When Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, Svitlana Miller’s friends and neighbors turned to her to ask which charities they should donate to in order to send aid to her home country. But Miller didn’t feel comfortable telling people to give their money to an organization without any idea of where the money goes.

“When my husband and I have donated to different organizations over the years, we just kind of write a check and we hope that it went to do something good,” she said. “But we’ve never had someone say, ‘We’d like to show you what your money has done.’”

So Miller created To Ukraine With Love, an organization that does just that. What started as a small community effort in Idaho to do what they could for Ukraine has become one of the most recognized nonprofits in the war-torn nation.

The secret to the new nonprofit’s success? A focus on direct impact, according to Miller and the charity’s benefactors. To Ukraine With Love provides a modular home a day to families whose homes have been destroyed by war, and connects the donors to those families via Zoom as they see the homes for the first time.

“You’re actually there on the call, watching the family cry as they feel the warm water on their hands for the first time in months and telling you how grateful they are,” Miller said.

On the road in Ukraine: One man’s journey to help his people

Individuals in Utah described what it was like to see the effects of their donations at A Taste of Ukraine, a benefit dinner hosted by the organization Tuesday night at the University of Utah’s Ken Garff Scholarship Club at Rice Eccles Stadium.

Jeremy Keele, a board member of To Ukraine With Love, told a room of more than 300 people what it was like to watch Victoria Danilova, a mother of two teenagers who had lost her husband on the front lines just days earlier, enter her new home.

“You can’t imagine what this means to us,” Danilova told Keele. “I’m recently widowed and we are homeless with no place to go.” After taking a long pause to collect himself, Keele continued, “We’re here tonight to make it possible for more families like the Danilovas to get the help that they need.”

Dmytro Kushneruk, consol general of Ukraine in the western U.S., also spoke at the event, bringing attention to the work of four Utah teenagers who dedicated hours to fundraising for four individual Ukrainian families.

“That’s probably what makes you, the people of Utah, so special,” Kushneruk said. “Your sincere willingness to help, to give away just everything you have.”

Clark Ivory, head of the Clark and Christine Ivory Foundation, also spoke on the effort Utah has dedicated to aiding Ukraine.

“When the war first hit last year, Utah was the first state to come forward and raise money,” Ivory said.

Miller highlighted the efforts of several people in the Western U.S.: a father from Idaho who died fighting in the international battalion, an Orem couple who gave up their nursing school tuition to pay for a house for a family of four, an Idaho father who lost his job but funded 7,000 hot meals, an Arizona family who gave up their Christmas to give a Ukrainian family a home.

The audience included Utah donors, the local Ukrainian community and their loved ones. Among the attendees were the Voronetskyis, the first refugees to flee to Utah after the 2022 invasion.

The couple was on vacation abroad when the bombing started, but their four children, ages 8 to 14, were still in Ukraine. The children were brought to the Ukraine-Poland border, where their parents met them and brought them to Utah.

“It’s been hard to get used to new things, of course, when you don’t know the language,” Oksana Voronetskyi said. “But at least our children are safe here.”

In addition to listening to speakers, attendees watched a performance by professional Ukrainian singers and a traditional dance by BYU’s Traditionz outreach performance group while eating Ukrainian cuisine. Utah business leaders in attendance publicly made pledges to support To Ukraine With Love by funding homes, hot meals and other aid.

In her closing remarks, Miller shared what inspired her to start the nonprofit. Just after the 2022 invasion, her husband, Darren, was deployed to fly NATO missions in Western Europe. When Miller asked if he was coming home, she said his reply was sobering.

“You cannot be praying for help to be carried out by other people,” he said. “You have to be willing to become part of the solution.”

Freedom isn’t free: What a year of war in Ukraine has taught the world
‘We’re in this for the long haul’: How Utah businesses stood up, and stayed there, for Ukraine