for out of pocket, without reimbursement,” Bukhover said. “We all have our careers, so this project is only to help out, and we consistently make personal donations as well.”
One friend’s first-grade classmate’s husband was killed in the Donbas area in March. He was a professional soldier that spent many years fighting in the region.
“So he wanted to do something for families of children who lost parents as a result of the war,” Bukhover explained. “Another guy’s dad is retired military, and he is in touch with his contacts, and we wanted to help them too, so our mission was shaped that way. At that time, literally, any help would be good.”
The durability of the world’s interest in Ukraine has also been a relief to supporters. In fact, Bukhover pointed to how Yorktown has repainted red fire hydrants blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
For the Ukrainian soldiers battling Russian forces, it’s a morale boost to hear about various efforts – coats for kids and otherwise – to support their work.
“Knowing about the global worldwide support…eases their concerns and makes them even happier and gives them the idea that they are not fighting on their own and have a big support system behind them,” Bukhover said.
Now that the focus has shifted from supplies to coats (governments have tools for the defense forces covered), AidUkraineNow directs precious time and resources on its “Kids of Ukraine” initiative.
In terms of logistics and ensuring the donated coats reach the right hands, AidUkraineNow’s contact at an unaffiliated Kyiv-based nonprofit fills that role.
The shipment of coats is expected to arrive in Ukraine within about four weeks, by mid-October, well ahead of the Dec. 21 start of winter and the most frigid Eastern Europe temperatures.
As for Bukhover, I concluded it’s critical for lawyers to prepare for the long game.
“Military-wise, we can’t help efficiently anymore, but there will be economic issues and families and kids in need for many years after the war ends, so we intend to keep the Kids of Ukraine project going forward,” he said.
If anyone is interested in supporting the work of AidUkraineNow Inc., visit www.aidukrainnow.org.