By Raymond Janis
Last week, Long Island leaders and community members met in Huntington to announce the Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive, a collection to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
The gathering was held outside the offices of Dr. David Buchin, director of bariatric surgery at Huntington Hospital, and Suffolk County Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), vice chair of the Committee on Health, who both share a business address. Buchin, an immigrant from the former Soviet bloc nation Uzbekistan, says donation drives such as these will help to alleviate the sufferings of Ukrainians.
“The horrors in the Ukraine, I mean we all see it,” Buchin said. “It breaks my heart like it does for all of us. We must do something to help them all. The hospitals are full, their supplies are low, so we’ve created this Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive. We’re calling on everyone to help, anything that can help the Ukrainian people, like blankets, sleeping bags, medical supplies and first aid.”
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) was present for the announcement. He applauded the altruism of ordinary Americans doing their part to support Ukraine. He also emphasized the dangers of factionalism amid so much uncertainty abroad.
“Taking action like this to give people an opportunity to make a contribution is a great way to feel that we’re doing something, but we’ve all got to do more,” he said. “We have to hold together. We have to keep Democrats and Republicans holding together. We have to follow the old idea that partisanship stops at the water’s edge. We have to all hold together like we are today.”
Bontempi described growing up in Sweden, a country now endangered by the war. She fears the conflict may spill over into Swedish territory and asked for immediate support.
“My family, I speak to them every day, is very frightened,” Bontempi said. “We need to all be very, very concerned about what this madman [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is doing. I urge everyone to please talk to friends, neighbors [to] donate items. It needs to happen now — not in a week, now. People need help right now.”
Town of Huntington officials praised this public expression of solidarity and humanitarian assistance for the people of Ukraine. Town Councilman Sal Ferro (R) said he believes that Americans and Ukrainians are united under a common purpose, likening this local initiative with the cause of the Ukrainian resistance.
“Every little bit that we do can make a difference,” he said. “We can show the human side, why we live in a free country, why we live in a democracy. That’s what they’re fighting for in Ukraine: to stay free.”
Huntington Town Clerk Andy Raia (R) discussed his own Ukrainian roots. He said his relatives chose to remain in Ukraine to support the war effort and encouraged Long Islanders to do the same.
“The time to act is now,” Raia said. “It was really yesterday, but we need to do more to ensure that Europe stays stable, that democracies around the world are allowed to flourish. This is just a small token of what we need to do to ensure that the fight continues in Ukraine.”
For those seeking to donate, the Long Island-Ukrainian Emergency Response Drive is establishing repositories throughout the Island. Buchin’s and Bontempi’s offices, located at 224 Wall St in Huntington, collected items until the end of the day March 4, and the donations were delivered to the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.