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Church Members Raising $50,000 to Buy Wheelchairs for Ukrainian Orphans

While the orphans have been well cared for since they were safely evacuated from Ukraine, they are in need of vital equipment like wheelchairs, advocates said. (Photos: Courtesy of Alexander Orlov)

UPPER WEST SIDE — As the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine approached on Feb. 24, a group of Ukrainian Americans opened their hearts to disabled orphans forced to flee their homeland when the fighting started. 

Led by parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Volodymyr on the Upper West Side, volunteers are raising $50,000 to buy 20 wheelchairs for children who are now living in a sanitorium in Poland. In addition to mobility issues, some of the kids are blind and suffer from mental health issues, advocates said.

The St. Volodymyr members, who took an interest in the children’s welfare, developed a relationship with the sanitorium that lasted throughout the year and have now started a GoFundMe page to solicit donations for the wheelchair campaign.

The children were evacuated from Ukraine shortly after the start of the invasion. Their orphanage had been located in Znamianka, a city in eastern Ukraine that’s 120 miles from the battlefront.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States sent priests to the orphanage before the war and brought supplies to the kids, said Alexander Orlov, a professor of materials science and chemical engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who is helping to lead the fundraising effort.

Orlov asked the sanatoriums administrators how best to help, and the answer came back: motorized wheelchairs. “They said wheelchairs would make a real difference in the lives of those kids because it would give them dignity and independence,” he recalled.

The children were not orphaned by the war (their parents had passed away prior to the conflict), but like most Ukrainians who fled, they are grappling with post-traumatic stress.

“Poland is overwhelmed with Ukrainian refugees. There are millions of Ukrainian refugees there,” Orlov said. “And the Polish government tries to help as much as possible. But these kids require much more attention than regular kids. And even though the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was trying to help, they have financial limits.”

That’s why Ukrainians in New York stepped in. Once the $50,000 goal is met, the plan is to travel to Poland to purchase the wheelchairs and ship them to the sanatorium. Shipping them from the U.S. would be more expensive, Orlov explained.

The fundraising effort is helping to reveal important facts about the war, said Roman Popadiuk, who served as the U.S.’s first ambassador to Ukraine in 1992.

“It underscores two things. First of all, of course, is the humanitarianism of people around the world. I’m speaking specifically of the kindness, generosity, and heartfelt feelings of the American people toward people that are suffering. But the other thing is, it calls attention to the hardships that the children of Ukraine are suffering,” said Popadiuk, who has known Orlov for many years.

Popadiuk is involved in humanitarian efforts through his work as a member of the board of directors of Elevate Ukraine, a nonprofit based in Texas. Even when the war ends, Ukraine will still need a great deal of help, he predicted. “I believe it needs to be a concerted effort. It’s probably akin to something like a Marshall Plan to really put the resources into Ukraine to make it whole again,” he said.

Orlov, who was born and raised in Ukraine and has been living in New York for 15 years, started attending St. Volodymyr right after the Russian invasion began. “I was looking for someplace where I would connect to God in different ways. In fact, I went to several churches,” he recalled. “It was an emotional journey at that time for me.”

While he found comfort in many of the churches of different Christian denominations he visited, Orlov felt immediately at home when he walked into St. Volodymyr. He has been attending services there ever since.

Alexander Orlov says the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is doing its best to help make life easier for the children, but its financial resources are limited, making it necessary to start a public campaign to raise funds.

While busy teaching and raising funds to buy wheelchairs, Orlov is also dealing with a serious personal matter — evacuating his parents.

Tetiana and Mykhailo Orlov lived in the capital city of Kyiv before fleeing to Lviv in the western part of the country. However, they eventually returned to the capital after Russians started sending rockets to that part of Ukraine, according to their son.

Orlov became alarmed when his mother told him she could actually distinguish between ballistic missiles and other missiles because of the sounds they made flying past her kitchen window.

When the Russians started targeting the country’s infrastructure, including the power grid, Orlov knew it was time to get his parents out. The evacuation is a delicate endeavor requiring a lot of maneuvering.

His plan is to get his family to Poland, where he will meet them and then bring them back to the U.S. He has already started the application process to get them green cards.


For information on the wheelchair fundraising campaign, visit their GoFundMe page: For information on the wheelchair fundraising campaign, visit: