Mark Kreynovich ’19 and Dillon Carroll ’20 were first-year roommates and best friends at Cornell, and share a commitment to service, along with a birthday: Feb. 25. They’re also now sharing an extraordinary journey.
Kreynovich, who was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and Carroll, who grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey, dropped everything to travel to Eastern Europe shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They’re now bringing medical and other critical supplies to the border, translating for refugees and coordinating places for families to stay.
“Becoming a refugee overnight is the lowest point of these people’s lives,” Kreynovich said, “and we hope to do everything we can to better their circumstances. Our hearts just told us to go.”
The friends had traveled to Ukraine together before, taking a trip in 2018. Kreynovich showed Carroll his hometown and introduced him to family members still residing in Kharkiv. With that connection, both watched in horror as the war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24, the day before their shared birthday.
“I spent every summer of my childhood through college visiting my family in Kharkiv,” Kreynovich said. “I would be called to the frontlines if I was in Ukraine right now. Despite that, I was sitting comfortably in New York City while my parents’ childhood friends and my friends in Ukraine were actively fighting and millions were being displaced.”
“I was devastated, both because of my close relation to Mark and seeing the values I so strongly believed in being betrayed and desecrated on an international stage,” Carroll said. “I knew that we had to do something.”
Hours after deciding they wanted to help in person, Kreynovich and Carroll flew to Vienna and connected with Anya Sherman ’20, who was already sending medical supplies to Ukraine. They also started a SpotFund, “Mission to Ukraine,” hoping to raise a few thousand dollars for the purchase and delivery of much-needed medical and other supplies. That fundraiser has exceeded their expectations, and raised more than $90,000 from more than 600 donors.
By working closely with people in Ukraine – like family friends Andrei, a commander in a defensive unit, and Olexiy, who coordinates directly with surgeons at a trauma ward in Cherkasy – they’ve been able to see a direct impact. Their fundraising has supported the purchase and delivery of medical and other critical supplies to the border of Poland and Ukraine.
“We can’t deliver 50 tons of equipment,” Kreynovich said, “But we can directly support Olexiy. He messages us at all hours of the day telling us what they need, and we can get that to him directly in two to three days.”
“We meet very brave people who risk their lives to make sure the supplies get where they are needed,” Carroll adds. These supplies include everything from baby food and diapers, to insulin and antibiotics.
They’ve also been able to secure temporary housing for six Ukrainian refugee families so far, including a family who’d been sleeping on the floor of a Krakow train station for two nights. Kreynovich said they reached out to Airbnb hosts to secure a place for the nine individuals traveling together – all women and children. They’ve also been sharing essential information they learned from that experience with other refugees, helping even more people secure their own temporary housing.
And they’re not done.
Kreynovich and Carroll initially intended to stay for one week, but now say they’ll stay as long as possible to continue supporting the Ukrainian people, who will also need help long after the war comes to an end.
“You don’t fully understand the depth of good and evil humanity can contain until you see it, until you’re there,” Carroll said, “until you hold someone in your arms and cry with them. It’s about fighting for more than yourself. It’s about standing up and doing the right thing.”
Kaitlin Provost is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.