YAM Notes: September/October 2022

By Marty Snapp

George in Ukraine

When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 George Pataki knew immediately what he had to do.

“Like everyone else, I was shocked that in the 21st Century a major power would invade a neighboring county. I was just stunned. I had been to Ukraine just before the war; my grandparents’ hometown in Hungary is right on the Ukrainian border. And I thought it was incredibly important to get supplies of food and other essentials to help the people in Ukraine who are suffering so terribly from this barbarous attack.”

And he had just the right tool to do it: the Pataki Leadership Center, a non-profit he founded after leaving the New York State Governor’s office in 2006.

“We’re a qualified charity, so we raised some funds to help the Ukrainian people. I thought the best way to be effective would be to go there and see exactly what was happening. A couple of volunteers from the Center and I flew to Budapest and met with the Ukrainian ambassador, and she was incredibly encouraging. Then we met with Hungarian officials, who were also very encouraging.

“So we went up to the Ukrainian border, and it was very impressive to see the relief effort on the Hungarian side. Buildings in my grandparents’ village had been turned into marshalling centers for food and clothing. There was a steady flow of refugees, and they were being well provided for – hot food for all volunteers and a portable medical facility where they could perform operations. It was very impressive.

“But we wanted to see what was happening inside Ukraine. Some religious charities were taking medicine and food into Ukraine, and they agreed to take us in. We visited refugee centers, and it was very moving because you never saw middle aged or young men – only women and children. We talked to them, and they said their husbands were away fighting. One woman’s husband is a doctor, and of course he was on the front line, treating injured people.

“It was so moving to see their courage. They had nothing. They were living in bombed-out factories and the remains of what used to be a school. But I never heard them complain. All they were telling us was that we have to end the war. They said, ‘You have to tell the Americans to send us weapons.’

“One of the things that stunned me was that there was zero – and I mean zero – sign of any Western charitable or governmental aid in Ukraine. Nothing.

“On that first trip we were able to bring in a few truckloads of food and some medicine, which we were able to buy in Hungary, which was much cheaper, and the transport charges were almost nothing. We realized this was the way to provide direct assistance quickly.

“So we went back home, and I had two messages for the American media. One, we have to do more on the humanitarian side because aid was not getting to these refugees. Two, we had to give Ukraine the weapons they needed to withstand the Russian assault, or they would lose. It was that simple.

“We’ve made three trips since then. The last time we had talked to the government, one of the most desperate needs was immediate housing. We found a modular home builder in Hungary, and we wound up buying everything they had and working with them to transport it into Ukraine. We were successful in setting up temporary homes with light, insulation, and comfort. Families were so happy to get off those factory floors. Unless it was directly for the war effort or basic survival, the whole country was closed under martial law.

“The third trip, two weeks ago, was to Kyiv. I couldn’t go because I was flat on my back with the flu; but my team went, and I was on the phone talking with Zelinskyy’s minister in charge of infrastructure and rebuilding on Zoom. They will be getting us a list of a half dozen projects that they need desperately and what the projects will cost. If we can’t get our government to help, we’ll raise the money ourselves.

“The sad thing is that it’s been four months since the war started, and there’s still zero sign of Western humanitarian aid. So we’re going to continue to push the U.S. government to cut the red tape and understand that this is a war and they need to help now. To the extent that they don’t step up, we’ll do our best to get contributions to continue to help.”

If you’d like to support George in this noble work, please visit https://georgepatakicenter.com/. “We have no paid staff, everyone is a volunteer, and we’ve worked very hard to purchase things as efficiently as possible so we can help the Ukrainian people. It’s such a drop in the bucket, but you’ve got to do something. So we try.”