Guest essay: Supporting Ukraine: Local action has global impact

by Yurij Wowczuk

Russia’s relentless assault on Ukraine isn’t just a distant conflict; it affects us here at home in profound and surprising ways. The ripple effects of this war touch upon everything from our national security to our local economies and even our community values of faith and family.

Local organizations, such as the Kiwanis Club, Lions Club and chambers of commerce, play a crucial role in transforming our understanding of these global events into meaningful local action. In states like West Virginia, where every individual’s effort counts, these groups have shown exceptional leadership, especially in supporting Ukrainian refugees, exemplifying the potential of a community united.

While the media plays a crucial role in spreading awareness, local community organizations are pivotal in deepening public understanding and engagement. The Kiwanis Club, in particular, has taken a leadership role in responding to the crisis. These fraternal organizations have a long history of providing vital social services, financial support and community leadership in towns and cities across America, stepping up to meet local needs in ways that government and businesses often could not.

As the director of the Vovk Foundation, based here in West Virginia, I have witnessed this solidarity firsthand. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at a Kiwanis Club meeting in Wheeling, where I shared insights into the Ukrainian crisis. The values of resilience and determination that define Ukrainians resonate deeply with us in West Virginia, making their struggle our concern, too.

Our discussion highlighted some lesser-known aspects of the conflict, such as the economic benefits the U.S. gains from supporting Ukraine. Most of the military aid we send is spent domestically, boosting American defense industries and creating jobs here at home. For example, a significant portion of the aid involves contracts with American companies producing advanced weapon systems like the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS), which are partly manufactured in our state. Supporting Ukraine isn’t just a moral choice — it’s a boon for our local workers and their families.

We also talked about the critical national security benefits. By helping Ukraine resist Russian aggression, we’re keeping the fight over there, and preventing Putin’s expansionist ambitions from becoming a direct threat to our allies. If unchecked, these ambitions could eventually risk American lives on European soil.

By empowering Ukraine, the United States is undermining a major adversary and contributing to a more secure international order without directly endangering American lives. Comparing this relatively modest cost to the overall U.S. defense expenditure, supporting Ukraine represents a prudent investment in our shared security interests.

U.S. support provided to Ukraine has also reinvigorated the NATO alliance, inspiring our partners in Europe to assume a greater share of the collective responsibility for maintaining security.

At the Wheeling meeting, another crucial topic was the persecution of Ukrainian Christians by Russian forces, an issue that has received little attention. The assault on religious freedom is severe, with nearly 500 places of worship damaged or destroyed and countless believers subjected to harsh treatment.

Lastly, we discussed the similarities, unbeknown to most, between Appalachia and Ukraine. Despite being separated by continents and histories, these two regions share profound similarities. They are two places where family values, patriotism and dignity of work run deep. A day in the life of a farmer, teacher or miner in Ukraine typically isn’t far off from that of a typical West Virginian — at least, before Russia’s invasion.

While world events may fade from view, we must remain engaged and informed. The ongoing need to fight against religious persecution, the strategic importance of supporting Ukraine for American security and the economic benefits of our engagement are compelling reasons to keep this issue at the forefront of our discussions and actions.

As we navigate these challenging times, let us remember the profound interconnectedness of our global community and the tangible impact we can achieve. Whether it’s through advocating to Congress, supporting nonprofits or educating our neighbors about critical issues, each action we take strengthens our collective resolve. Let’s harness this momentum to effect meaningful change, not only in our community but across the world.

Yurij Wowczuk is director of the West Virginia-based Vovk Foundation.