DOVER – Kateryna Ridley has been watching with horror as her native country is forced to fight a war against the invading Russians. She is grateful her parents left Ukraine a couple years ago and remain safe with her young family in Dover.
“When they came here, they brought nothing with them,” Ridley said. “They were just coming to help us get settled with Logan (her son). Now my 80-year old grandmother is there, alone in the house. I think (Russian President Vladmir) Putin wants to kill all Ukrainians, soldiers, regular people and children. “
Ridley spoke Sunday at the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce, where she helped organize a volunteer event to package donated goods from across the city to be sent to Ukraine. She was joined by Becky Kuzma, who also lives in Dover. The two women met recently after both sent messages to city officials asking if they could create relief events. The donation drive culminated Sunday with volunteers in the chamber parking lot packing daily living and medical supplies, including over the counter meds, bandages, blankets, solar chargers and portable ventilators.
Kateryna Ridley is from a Ukrainian city in the Dnipro area. She believes there hasn’t been fighting yet in the city where her grandmother and friends live, but fears it may only be a matter of time.
Ridley and her husband, Dan, met more than a decade ago when she was an exchange student, living and working near York, Maine. They now own their own business, Kateryna Woodworks in Dover, have been married 10 years and their son is 2 years old.
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Kuzma was born in the United States, but like Ridley, is living with constant worry about family and friends.
“My grandparents are in western Ukraine,” she said. “I grew up appreciating the culture. I feel so powerless right now.”
Strong message for Russians
Kateryna Ridley’s parents, Tanya and Evgen Bielikov, have stayed longer than planned in the United States because the coronavirus pandemic hit while they were in Dover to help Kateryna and her husband with son Logan.
Evgen Bielikov spoke proudly Sunday as he answered questions during Sunday’s event, with a reporter receiving translation help from his daughter. He suggested Russian troops are facing a greater challenge than Putin had expected.
“Putin thought that Ukraine was weak, that we had no unity,” Bielikov said. “He thought he could take our country easily, as he did Crimea. Ukrainians are strong people who want to be a part of the European Union. We want to live peaceful, civilized and progressive lives. We will defend our country with our lives. People are dying, men, women and children. It seems now the Russian orders are to shoot all and not stop. The world is afraid of Putin, but they need to stand up because he will not stop. “
Bielikov also had a personal message for Russians who are protesting the war in Russia under threat of 15 years in jail for defying Putin.
“They should know that there are not enough prisons in Russia to hold them all,” he said. “So help us stop him. Help free yourselves, too.”
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Kateryna Ridley was last in Ukraine when she was pregnant with Logan in 2019, not long before her parents came to the United States. She continues to worry about her grandmother, Valentina. She said it is a beautiful country, and she hopes it stands and recovers so she can show it to her son one day.
“I hope there is a country to go back to,” said Dan Ridley, her husband. “I think it will be devastated and will take decades to recover.”
Donation drive sweeps across Dover
Dover city officials announced the donation drive last week with collection locations at City Hall, the public library, the McConnell Center and the city’s ice arena.
On Sunday, the donated items were collected and brought to the chamber parking lot on Central Avenue to be boxed and sent to a Nu-Day location in Derry. The relief organization will send the supplies to Ukraine.
The requested donations include daily living, and medical supplies, such as backpacks, crutches, canes, wheelchairs, personal hygiene items, solar chargers and lamps, tents, thermal blankets, thermal clothing, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antiseptics, bandages, bed rails, eye wash, medical gloves and scissors, trauma dressings and kits, portable ventilators, petroleum jelly, plastic wrap, and needles and thread, stored in alcohol.
The response was so great that before noon Sunday a large storage container donated for the day by Mi-Box was full of items in shipping boxes, which were donated by Calling All Cargo. Arrangements were being made for additional trailers.
“I told them if they needed another by the end of the day, I would bring another box tomorrow,” said Jim Wieler, owner of Mi-Box Moving and Mobile Storage. “I think this is just amazing. We are standing up for democracy here, and all this stuff collected will help make a difference.”
Margaret Joyce, the chamber president, praised staff member Melissa Launder for helping get the event started, chamber members for volunteering and local businesses for donating food and beverages for volunteers.
Kateryna Ridley said the volume of donations was astounding to her.
“So many people want to help,” she said. “I even have a couple of friends here today from Russia, who came to help us.”
“The response is so amazing,” Kuzma said in agreement. “We will fill that trailer and still have more to give.”
How to help
Kateryna and Dan are selling handmade wooden Ukrainian flags at etsy.com/listing/1178365950/ukrainian-flag-handmade-wooden-sign-door. They say all proceeds will be donated to help people in the region where Kateryna’s family is from.
This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Dover NH’s Kateryna Ridley, from Ukraine, shares fears amid war