The final tally is in: A total of $25,691 was raised by the Harpswell community in May to buy vehicles for the war-torn city of Chuhuiv, Ukraine.

Working with a nonprofit in northern Virginia, two used vehicles were purchased from Poland and delivered to Chuhuiv, 25 miles from Kharkiv and less than 30 miles from the Russian border.

The School House 1913 restaurant hosted the fundraiser on May 10, donating food, wine and beer. More than 20 volunteers helped make it a success by greeting people, handing out name tags, accepting donations and assisting with parking.

“Thank you for all your efforts for us,” said Chuhuiv Mayor Galina Minayeva in a June 20 Zoom call with organizers Jerry Klepner and Connie Sage Conner.

“The main reason we need vehicles is because of the war and the damage,” Minayeva said, referring to air strikes at the beginning of the conflict, a second attack in July 2022, and the recent destruction of a historic building.

The vehicles, selected by the mayor, will be used for transportation to a “humanitarian hub” for residents of the city and surrounding villages, and for workers to repair damaged buildings. The hub is a shelter “if there is a direct hit,” the mayor said.

Also on the Zoom call was Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. TAPS has had a division working in Ukraine since the first Russian invasion in 2014. TAPS facilitated Harpswell’s fundraiser, sending local contributions to a special account in Chuhuiv.

TAPS volunteer Amed Khan located two vehicles in Poland. Purchased were a 2007 Ford Transit for $6,300 and a 2006 Hyundai Tucson for $6,500, both from West Auto Trade in Lublin, Poland, for a total of $12,800.

With the remaining funds from Harpswell, Minayeva said the town plans to purchase two additional vehicles if they can be found in the same price range. “We will search for options,” she said.

During the call, an air raid siren howled, alerting citizens that an earlier warning of possible missile strikes had ended. An attack “can happen any day,” Minayeva said.  

How do residents deal with constant fear? “You get used to it,” said English translator Viktoriia Khomenko, who heads up project management for Chuhuiv.

Added Minayeva, “There’s no time for us to be afraid. We have to make sure we provide services for our people. We have to continue to work.” Some 32,000 people live in Chuhuiv and another 7,000 reside in neighboring villages called settlements.

The mayor said they “had no other choice” but to keep their spirits up. “What helps is that we have a lot of work to do.” Many who have left since the war started want to return. “It is our responsibility to prepare for them,” Minayeva said. “There was a lot of damage to buildings.”

The area was invaded by the Russians and taken over in the initial thrust into Ukraine in February 2022. The city was soon liberated by Ukrainian forces. 

Khomenko and Minayeva said they would keep Harpswell supporters posted as they find additional vehicles, and invited organizers to visit after the war.

Are they optimistic that the war will end with Ukraine the victor?

“We are always optimistic,” said Minayeva. “Last year, when the enemy was really close to our community, there was a lot of shelling.” This year, there is a sense of normality. “We are very grateful to our defenders,” she added. “It is very possible to live a normal life today.”