Ukraine conflict: In a large warehouse near New York, dozens of volunteers and workers rush to open, sort and seal boxes.
International delivery company Most, specializing in shipping items to Eastern Europe, has transformed itself into a wartime transit depot that provides tons of help to Ukraine.
“When the war started, we lost most of our cases. A few days later, we organized our operations to move humanitarian aid,” said Natalia Brandafi, chief operating officer at Most America.
In front of her, along about 30 wooden planks, are parcels, parcels and envelopes – gifts and letters that the Ukrainian diaspora normally sends home, but all of which are now stuck.
“That (work) has completely stopped because of the war,” Brandafi said of the background noise of Ukrainian radio.
The rest of the 8,500-square-foot warehouse, deep in an industrial area in New Jersey, has been repurposed to work 12 hours a day arranging emergency supplies to the war-torn country.
Stephanie Domaradsky, 23, works in a team of 20 volunteers on a rudimentary production line, sorting hundreds and hundreds of boxes donated by Ukrainians, supporters or churches and other groups.
The packages are opened one by one, the contents are checked for perishable products, as well as aerosols or alcohol.
Sometimes a child’s drawing is slipped in before the box is labeled, closed, and stacked on the appropriate palette for onward transportation to those desperately left behind by the conflict in Ukraine.
– From pillows to painkillers –
“These are children’s stuff, baby clothes, diapers,” explains Domaradsky, who was born to Ukrainian parents in the United States, where she just completed her engineering degree.
‘That’s sleeping bags, blankets, pillows. This is all clothing, and then we have hygiene stuff.”
Also packaged are medical supplies – bandages, compresses, sutures, anti-burn ointments, pain relievers.
“Sitting at home, scrolling (on my phone) for hours a day wasn’t doing me any good – so I might as well come here to help.
“I have cousins from Kiev. But they’re going west right now, even if it’s really dangerous to be on the road. I only heard from them yesterday.”
Most have also hastily obtained a license to export light, non-lethal military equipment, such as body armor and helmets.
“Everyone is under pressure. About 80 percent of our employees come from Ukraine, some from the cities that have already been bombed,” says Brandafi.
“We had a volunteer who collapsed in the warehouse because she got a call from her sister in Ukraine that a cousin had been murdered in the city of Sumy. He was 28.”
Most has partnered with three nonprofits on the ground in Ukraine, providing supplies to civilians in the war zone and making direct deliveries to some areas not yet attacked by Russian forces.
Last week, the company delivered 120 tons of aid, by air and then by road – the tricky final stage of the operations.
“Our trucks and our drivers work in an extremely dangerous environment,” explains human resources manager Myroslava Downey, 59.
“Sometimes they go to an area where it’s safe today, but what’s happening changes daily. And our enemy decides that they are going to bomb that area.”
As the war enters its second week, the financial realities of the operation are beginning to become apparent, with Most asking for donations to cover transportation costs.
“We have the optimal logistics solution because we have been shipping freight and parcels to Ukraine for many years, but we lost our business two weeks ago,” said Downey.
“If we book the plane, they want to get paid for it.”