Karolina Connolly née Kovalenko, 28, a Ukrainian living in Greenville, spent the first few weeks after Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian frontier in February trying to keep up with her mother, other family members, and friends.
Her husband, photojournalist Jack Connolly, followed other photojournalists whose digital dispatches he shared on his own Instagram account. But that wasn’t all. The couple took action, launching a web portal to raise money for the battered country.
The site raised almost $10,000 in the first few days but has since grown to more than $50,000, Jack Connolly told the Greenville Journal May 11. Appearances on local and national television were a shot in the arm, he said.
“FOX Carolina here has been a huge supporter. Matt Kaufax, in particular,” he said. “It’s made a difference.”
The money received goes to help provide food, medicine, baby formula, diapers, sleeping mats, blankets and even evacuations, according to the Connellys’ site.
“In normal economic times, an average salary is anywhere from $200 — $750 PER MONTH!! Our (U.S. dollar) goes a long way in Ukraine, so even small amounts help,” the Connollys wrote.
But they’ve not just been raising money. The couple received 70 bulletproof vests and ballistic helmets from an anonymous donors.
“People in Urkaine have been asking for them,” he said. Once received, Connolly managed to get the gear to Asheville where they eventually ended up on a plane to Ukraine. Within a week. For free.
Karolina Connolly said each day remains a roller-coaster as she works to keep tabs on her mother Tatyana, who runs a grocery kiosk in Kyiv. She said her mother has been able to recoup a bit of a normal routine now that Kyiv has been secured.
“She’s back to normal — as much as you can be normal,” she said.
It’s her grandparents that now get most of her concern. “Emotionally, it’s difficult. My grandparents live in the south which is cut off and under Russian occupation. The tanks roll by every day.”
She said she went two weeks at one point without hearing from them but, once she taught them how to send voice texts, communication has been restored.
The only problem, she said, is the Russians. “They’re listening and are targeting dissenters. It’s getting dangerous to speak up,” she said.
As for their ongoing fundraising effort, the site is still up and receiving donations. “We’re still sending money, it’s just at a slower rate,” Jack Connolly said.
They’ve also focused on helping a friend of a friend who continues fighting to meet needs in and around Kyiv.
“Now, we’re focusing on Tima (Timothy Frolovskiy) a friend who is delivering food and supplies all around the Kyiv region, including the front lines.”
The Connollys follow several Instagram accounts, including: