Heroes among us

Share

Tanya Petroff

There are heroes among us. One of them is Tanya Petroff. Tanya is a first-generation Ukrainian-American, and on February 24, 2022, the day Russia invaded Ukraine, her life profoundly changed.

“My family and I were in Lake Placid for winter break. A few days before the invasion, I connected with an Eastern European woman in a Lake Placid village store. We began talking about what was happening, and she said Russia would not attack Ukraine. I told her she was wrong. On February 24, and every evening after, I was glued to the television, watching as the war broke out. I remember seeing Ukrainian flags hung on storefronts and houses. Growing up, whenever anyone asked a question about my culture, no one had heard of Ukraine. It makes me happy that people support Ukraine, yet at the same time sad because the reason is the war.”

Tanya and her family contacted relatives in eastern Ukraine who were able to leave, sharing a video of themselves singing a patriotic Ukrainian song. “One of my cousins lived in Kherson, which has been razed to the ground. She will probably never return home. So many people left without anything.”

Tanya was born in the United States, yet growing up, her family spoke Ukrainian at home. She didn’t speak English until she went to school. She learned about Ukraine’s long history of struggling to be free from her grandparents and from attending the Lesia Ukrainka School of Ukrainian Studies. “The most vivid story was the man-made famine where 7 to 10 million Ukrainians were starved to death by Stalin’s regime in 1932 to 1933. My paternal grandparents are survivors.”

Tanya’s favorite memory is August 24, 1991, when Ukraine declared Independence from the Soviet Union. After this day, her parents finally felt safe to take the family to Ukraine. It was an experience she will never forget—viewing Ukrainian land for the first time from the plane, meeting cousins, and, of course, seeing all the beautiful churches and monuments in Kyiv and throughout eastern Ukraine. It was these churches, specifically the 1000-year-old Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, that Tanya remembers thinking about on February 24 in the Lake Placid hotel, hoping it would not be bombed or damaged. “It is the most beautiful church I have ever seen. I hoped to take my oldest daughter to Ukraine before she graduated high school, as my parents had taken me. Sadly, now this won’t happen.”

Tanya has always been active in the Ukrainian community and kicked into high gear—along with the 518Ukrainians, a community of three Ukrainian churches, the Ukrainian American Cultural Center, and the local branch of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America—when the war broke out. Their first order of business was to gather much-needed supplies. Tanya spread the word to CrowdPharm and filled her SUV with donated supplies that were sent to Ukraine. She was part of the team that organized multiple drop-off points throughout New York’s Capital Region and sorted through and packed the overwhelming number of donated items from generous individuals. A tractor-trailer service volunteered to bring items to the Ukrainian company in New Jersey that shipped everything. Money was raised to ship the goods. 518Ukrainians is still shipping donated medical supplies and collecting money to directly purchase vehicles, drones, army vests, and night vision goggles for the army.

Tanya serves on four boards for various organizations: Director and Board Member for the Capital District School of Ukrainian Studies; Director and Board Member for the Ukrainian American Cultural Center; Trustee and Board Member of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church; and Board Member for Zorepad Ukrainian Dance Ensemble. She also volunteers for other Ukrainian organizations, including the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and the Ukrainian Festival Committee. She works tirelessly fundraising, going to rallies and parades, jumping on Zoom calls with New York State government officials, attending prayer services and flag-raising ceremonies, organizing benefits concerts and festivals, putting together backpacks for refugee children, gathering supplies—anything, everything, all at once.

Tanya posted on the 518Ukrainians Facebook page that her family and friends were gathering to make blue/yellow ribbon sunflower pins. The supplies were donated by families at the school. Many people paid more than $5 per pin because they wanted to help. “People who were not Ukrainian came, people we didn’t know came, people we haven’t seen in years came to help make pins. It was amazing. We spent several late evenings making our pins, laughing and crying as we did.” The pin sale raised $13,000, which was sent to direct contacts, one in Slovakia who had established a school for Ukrainian refugees, one who founded I Heart Ukraine, and one to purchase supplies to make camouflage nets for the army.

Tanya teaches the preschool/kindergarten class at the Capital District School of Ukrainian Studies on Saturdays. She doesn’t talk about the war in her class. Several of the children are refugees, and most of them have come to the USA only with their mothers as their fathers are fighting on the front lines. Last year, before the school year started, Tanya contacted the Ukrainian Cultural Center to ask if they could help pay for the refugee school tuition. They covered 100% of the tuition and are doing the same for this coming year.

Each summer, the local Ukrainian community hosts a large Ukrainian Festival where multiple Ukrainian organizations come together to raise money. This past year, they all donated their profits to Ukraine. The festival brought in record attendance and profit, and the Committee is already looking for a larger venue for this summer. Tanya leads the marketing efforts for the Festival, and the Ukrainian School hosts a booth where they sell various Ukrainian items and have games for children.

Then there came a surprise wrapped in love and titled Baba’s Favorite Recipes. “The idea of the cookbook began before Russia invaded Ukraine, but suddenly and beautifully, this labor of love opened a new avenue to provide support.” During the pandemic, Tanya’s mom, Halyna Lisnyczyj, gathered the family’s favorite recipes, typed them up, and sent them to Tanya to create a Shutterfly cookbook for their family. Tanya edited and formatted the text, added design elements, and photographed the food with her dad and sister-in-law, who was the final editor.

A family friend saw the cookbook and told Tanya’s parents they should sell it as a fundraiser. “Our family friend began to spread the word and helped us turn our family project into something big to help Ukraine.” As of April 2024, the cookbook has raised $33,000 in sales, and the money has been sent to an orphanage in Ukraine through Archbishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. “My mom loves children and has been supporting this particular orphanage for the past 10 years.”

Tanya’s initial supplies drive with the 518Ukrainian’s inspired Saratoga Springs entrepreneur Dorothy Rogers-Bullis to get involved. She and a friend formed the Sunflower Fund, helping 24 Ukrainians in Saratoga Springs, NY.

CrowdPharm asked how people could help. Tanya replied that Ukrainians all over the United States are fundraising and hosting events. “Funds will be needed long after the war ends to rebuild beautiful Ukraine!”

And who are Tanya’s heroes?  “The people who are fighting in Ukraine. The men and women who have given their lives for Ukraine’s freedom.”

As part of The Hero Award, CrowdPharm makes a donation to the charity of our hero’s choice in their name. Tanya chose the The Capital District School of Ukrainian Studies.

 

About The Hero Award
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and from all corners of the world. They can be brave and courageous. They can demonstrate the moral integrity to stand up for others or have the inner strength and determination to move mountains, and people. Heroes put others before themselves for the greater good. Their selflessness inspires us all to work on being our best selves. Long after their acts of heroism, we will still be moved by their ability to change the world around them. Heroes give us hope.

More heroes
Patty Byrnes
Patty told me her story, and I was awed by her bravery and courage but mostly her heroism. Her action really moved me,” says Ed Decker, Managing Director, Corporate Operations. “I brought the idea to Lori. We immediately knew we needed to acknowledge and celebrate Patty.
Read more >