Determination to help Ukrainian refugees fueled a tremendously successful relief drive on March 9 at the Student Activities Center, and the student who organized it continued his support by spending spring break as a volunteer in Romania.
Sophomore biology major Thomas Brinkley coordinated the drive with the help of Vice President of Student Affairs Rick Gatteau, who connected him with senior resident assistant and Ukraine native Maksim Narodnitskiy, who had begun collecting donations at Chavez and Tubman Halls.
The drive collected non-perishable food, clothing, bedding, toiletries, cleaning supplies, medication and first aid. The end result was a trove of supplies that have made their way to the frontlines.
Narodnitskiy delivered two SUVs packed full of items to a donation site in Brooklyn that sent the supplies overseas at no cost. “I still had some left over that I couldn’t fit and will be delivering them next time I go to Brooklyn,” said Narodnitskiy, one of many Stony Brook community members affected greatly by the war.
Brinkley’s motivation stems from a lifetime close to service. Growing up in a military family, he spent his middle school years in Bosnia, where his father, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, was stationed.
What Brinkley saw in Bosnia was a country still rebuilding after the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. “One of my most vivid memories was … traveling five minutes from the airport and seeing an apartment building that had been destroyed,” he said. “It was very different from what I was used to.”
Still, he described those years as rewarding, and as he watched the current war unfold, he saw parallels between the Ukrainian people and those he lived among in Bosnia.
“It devastated the people, and it caused severe damage to infrastructure and many other things,” he said. “I saw that there was work to be done within the community and within the society to bring this war-torn country back into a more equivalent status within the rest of the world.”
When Brinkley learned that his mother was planning to visit his father, now stationed in Romania, he decided to join her during his spring break, and help in the allocation of supplies and resources.
“It exploded into a big organized effort,” said Brinkley. “I found other people like Maksim and was able to use resources on campus that helped me out throughout. It’s been a great experience and I’m really excited for it.”
Brinkley delivered inspirational letters and three suitcases full of donations from the drive to Romania; his family is stationed at the United States Embassy in Bucharest. He has set up a GoFundMe that will direct proceeds to the American International School of Bucharest (AISB) to purchase and donate resources to local NGOs; as of March 15, the fundraiser had collected $4,700, more than double its goal of $2,000. A Venmo initiative will also collect funds to purchase humanitarian supplies and resources from local vendors and markets.
“The catalyst for organizing all this was realizing that they need resources and thinking about what I could do,” he said. “I can sympathize because I understand how it may affect them, but I can’t truly feel how they felt, because I’ve never been in this situation. I hope we are able to find some path to peace.”
“For someone who is not Ukrainian, it’s really great to see that support,” said Narodnitskiy of Brinkley. He added that he has been both surprised and gratified at how so many have stepped up.
“There has been so much support for Ukraine,” he said. “The Stony Brook students supporting this make me really happy and proud.”