Ukrainian refugee in Colorado takes it to Putin with grassroots energy effort

Jan. 28—The mayor of a bombed-out Ukrainian village, his face red from the cold, thanked strangers in a far-off place called Colorado for the lifeline they'd provided.

"We are grateful," said Victor Zozulya, who oversees the town of Nves'ke, population 136. Nves'ke is considered crisis territory because it is so close to Russia — only around 70 miles from the border.

"This is very, very, very important to our people who are living on the zero," said Zozulya on a cellphone video.

"The zero" is a term for the front lines of almost daily Russian attacks. Nves'ke is in the Luhansk province, which touches the southwest border of Russia and is a gateway for the Russians to Crimea.

Town folk have not felt safe in months, although according to the Ukrainian news agency Ukrinform, the Ukrainian military repelled Russian attacks Thursday near 11 settlements in eastern regions including Nves'ke.

Nves'ke, like many rural areas in Luhansk, has lost all but 10% of its power.

"They want to burn our village to the ground," said Zozulya in Ukrainian.

Behind Zozulya were boxes of generators, space heaters, propane tanks, batteries and magnetic lamps, funded by Coloradans and strategically delivered thanks to a refugee who fled war-torn Ukraine to Colorado Springs in May.

Yana Malyk is a 35-year-old Ukrainian businesswoman who brought her contacts and experience from the 2014 Russian invasion with her to the United States after weeks of being on the run with her family. Luhansk is her home.

While local and international politicians debated for weeks over whether to send military tanks to fight the ground war with Russia, the dynamic refugee started a counterattack of sorts — quietly raising money to save fellow citizens who are trapped in an occupation they didn't ask for.

She is a warrior in heels. And during those overnight zooms and texts, it's fair to say she wins figurative battles in a sweat pants, her long blond hair piled on top of her head. On those days, the dark circles under her eyes are well-earned.

Malyk's "weapons of war" are a computer, a phone and a Colorado Springs host family who are her adopted sidekicks.

Colorado Springs power couple Marc and Whitney Luckett have thrown themselves into the Ukrainian cause.

"I needed help. This wonderful family sheltered me and helps me with everything," Malyk said in a text.

At least half of all Ukrainian electric generation infrastructure has been destroyed or disrupted by Russian attacks in an attempt by Vladimir Putin to weaken the civilian population by freezing and starving them into submission.

Accustomed to these types of tactics, and of the harsh winter months ahead, Malyk started Ukraine Power in December as temperatures hovered around 20 degrees. Because acquiring nonprofit status would take too long, she launched grassroots campaign through social media, phone calls and fundraising parties with the Luckett's assistance.

The Gazette covered the Ukraine Power story in December, which brought in needed donations.

In just a month and a half, Ukraine Power has raised $80,000 — every cent of which provided 46 generators at $1,000 a piece, 60 electric heaters, 70 propane tanks and lamps to Luhansk.

"She's like a timberwolf chasing prey through the snow," said Marc Luckett. "The woman doesn't sleep."

This week's new round of Russian bombings killed 11 people and destroyed countless power systems across the country. Visiting dignitaries like French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna sounded the alarm: "What we saw today, new strikes on civilian Ukrainian infrastructure is not waging war; it's waging war crimes."

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Thousands of miles away in the shelter of the Rocky Mountains, Malyk could barely sit still.

"The situation in Ukraine is critical, so now we need to make even more efforts to help," she said.

Donations are coming in from concerned Colorado residents who watch the war on their televisions.

This week, Ukraine Power branched out of state and met with the Petaluma, Calif., Rotary Club, who donated $1,000. That amount of money is enough to buy one generator.

How Ukraine Power began

The David and Goliath effort started with one text to a man named Oleksiy Smirnoff, the deputy governor of Luhansk.

"What do you need?" Malyk wrote him. Because of the nine-hour time difference it was the middle of the night for her and daylight for him. Smirnoff didn't hesitate. "Generators," he responded.

Knowing "absolutely zero about generators," Malyk and the Lucketts took to the internet marketplace and discovered a British Amazon site that eliminates unnecessary U.S.-based shipping costs.

Triple-A batteries? Who knew you could buy them by the thousands?

Last week, Ukraine Power became a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

Sending government aid to Ukraine has become an unwelcome target for some in Congress who want to see the money go to American causes, specifically to better protect the Southern border, curb the fentanyl crisis, and stymie inflation.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, is one who wants to pull in the reins on sending aid to Ukraine, saying that international aid "is not a priority for American citizens."

Malyk disagrees with this sentiment.

"I believe that countries should support each other in trouble. You never know what can happen to us and when, but you can be sure that those whom we help will definitely help us," she told The Gazette.

Mark Luckett gets fired up when politicians push back on sending help.

"The total amount of aid that the U.S. has sent to Ukraine is just a tiny percentage of the total U.S. military budget," he wrote The Gazette in an email. "Yet with this assistance, the Ukrainian army has forced the Russians to expend huge amounts of their own military capacity, and reduced what was once considered the second-most powerful army in the world to a small fraction of its former strength — all without costing the life of a single American soldier."

Still, the war is almost a year old with no end on the horizon. Malyk is now concerned about the growing number of orphaned children. She also wants to figure out a way to bring awareness to Ukraine's wounded warriors.

The tiny woman with big ideas is making a difference. Earlier this month, four armed and camouflaged Ukrainian soldiers, one of them whose face is covered by a Ukrainian flag for the sake of keeping his identity secret, sent a video to Ukraine Power's Facebook page.

They stood gathered around a brand-new generator sent by Ukraine Power. Said one bundled soldier as snowflakes swirled around his head: "Thanks to you, we are approaching our victory together.

In unison, they gave a quick shout, "Slava Ukraine!"

Donations can be made to