Plast’s Ukrainian scouts make first aid kits for civilians during the war

Members of Ukrainian Plast Scouting Organization-USA, a branch of the international scouting organization, gathered at Bethesda to put together lightweight, portable kits that Ukrainians could carry in a pocket or purse and have on hand in case of broken glass or shrapnel.

They not only donate the supplies people so desperately need, said Silver Spring troop leader Leda Huta, “but I also hope they see that our hearts are with them.”

Many Scouts have family in Ukraine and all share a cultural and humanitarian concern, said Andrew Demidowich, a doctor who lives in Columbia, Md., and leads the local chapter, Plast DC. “You care not only about the survival of the country, but also about its people,” he said.

They know the importance of donating money, he said, but many also longed for a more tangible way to help. Using their hands to make the medical kits was better than just clicking PayPal over and over again, Demidowich said.

Kalyna, 15, said she was relieved to be able to do more than just sit in her room, posting on Instagram to update her friends about the war.

“It’s sad that we have to do this,” she said. “But it could make a difference, if we ship all those boxes to Ukraine.”

The kits were designed by Dan Olesnicky, a trauma surgeon who is a Ukrainian scout, and many Plast chapters have been filling boxes with them in recent weeks, shipping them overseas to Plast Ukraine along with other helpers.

On Saturday, the Bethesda School cafeteria erupted with the sound of mothers calling their children in Ukrainian, the hum of vacuum sealers closing filled bags and the screeching of duct tape being pulled and torn. Duct tape was used to seal boxes full of first aid kits, others were wrapped around small pieces of cardboard to add to bags to help make a makeshift splint or stretcher, or other aids medical emergency on the ground.

A small boy dressed in the traditional vyshyvanky tunic stuck his tongue out, concentrating as he unwrapped rolls of colored gauze. A small white dog with a bright blue and yellow Ukrainian flag scarf watched from under one of the tables, panting, as people worked quickly, some in the dark green uniforms of Plast scouts.

Many girls wore flower crowns – vinoks – some with colorful ribbons coming down over their shoulders. A mom with brightly colored flowers in her hair pushed a broom across the linoleum floor at Westland Middle School, sweeping up plastic wrap from medical supplies.

Scouts in tan uniforms ran from table to table restocking supplies. “Who needs bandages? Who needs bandages? one shouted. Steve Fox, retired from the U.S. Foreign Service and assistant scout master for the Boy Scouts of America, contacted Plast because helping and being kind are principles of scouting, he said. “I know the value of person-to-person diplomacy,” Fox said, “and it is what it is.”

Plast was formed in 1911 but was not allowed in the Soviet Union, Demidowich said; some people met underground and chapters developed in many countries.

Ukrainians and their descendants shared their love of Ukrainian dances, songs and food like pierogi, kielbasa and borscht. And they shared an idea: “Resist subjugation, fight for your voice and your freedom,” Demidowich said.

This struggle for independence resonates with Americans, he said.

As a child, while his friends were at soccer or baseball camp, he had some incredible experiences with Plast, he said – ice climbing, kayaking on Canadian rivers, building huge wooden structures on trips camping, zip line, campfire chant in Ukrainian.

This connection to shared culture “helps you to transcend yourself as an individual, to connect to this rich tapestry that your ancestors have woven for years,” Demidowich said.

Kalyna’s mother, Eva Mykolenko, had tears in her eyes as she looked at the room full of people – some who had recently left the country, others who had never been to Ukraine and who had been moved away from several generations – making the first aid kits.

“Just like we see images of refugees fleeing Ukraine, that was exactly the situation my parents were in during World War II,” she said, fleeing the Nazis and then the Russians. Her father was 8 when American soldiers told the family the war was over and the Russians would take them home, she said. “That night they took their only bag of stuff and ran into the forest. It was 1945. We are now in 2022. It is heartbreaking.

As a kid growing up in Detroit, the stories were unimaginable, she says; now, as a mother, she can better imagine the terror families must feel.

She also understood why her parents taught her the language, culture and traditions. “Now we see why it was important,” she said. “That’s why you do it.” She looked at her son and daughter – in her ripped and vyshyvanky jeans adding their supplies, handing the kits to the next person. “Because now they see, ‘This is my country. These are my people.’ “

While at the school, the volunteer group was able to pack 600 emergency medical kits into cardboard boxes. They pinned sunflowers with a blue tag that said “peace” on yellow paper and shouted in Ukrainian: “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”

They plan to return next week and continue packing donated supplies.

“It’s so important to have the support of non-Ukrainians,” Mykolenko said. “It makes us feel less alone – that there is hope in the world.”

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