By Kelly McHugh-Stewart
Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the city of Dnipro has become a hot spot for humanitarian aid. Located along the Dnieper River and just 200 miles north of Mariupol, the city has taken in thousands of refugees and has been a refuge for Ukrainian soldiers. For people like Elena Shilova, the surviving widow of Sergey Shilova who was killed while fighting in the Donbass region in 2015, Dnipro is home. And like her husband before her, she’s dedicated her life to defending her home.
Shilova works for TAPS Ukraine, a nonprofit providing support for Ukrainians who are grieving the death of their military loved ones. Founded in 2018 and modeled after the US-based nonprofit the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), just a few short months ago TAPS Ukraine was offering seminars, retreats, professional counseling, and resources on grief and trauma to Ukrainian surviving families. However, today, the organization has shifted its focus and is now leading one of the country’s largest humanitarian aid hubs.
Currently, TAPS Ukraine is on the ground in Dnipro running the Coordination Headquarters of Dnipro, a space providing care for the Ukrainian Army, National Guard, National Police, and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Run in partnership with the Dnipro Mayor’s Office, the headquarters is providing food, medicine, and housing to more than 10,000 people daily and is currently helping meet the needs of the Ukrainian army.
“My husband gave his life for our country,” said Shilova. “Now, I am defending the country my husband fought and died for. We are fighting for our freedom in Ukraine, just as so many others do around the world. I want peace for my children and for my country. And I will do my part to ensure peace returns to Ukraine.”
Like Shilova, surviving daughter Olha Shakhnyk is also in Dnipro working at the Coordination Headquarters. Shakhnyk’s father was killed in Ukraine in 2014, and she recently spoke to CNN about the work she and her mother are doing through TAPS Ukraine.
“The organization where my mother works, TAPS Ukraine, is dealing with thousands and thousands of refugees who have had to flee,” Shakhnyk told CNN from Dnipro. “The flow of refugees in Dnipro is enormous because it’s one of the biggest cities that’s not involved in frontline battles right now. At the same time, TAPS Ukraine is gathering humanitarian help to send to frontline soldiers. There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s just ordinary people volunteering to defend what they love. They don’t want to leave it.”
According to Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov, the need in Dnipro expands by the day. With floods of refugees from Ukraine’s eastern cities filing through, their need for aid continues to grow.
“I start every morning by reading factual wartime reports,” Filatov said in a letter to TAPS. “How many medical supplies are left in hospitals for the wounded? Are there enough body bags for those who could not be saved? How much food is left to feed the people? Will Dnipro be able to provide food and everything necessary for the tens of thousands of refugees coming to us on a daily basis?”
Because of this immense relief work being done the area, Dnipro has recently become a target for Russian bombing. Over the past few weeks, apartment complexes, a kindergarten, and, most recently, the Dnipro airport have all been destroyed. Yet, despite the continually worsening circumstances, the team behind TAPS Ukraine—a group Filatov called the city’s “lifeline”—isn’t letting up and is dedicated to fighting for the nation their loved ones died defending.
Before the recent invasion, more than 14,000 Ukrainians had died since 2014 while fighting for their country. They left countless spouses, children, siblings, and parents behind. Since February 24, 2022, this number has grown tremendously. And while, like the rest of the world, the team behind TAPS Ukraine may not know what the future of their country holds, they know the need for their work is now larger than ever before.
“We are very grateful to all people who’ve sent money, who’ve sent help, who have helped in any way they can from all over the world,” Shakhnyk said as she closed her segment. “We see you, we see each of you and we are very grateful because it gives us the opportunity to help people who need it the most right now.”
For those interested in getting involved with TAPS Ukraine’s mission, they can donate directly to their cause where funds are currently being used to support the organization and distribution of food, medicine, and supplies to those in need. You can also keep up with TAPS Ukraine through their Facebook page where their team is sharing updates from Dnipro.