(Left photo) Ellen Mats (left) and Caitlin Marassi behind the Vermont for Ukraine Medical Supply Drive sign on the Church Street Marketplace on March 26; (right) bins filled with donated medical supplies. (Courtesy photos)
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, first-year Larner College of Medicine medical students Caitlin Marassi and Ellen Mats were inspired to act.
Marassi earned a degree in political science with a focus on Eastern Europe and worked for the U.S. Department of State prior to starting medical school. Mats, a first-generation American of Ukrainian heritage, spent many summers visiting her grandparents, who lived in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv until 2014, and family in the city of Crimea, during her childhood.
“I have some family friends and family who are still there or recently left as refugees,” Mats says.
She and Marassi began investigating ways to help the Ukrainian people, and decided to work through Razom, a 501(c)(3) organization that has been shipping medical supplies by sea and air directly to Ukraine.
“Razom, meaning ‘together’ in Ukrainian, has long, established relationships with Ukraine, operating since 2014,” explains Mats. She adds that the nonprofit collaborates with Meest America, a shipping company with extensive logistics contacts and shipping routes throughout Eastern Europe.
“As medical students, we figured that it would make the most sense to collect medical supplies,” she says.
On March 26, 2022, Mats and Marassi, along with other Larner first-year medical students, launched their three-week medical supply drive in collaboration with Vermont Flannel, where they held a donation drop-off event. Many donations came through the store on Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, but also at Vermont Flannels retail locations in Ferrisburgh and Woodstock. At the Church Street location alone, Mats reports that the group collected six bins full of supplies, including such items as gauze, rolls of self-adherent wrap, antibiotic cream, thermal blankets, tourniquets, gloves, tactical backpacks, walkie-talkies, surgical supplies, syringes, and a drone.
“The supply drive was generally a very beautiful community event,” says Mats. In addition to their Larner medical classmates, Vermont community members – including a few who are Ukrainian – as well as a Ukrainian graduate student who traveled from New Hampshire, showed up for the drive.
Mats learned that both a Vermont-based undergraduate student and the Ph.D. student from New Hampshire had families currently in Ukraine, and spoke with them about the current situation in Ukraine, and shared some stories.
“It was exciting to even know someone [else] spoke the same language as you,” Mats admits. “It’s so easy to feel hopeless and like nothing can be done. I think it’s really important for Ukrainians to know now that people are thinking about them, even somewhere as seemingly random to them as Vermont.”
In addition to the medical supply drive, Mats says that another one of their goals was to raise money for Razom to help them cover shipping costs. The group set up a GoFundMe from which the funds are directly transferred to Razom. Mats says that all of the financial donations will receive an official tax donation receipt issued by the PayPal Giving Fund.
Medical supply donations must come from this list, which was created by Razom and includes the supplies needed most in Ukraine. Donations will be accepted until April 16 at all Vermont Flannel locations, which, in addition to Burlington, Ferrisburgh, and Woodstock, also include stores in East Barre and Johnson. The group plans to gather donated supplies on a weekly basis, take inventory, and ship them to the Meest warehouse that Razom is utilizing.
“A lot of people mentioned exactly what we thought people would – that they wanted to help but just didn’t know the best avenue to do so,” says Mats. “It’s our goal to provide an easy way for anyone in the community to help out!”