Locals sending comfort, supplies for Ukrainian relief efforts

Eighth-graders (from left) Lola Kovach, Victoria Santos-Reyna, Steamboat Springs couple Mark and Chantal Kovach, and eighth-graders Ashlyn Spivey and Brynn Rose pack comfort kits Saturday headed to young refugees near the Polish-Ukrainian border. Mark Kovach departed Sunday from the airport in Hayden with duffel bags full of comfort kits.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As a dad of two teenagers in Steamboat Springs watching the suffering that young Ukrainian refugees are experiencing, Mark Kovach decided he has to help.

“Over the last two weeks, seeing what is happening in the world and with the children of Ukraine, I felt that this was my time and opportunity to help others,” Kovach said.

He purchased a one-way airplane ticket from Yampa Valley Regional Airport to leave Sunday, March 20, to fly through Denver, Munich and eventually to Warsaw, Poland, with multiple large duffel bags in tow. From Warsaw, he has a used van waiting to transport some 1,000 comfort kits to the Polish border town of Medyka to distribute to refugee children.

In the border town, Kovach will connect with the Nashville-based nonprofit Aerial Recovery Group, which utilizes qualified and trained military veterans who deploy as humanitarian operators to man-made and natural disasters across the world. Kovach himself is a Navy veteran.

Kovach, a 57-year-old entrepreneur, said he has been thinking about this volunteer trip since four days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With no end in sight to the war, Kovach was especially touched by the Ukrainian orphans and child refugees who have only one parent with them.

The Steamboat resident sent an email to friends earlier this week with a goal of raising $3,000 of support. Within 48 hours, he received $29,000 in donations, more than half of which came from residents in Routt County.

Kovach plans to stay in border towns in Poland, sleeping in the van, to help on the ground for a month. Part of the donated funds will be used to pay for the $5,000 van that Kovach and friends are using to help in the region. Then the van will be donated to assist the Aerial Recovery Group.

Some 2,000 letters, cards and drawings for Ukrainian children were created by elementary and middle school children in Steamboat and in Minnesota, where Mark Kovach’s sister is a fourth-grade teacher.

Lola Kovach, 13, said tables with art supplies were set up in middle school hallways for students to create comforting messages. The colorful cards included notes and symbols of peace, love, strength, encouragement and hope. Some of the students used online translation services to add messages in Ukrainian. On Saturday, on tables in front of the Kovach home, the children’s messages were placed inside zip-top bags also filled with snacks and Hot Wheel cars or small stuffed animals.

“They will help them feel people are thinking about them and that they are not alone,” Lola Kovach said.

Students and adults packing the bags said the heart-warming notes helped them feel encouraged, but eighth-grader Brynn Rose said the effort is also “bittersweet,” because the kits are intended to provide a little bit of comfort during such a traumatic time.

Steamboat-based company Honey Stinger donated waffles to the comfort kits, which is in addition to the 30,000 servings of waffles, chews and hydration powders the company shipped last week and committed to send this week to help the Ukrainian military, said Richard Thompson, Honey Stinger CEO.

Through the support of a crisis, logistics and security company called Covac Global based in Florida — which happens to be run by Thompson’s son, Ross Thompson — Honey Stinger leaders are testing the delivery system for their products to reach Ukrainian fighters. After testing the deliveries, the company plans to send regular, future shipments, Thompson said.

“We are just trying to do our part,” Thompson said. “We’ve got products for endurance athletes, so why wouldn’t they be good for the military and Ukrainian soldiers.”

Kovach said he is a registered volunteer with both the Aerial Recovery Group and the World Central Kitchen, which is serving food at border crossings. He said excess donations will be given to World Central Kitchen, Aerial Recovery Group or the National Bank of Ukraine fund to support the country’s Armed Forces.

According to the United Nations, more than 3 million people, the majority of whom are women and children, have fled Ukraine since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.

As of March 17, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded 2,149 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 816 killed and 1,333 injured. Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, according to the UN office.

Steamboat Springs-based Honey Stinger started last week sending some 30,000 servings of waffles, chews and hydration power mixes intended to support the Ukrainian military. If deliveries prove successful, the company will continue shipments.
Honey Stinger/Courtesy photo
Steamboat Springs resident Mark Kovach views some of the heart-warming messages created by school children to send as part of comfort kits he is bringing for refugee children.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today


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