As Ukrainian-American members of the CWBA, we wanted to share our stories and why this war hits so close to our hearts. We are now entering the eleventh week of a war that has had devastating consequences and displaced over twelve million people, with over five million refugees, according to the United Nations. It is not over yet. And it will not be for a long time. Yet, we must not grow weary and complacent. This is not just a Ukraine crisis.; this is a global crisis. We encourage everyone to find a way to get involved.
The war in Ukraine is personal and intense. Witnessing war crimes in my homeland from a distance, where I and my family are safe while others are not, is hard to describe. Maybe one way to describe it is lucky. The last time I felt this lucky was in 2008, when I first started representing human trafficking survivors from Russia and Ukraine, and sat across the table from young women who were like me but were facing very different life challenges. My small family had emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union (now Ukraine) and were able to settle and build a life in the States. I felt very lucky to be the lawyer and not the client in this lifetime.
My first seven years of life in Kyiv seem formative, sheltered and distant right now. Life revolved around family gatherings at home, playing unsupervised with other neighborhood kids in the courtyard of our apartment complex and trips to the beautiful parks of the city and family dacha (summerhouse). School with the other boys and girls was severe and disciplined compared to what I would encounter later in New Jersey.
With extended family and friends in danger and Ukraine bombed without an end in sight, I am also tied to and grieving for the people and future of Russia, where I made wonderful friendships and professional contacts while working for on human rights from 2011 to 2013.
For the longest time, I’ve felt that I lacked national identity, like I was some sort of non-nationalist transient. I was born in Kyiv and we immigrated with my parents to the United States in 1988 when the country was still called the Soviet Union (USSR). The fall of the USSR came only a few years later, and at some point, people started asking me whether I was Russian or Ukrainian. I never really knew how to respond since I was born in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and the conversation did not turn to heritage or cultural identity. Truth be told, for the most part, I was still navigating my identity as a new American.
My very first visit back to my birth city was around 2004, at which time I was pursuing my LLB (law degree) in England. My parents joined me there from Denver and gleefully showed me the hospital where I was born, the apartment where we all lived in before they fled, the sprawling food markets, landmarks, lavras (cathedrals), Khreschyatyk (Kyiv’s main street), where they used to hang out with their friends and went out on dates, my grandparents’ grave sites, and the new lively, optimistic and cheerful capital city post-Soviet regime.
I only visited Kyiv one more time after that and the experience was just as exciting and rich as the first. It was during that trip that I sensed that I identified with these people — certainly more than I identified with the Muscovites during my first year as an expat junior associate at the Moscow office of Squire Patton Boggs. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t identify with Russians; on the contrary, the heritage was very similar, apart from the difference in hospitality you feel between, say, New York City and Minneapolis. Either way, it was the type of sacral affinity that left me feeling like maybe I didn’t have to be a transient after all.
When news of the invasion hit, I was stunned. These were my people. These are my people. Ultimately, I knew I couldn’t sit back and watch passively. As is customary in my area of specialization — technology and Web3 — I turned to Twitter to crowdsource ideas for aid. By the evening of February 24, 2022, we had assembled a small but mighty digital army of developers, community organizers, and volunteers to approach the issue from a technical perspective aimed at mobilizing the global decentralized community to contribute their skills outside of fundraising. Within twenty-four hours, the team had built a site that connected Irish volunteers with displaced Ukrainian refugees, started discussions about the types of technical tools that are needed during war time, and began planning a hackathon. And so, Ukraine United decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) was born.
We later joined forces with Ukraine DAO and Unchain Fund, which have raised in excess of $20 million in cryptocurrency donations. These donations have been distributed for on the ground humanitarian aid with warp speed and security, using blockchain technology in one of the most compelling use cases for the technology since its inception. Even the Ukrainian government started accepting cryptocurrency donations as legal tender during this time.
It’s around this time that I started thinking more deeply about the concept of cultural identity. I can be Ukrainian, American, Coloradoan, a lawyer, a Web3 evangelist, and all of these together can be more powerful than attaching to a single national identity.
When the President of the CWBA reached out to express support and solidarity on behalf of the organization, we were incredibly touched. We were welcomed and have been supported by Deborah Yim and Hannah Seigel Proff to set up the CWBA Ukraine Subcommittee under the wing of the CWBA Legal Services Committee.
We are grateful to join with Anya Lear of Lear Immigration, PC, and SMU Dedman School of Law student Leela Orbidan in the CWBA Ukraine Subcommittee, as well as others of Ukrainian, Russian, American, and other origins coming forward from the legal community on local actions. People in the Ukrainian community of Colorado are concerned about their family, friends, children in the process of being adopted, and Ukrainian foreign exchange students they are housing. In response, our group is organizing immigration attorneys. Following a webinar in March presented by Katharine Rosenthal of Access Immigration LLC, we are now collecting common immigration questions and red flag situations for immigration attorneys to answer through short explainer videos to help address the confusion and point to next steps. We are also building a roster of immigration attorneys who are willing to assist pro bono with specific immigration issues.
Complacency normalizes atrocities. One of the biggest emotional obstacles to overcome is feeling powerless and despondent. We encourage everyone to Stand with Ukraine. Take action in whatever way you can. Immigration attorneys are welcomed to reach out to us at CWBAUkraine@gmail.com. Write to your senators demanding military support.
To donate to active groups, we recommend:
Ukrainans of Colorado: raising funds for medical supplies and transport costs from USA to bordering countries with Ukraine
Project Kesher: support evacuation of women and girls in Eastern Ukraine
Razom for Ukraine: emergency response is providing medical supplies and amplifying the voices of Ukrainians
Donations to Sumy, Ukraine: city near Kharkiv destroyed in mid-March
Ukraine United DAO: Donate directy for direct humanitarian distributions in cryptocurrency
Unchain Fund: charity project created by blockchain activists
Voices of Children: helping children affected by war since 2015
Women for Women International: donations to Ukrainian women through their Conflict Response Fund
Marianna Kosharovsky is the Executive Director of ALIGHT (Alliance to Lead Impact in Global Human Trafficking). She holds professional and leadership experience across issues of human trafficking, law and cross-sector collaboration in both the US and Eastern Europe/Russia.
Yev Muchnik is a transactional attorney that specializes in web3, shared ownership, corporate structuring, alternative investment vehicles, capital formation and securities. She is the founding partner of Launch Legal, LLC and Of Counsel at Jason Wiener, P.C.