Trip 63 to Ukraine; the first trip of mine that was not dedicated to help develop baseball in Ukraine.
How did this come to be? This past July I was invited to a meeting of the California Association To Aid Ukraine (CAAU) in Calabasas, CA. During this meeting hosted by Anne Prokopovych, president of said organization, I learned about the many other projects that this wonderful group was involved with in Ukraine.
One of these is the Wheelchair distribution program for the handicapped and for those afflicted with Cerebral Palsy in Ukraine.
After I heard more of this wonderful effort, I asked whether I could volunteer to go along and do what I could to help. For the past three years CAAU has been the leading sponsor of the Ukraine Baseball Championship for orphans in Ukraine. I just wanted to give back, to help them....and why not. I do believe that every single person should help another human being, and a better world would result. That is my feeling.
This was the fifteenth trip of this type sponsored by CAAU. As in the past, CAAU partnered with Wheels for Humanity, which supplied 180 wheel chairs to be distributed in Drohobych, a city of about 80,000 in the Lvivska Oblast.
Much advance work was performed by Dr. Yarko Maryniuk, from CA, on his third such mission. He worked with local officials in Drohobych in advance of our trip. Many signatures and stamps of approval were needed. The shipment arrived in Odessa and was cleared through customs with the usual hitches. Well, we are in Ukraine you know.
Our group was arriving at different times from across the ocean. Joining the group was Paul Micevych, from CA, Mark Grillo, one of our wheelchair specialists, who quickly received a Ukrainian name of Marko, Valerie Felicetti from West Virginia, a Physical Therapist and wheelchair specialist who now was known as Valya, then a local Physical Therapist that specializes in the care of children with Cerebral Palsy, Andriy Luhovsky atrrived from Lviv. A couple of days later Alina Smiyun, an Occupational Therapist, joined us from CA to serve as a translator. Paul and I did lots of moving and arranging of the dozens upon dozens of assorted wheel chair boxes. We also helped by translating Ukrainian into English so our techies could better serve the people arriving for a possible wheelchair.
Sunday October 21, Paul and I awaited the arrival of Mark and Valerie our two tech people from Munich, Germany. Their planes from the US were delayed a day due to poor flying conditions. Together we proceeded from Lviv to Drohobych, to the local headquarters of the charitable organization Caritas, which among other projects works to help disabled people in that area. The newly arrived wheelchairs were there. Paul and I began the slow process of moving the heavy boxes into some order. The techs were busy reviewing the documents of possible recipients to determine what type of chair best fitted the needs of that potential recipient. There were three types of chairs, standard, tilt and the recliner. Chairs were also distinguished by those needed for children and those for adults. We also had sport chairs, with special wheels for that special active recipient. We wanted to make each chair just right.
We needed to be ready for Monday. Each day we arrived at eight AM. Our Ukrainian volunteers, rare for Ukraine, Iryna Dzyurakh (the project director at Caritas), Lida Kovalska, Oksana 1 and Oksana 2, were leading the registration process. We set up two fitting rooms, one for the children and one for the adults.
Who came in? The ages ran from a child, all of 22 months, to a young lady of 88 years of age. We had single amputees, double amputees, diabetics, stroke victims, and many children with Cerebral Palsy. All came in hopeful that they would receive that one wheelchair best suited for them.
Our technical people took apart parts of chairs, added parts even subtracted parts. I was amazed by their creativity, all in the effort to put a smile on everyone's face. At times it was difficult to make that donated wheel chair fit exactly, yet nothing was taken for granted. Parts were found, smiles slowly grew in width as that chair became a reality. We wanted every single child and adult to know that we cared about them and that there were many people across the ocean who contributed to this mission of mercy.
We found that many who came to us either had no wheelchair, or were carried in, or their chair was falling apart. Another issue arose. How do we help those people who came to us from "selos", little country hamlets, where roads in reality do not exist? They needed heavy duty indoor outdoor wheels on their chairs. Another challenge for our band of merry men. We were up to it.
One gentleman, a single amputee, came in with medals and he showed us newspaper articles of his athletic exploits. He mentioned that he even had boxing matches in a wheel chair. With him was another man in a similar condition. I asked them to put on a demonstration but that did not happen. Hmmmmmmm
You should have heard the many thanks that we received and wishes for future great health. They were all so grateful. Some brought in chocolates, apples, walnuts, even a bottle of cognac for us. It was not easy to keep those tears back when I saw how happy they became at that moment when the chair was ready to be used and wheeled away. I must confess that tears do not come from me easily, but they did. We gave them hope. I felt that I helped in a unique way. They all had lived through difficult times. I realized how fortunate I was. I knew then why I had come there, to be humbled, and to give something back. We should all think about the less fortunate and do something to assist the little ones to the older ones.
In the end, we gave out 141 wheel chairs, many walkers and crutches as well. The remaining wheel chairs will go to some local hospitals, clinics, and churches.
Such a rewarding experience for all us. We learned about our differences and then realized how alike we all are. We all have hopes and unfulfilled dreams and we struggle to move on and attempt to capture those dreams and make them a reality.
Each day the ladies made us sandwiches. We ate lunch quickly in shifts and rushed back to serve the waiting clients. In the evening we shared dinner in local restaurants and it was fun exposing our two Americans, Marko and Valya, to Ukrainian food.
One day, in the late afternoon, we were taken to a resort city of Truskavets known for its miraculous waters. Dozens of sanitariums are located there where people normally spend a week or so getting treated to make them healthier. There was a place where the general public could sample the various medicinal drinks. Please note that sulfur and other goodies are found in these waters. Some of our group did sample the various types. I passed......hmmmmm. Does the drinking of this uniquely flavored water help? Well, come and find out.
By late Friday our effort was complete. The ladies invited all of us to a good bye dinner. Home made pierogi, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, breads, as well as local home made vodka for the adventurous soul and some cognac graced the long table. Evgen, a local violinist who has performed all over Europe, provided us with entertainment, highlighted by the Beatle song "Yesterday". Then we started to sing and laugh and enjoy the fruits of our labor deep into the night. Each one of us stood up and made a toast, expressing our thoughts. Then we slowly became more mellow and smiles appeared everywhere.
We did it. We pulled this effort of mercy together from all different parts of the United States for the sole purpose to help those who had hope, yet could not make those hopes a reality without our help.
We made their hopes real.
We did it. Those smiles and tears cannot lie.
Thanks to all for helping Ukraine in this special way.
Basil P. Tarasko
District Administrator of the Little League Baseball program in Ukraine
For more information about this humanitarian action or about baseball in Ukraine, please contact me at email@example.com
A happy wheelchair recipient from the CAAU / WFH Drohobych project