Organizers hope to draw attention to Ukraine war

Speech from Lithuanian diplomat, a campaign to fund first aid kits, and a walk to raise awareness will mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion

Kerry Secrest and her brother, Christian Stromberg, agree that the war in Ukraine matters to the world.

"In 1906, my Lithuanian great-grandparents arrived in the U.S., fleeing the Russians as well," explains Secrest, of Brattleboro, who serves as honorary consul of Lithuania to Vermont.

"Growing up, we only knew Lithuania as an occupied country, and living two years there under Soviet occupation, I saw firsthand the awful consequences," adds Secrest, who calls the fall of the Soviet Union from 1988 to 1991 "a joyous time."

"I truly believe that if Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, it will have global implications for democracy around the world," Secrest says, noting that the war will hit the two-year mark this February.

"Ukraine is fighting for all of us for world democracy," she adds. "Russian President Vladimir Putin is pushing forward because no one is paying attention."

Secrest and Stromberg, the Windham World Affairs Council, and Ralph Meima, also of Brattleboro, will host several events throughout the month to bring the public's attention back to the war.

Lithuania consul general to speak

At the first event on Wednesday, Feb. 7, from 5 to 6 p.m., Consul General of Lithuania Vaclovas Šalkauskas will speak about "Reflections at the Two-Year Mark of Russia's Invasion of Ukraine."

The event, free to attend with no tickets or registration, will take place at Saxtons River Distillery, at 155 Chickering Dr., where Stromberg is founder and head distiller.

Šalkauskas is the highest ranking diplomat based in the Consulate General of the Republic of Lithuania in New York, which represents Lithuania and serves the country's citizens in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Lissa Weinmann, board member and treasurer of the WWAC, is helping to cosponsor this part of the event.

"We try, as an organization, to give the public perspectives on important global events on a regular basis," Weinmann says. "We felt it was appropriate to work with local people to bring the war in Ukraine to the forefront again. It's certainly been disturbingly forgotten as we face other conflicts in the world."

Weinmann notes that WWAC is not a political organization, but the organization does "bring people together to discuss and engage in civil dialogue, even though people's views on these matters are complicated."

"It's exciting to hear from representatives of foreign countries in our midst. Kerry is such an engaged citizen, and we're happy to support the talk by Vaclovas Šalkauskas," she says.

Šalkauskas, a diplomat of 30 years, according to a news release, "will explain what's happening on the ground in Ukraine today and [share] concerns about the waning support in Europe and the United States."

Following his talk, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. a Solidarity Cocktail Hour and Fundraiser will feature "Snowdrop Vodka," a new addition to Saxtons River Distillery's line, with 50% of the profit from each bottle earmarked for Friends of Blue/Yellow Ukraine, a tax-exempt, tax-deductible charitable nonprofit that, according to the organization's website, brings "concrete help to the Ukrainian regions that were invaded by Russia."

Secrest serves on the board of the nonprofit.

"This organization is adept at procurement and delivery of goods and services in support of the war in Ukraine," she notes. "It's important for everyone to know that Blue/Yellow Ukraine is a legitimate nonprofit and extremely helpful group."

The focus of the fundraising from Feb. 1 to March 1 is to collect donations to sponsor the purchase of specialized medical kits for soldiers.

Aiding in the fight against soldier's frostbite during the cold winter fighting in Ukraine, Secrest has requested and received a donation of 240 pairs of Darn Tough Socks, manufactured in the Washington County town of Northfield.

"The number of pairs donated is symbolic of the date, 2/24/24, the second anniversary of the start of the war," says Secrest, who also wants to raise "enough money to purchase 240 medical kits."

Fundraising materials explain that "since the massive increase in Russian attacks has exponentially increased the need for critical medical supplies for those who are wounded, we need [individual first aid kits], which include tourniquets, compression bandages, hemostatic gauze, chest seals, decompression needles, airway tubes, and more to help keep soldiers alive."

The cost per IFAK ranges from $50 to $100. The kits are "not standard issue gear, and Ukraine's defenders cannot afford them," Secrest says.

Walking to 'draw attention'

Another kind of event is scheduled for the morning of Saturday, Feb. 24, when Ralph Meima organizes Vermonters March in Solidarity with Ukraine on the Second Anniversary of Russian Invasion.

"I strongly identify with Ukraine's cause," says Meima, who lived in Europe for over 20 years.

"The stability of Europe is at stake. If Russia demonstrates that they can invade, occupy, and conquer a country, why can't they do it to Georgia? Or Moldova?" he adds.

"I think what Russia has done is to challenge the entire order of Europe," he says. "If we don't oppose Russian interference in Ukraine, that opens us up to many other conflicts around the globe."

Walkers will gather at the parking lot next to the Dummerston Covered Bridge on Route 30 at 8 a.m. From there, they will walk along the West River Trail until they reach the Marina Restaurant.

From there, they will walk along Route 5 south to the parking lot of the Brattleboro Food Co-op. Organizers think the 7.6-mile walk will take about three hours and anticipate the group will arrive at the Co-op around 11 a.m.

While the terrain is "flat and easy," the event's promotional materials note that "crusty snow 6 to 12 inches deep is likely in late February. Cross-country skis, snowshoes or micro spikes can be used until Route 5 is reached."

Though donations for the purchase of medical kits will be warmly accepted, Meima stresses that the walk isn't a political event.

"We're not protesting," he says. "We're not stating a position. We're just trying to draw people's attention to the cause and the need."

Meima thinks it's important for people to acknowledge their good fortune.

"We're very lucky in Vermont to live in such a peaceful, stable corner of the world, surrounded by like-minded states, with friends like Canada across the border," he says.

"There are so many other places in the world where there are ethnic conflicts and wars," Meima continues. "Ukraine is very much in that position."

For more information about the Feb. 7 event, visit

Information about the Vermonters March in Solidarity with Ukraine event on Feb. 24 can be found at

Those wishing to learn more about the first aid kit fundraising or to donate directly can visit

This News item by Fran Lynggaard Hansen was written for The Commons.

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