The pallets in the dim warehouse carry the basics of survival.
There are totes full of Gerber’s baby formula, hospital gauze and ibuprofen. Next to them, feet away from a 2,000-pound bag of long grain rice, sit plastic-wrapped boxes of shirts and sweaters from St. Gabriel School in Mentor.
Around the pallets, which in sum total 25,000 pounds at any given time, walks Nykola Sas, the owner of Nica’s Freight in Warrensville Heights. Ever since the outbreak of war, Sas and his volunteer crew of truck drivers have enlisted themselves in the seemingly never-ending race to supply Ukrainians 4,882 miles away with aid.
Because pharmacies and hospitals outside Kyiv are barren and short on supplies, Sas knows he must be speedy. When there’s a plane from New Jersey to Poland with any space left at all, Sas hears about it.
“If they call us and say, ‘Okay, we have space for 10 pallets,' we get the 10 pallets,” says Sas, standing near a half dozen crates waiting to be filled.
With global fuel prices skyrocketing, Nica’s volunteer operation is more important than ever. Hauling a full truck load to Newark Airport in New Jersey costs at least $2,000. To then fly a 1,000-pound load to Ukraine costs another $1,000 or so.
It’s why local aid efforts, like the Cleveland Maidan Association in Parma, have been coordinating hauling operations. If any of the 35 truckers working with Sas have room for, say, an extra medical pallet or two, it’s crammed in the load and dropped off at Newark Airport.
For Sas, working 11-hour days securing and relocating aid is a way of handling immigrant’s guilt during war. His family has aunts, uncles and cousins living in Kyiv, who have brandished Kalashnikov rifles or hunkered down, praying Russian bombs don’t find their way overhead.
“I don’t know what I would do there,” says Vladimir Sas, Nykola’s brother and the head of Nica’s maintenance. “I’m not a fighter. I’ve never been to the Army. I don’t have military training.”
Three miles south of Warrensville Heights is the Pokrova Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church, a Parma-based house of worship built entirely by Ukrainian hands in 2000. On a recent visit, the banquet hall bustles with two dozen aid volunteers.
Both Pokrova’s dance floor and stage are hidden by hundreds of shipping boxes, as gloved volunteers in their 50s and 60s stuff them with soap, water bottles and caffeine pills. At 6 p.m., a bell announces a buffet dinner of chicken and egg noodles. Then, at 7 p.m., it’s back to work, readying boxes to be stored at Nica’s until space opens up.
Organizers at Pokrova say that, with some shipping efforts costing up to $250,000, they are keen to find money saving deals, like LOT Polish Airlines’ 10-bags-for-free offer.
Sas always finds a way. Recently, a soldier named Roman urged him over WhatsApp to ship a container of tourniquets as his faction was getting drastically low.
“It was on me,” Sas says. “Anything he want, I buy. No problem.”
Viktor Bobyk, a 55-year-old trucker at Nica’s who is originally from Chernivtsi, shares this up-and-ready sentiment. He thinks of his 47-year-old former neighbor, who is fighting for Ukraine as a tank driver.
“I have to work,” Bobyk says in the middle of his shift. “I have to give money to send to military support."