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Ukrainian Residents Find Refuge In Cody While Husbands Remain In Ukraine

in Wyoming and Ukraine/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily 

On the other side of the world, on a cold February day, the lives of millions were upended when Russian troops invaded Ukraine. 

But two families have found shelter – and safety – in rural Wyoming. 

Halyna Matsiakh and Olena Kostiushico and their children were welcomed to Cody by Nick and Yulia Piazza, whose business, SP Capital Management, is based in Ukraine. The women’s husbands are employed by the Piazzas. 

When the war started on February 24, the Piazzas, who reside in Cody, did what they could for their employees who were trapped behind enemy lines. 

“We had kind of a safe house in Poland, we helped people get there,” Nick Piazza told Cowboy State Daily. “And then we started to realize, this isn’t going to be just for one week or a month. It’s going to be for a while. So we said to all employees that if you want to come to America, we will do whatever we can to get you here.” 

Halyna Matsiakh 

Sitting in a comfortable chair at SP Capital Management’s office in Cody, Matsiakh is dressed stylishly, with no visible signs that just a few months ago she was a refugee in central Europe, uncertain where she and her six-year-old daughter would have to go next. 

Matsiakh’s fashionable demeanor is reflective of her profession – for the last 20 years, she’s been a licensed beautician who managed seven hair salons in Ukraine. On the day the bombs fell in Kyiv, she was getting ready to go to work. 

“They’re looking off their balcony and they just see all their neighbors – because they live in a big apartment complex – just kind of pouring out to evacuate, to get out of town,” said Piazza, who was translating for Matsiakh. “And she said her husband thought she was crazy, but she was like, ‘It’s a working day, I’m going to work.’” 

However, there was no work that day, or the day after that. For the next three months, Matsiakh and her daughter were migrants, traveling around Europe, while her husband remained behind in Ukraine. 

However, because of their family’s ties to the Piazzas, she knew that eventually they would try to come to America. 

“We were here,” said Piazza. “And not only us, but in Texas we have mutual friends that we all work with. So from the beginning we were all trying to find a way to get their family over here.”  

Olena Kostiushico 

The night before war broke out, Kostiushico was at her mother-in-law’s house, where her young daughter was going to stay while Kostiushico planned to go to work at a pharmaceutical company. Because she was in a town not near Kyiv, where the bombs first fell, Kostiushico was unaware that anything was amiss. 

“She woke up at six in the morning the day of the war,” translated Piazza. “And she sees that she’s got like five or six missed calls from her mother, who’s here (in Cody), from her husband, from other relatives. And she thought maybe someone in the family had died.” 

Her husband told her to grab all of her things and come back to their home about an hour from Kyiv. But Kostiushico laughed him off, not realizing the seriousness of the situation. 

“But in the town she drove back to, they have a military base and a training center,” Piazza said. “That night it was bombed and attacked.” 

Kostiushico, her two children, and another family packed everything they could in order to evacuate – but that process was painful. 

“We tried to fill up a bunch of suitcases,” Kostiushico said as Piazza translated, “but you know, it was really hard because you don’t know what to take. Everything’s kind of chaos and you don’t know when you’re coming back. So what do you take with you? Your whole life in two suitcases?” 

Kostiushico said they got in the car and headed west towards Ukraine’s border with Poland.  

“And they didn’t know where they were going to stop, where they’re going to stay, but they just knew that they had to not stay there,” Piazza said. 

It was on that first chaotic day that Piazza and Kostiushico’s mother called her, and the Piazzas offered asylum in Cody. 

Red Tape 

Piazza said by the time they were figuring out the logistics of bringing the families to Cody, Kostiushico had found temporary shelter in Poland and Matsiakh in Romania.  

At the beginning of the war, the only program the U.S. was able to offer was a tourist visa, Piazza said, but so many people were applying that the women wouldn’t have been able to get into the embassy for an interview until November of 2023. 

“So what the U.S. came up with, that I think is a great program, is this ‘United for Ukraine’, which we call U for U,” Piazza said. “And basically, it says, you don’t have to go to an embassy. It puts a lot of the work on the American sponsor.” 

He explained that the sponsor must prove financial viability, available living quarters and other services available for any sponsored foreigners. Once that paperwork was complete on the Piazza’s end, Kostiushico and Matsiakh just needed to apply. They were approved within three days.  

“They can stay here for up to two years,” Piazza said. “It allows you to work. It provides some language training, some life training – for example, living in a rural town, in Cody, it’s really important to learn to drive, so we have somebody from the Department of Family Services that supports them, and they’re helping them with some of those things.” 

Adjusting to Life In Cody 

The two women live in apartments that were secured by Piazza once he realized that the families would be relocating to Cody. 

“I called around everywhere I could to find some space,” he said. “An acquaintance of mine had a couple of apartments that he was holding for his restaurant, so I made a deal with him and we rented those out for three months.” 

Because the Piazzas own the local community ski hill, Sleeping Giant, the women were offered the use of the brightly colored ski vans. 

“Only Olena knows how to drive right now,” said Piazza, “so they kind of carpool and do everything together.” 

Piazza said in order to work in the U.S. as a non-citizen, there is a significant amount of paperwork, and it takes about 90 days to get a Social Security card. Which means that neither woman is employed just yet – but should be in October. 

“They’re allowed to volunteer and help out,” Piazza said, “so they’ve done some of that just to kind of get a feel for how things go here.”  

That doesn’t mean that their days are not busy, though. 

“There’s a lot of paperwork to do,” Piazza translated for Matsiakh. “Getting the kids ready for school, figuring out how all that works.” 

And the women themselves are studying – both are learning English, which Matsaikh is a bit further along with than Kostiushico at the moment. Kostiushico is continuing online psychology courses, while Matsaikh has reached out to the Wyoming cosmetology licensing department.  

“As soon as she has her right to work, she’ll probably be taking the exam for cosmetology,” said Piazza. 

Generosity of Cody Residents 

Furnishing the apartments was a bit of an issue, because in Europe, Piazza said, most apartments come fully furnished. 

“I was like, ‘Why don’t you try (the Facebook group) Cody Area Classifieds?’” Piazza said. “So actually, I would say the majority of furniture came from Cody Area Classifieds.” 

But much of what they needed was actually donated, Piazza said. 

“Funny story, when they went to the Bargain Box (donation store), Emma, the manager, asked where they were from, and they were like, ‘Ukraine,’” Piazza said. “And she said, ‘Just take whatever you want.’” 

“Big heart,” said Kostiushico, holding her hand to her heart, indicating the people who have been so helpful. 

“When you’ve been living on couches and stuff for several months, to arrive and have a fully decked out place to live, and it’s yours again, and you kind of have some normalcy, it was great,” Piazza translated for Kostiushico.  

Overcoming Language Barrier 

Piazza said his wife, Yulia, is the primary translator for the families, as she is a native Ukrainian. But when it comes to the children at school, Nick and Yulia’s son has stepped up. 

“One (of the Ukrainian children is) in high school, but the two younger girls are at Livingston where my son is,” Piazza said. “So he actually goes in and sees their teacher in the morning and helps get the day set up for them, so they know what to expect.” 

But he said the girls are adapting well to their new community. 

“I think in whole, they’re making friends, they’re having fun,” Piazza said. 

Kostiushico said, through Piazza, that her 15-year-old son likes it at Cody High School.  

“My son said right away that this is really cool,” she said, while acknowledging that her daughter is more sensitive to change. 

“It’s been tough for her, because we were in Poland for a while and bouncing around at the end of the school year,” Kostiushico said. “And she cried a lot, and she didn’t like it. But she came here and said, ‘Mom, we’re not changing any more schools. I like it here.’” 

Navigating the Future 

For Matsiakh, who came to Cody from a city of nearly 3 million people, coming to a town the size of Cody was an adjustment. But because of the friendliness of the Cody people, the adjustment has been easier. 

“One of the things that’s been really kind of surprising is that they don’t really feel like immigrants here,” Piazza said. “People here don’t know the language, don’t know the culture, and they’re still helping them out. So it’s been a big, positive surprise.” 

As much as they miss their home, Matsiakh said they realize this is the best place for their families. 

“We understand we can’t go home because it’s not safe for our children,” she said.  

And while the women say they miss their husbands, who are forced to stay behind in their native country, they will make it through. 

“We’re Ukrainians, and this is what we have to do,” said Matsiakh. 

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University of Wyoming’s Only Ukrainian Student Rallying Support For Ukraine

in Wyoming and Ukraine/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As the war in Ukraine rages on and proof of atrocities against civilians mounts, University of Wyoming’s only Ukrainian student is on a mission to garner support for her home country.

Anastasiia Pereverten is an exchange student from Ukraine who arrived in Laramie in January, several weeks before the invasion of her country by Russian soldiers. 

Since the war began, Pereverten has reached out to students, staff and community members to educate them on her culture in an attempt to help them connect what’s happening there.

“So after we held our first rally, a professor of political science suggested me giving a lecture with her class,” Pereverten told Cowboy State Daily. “So last week, I was giving a lecture on Ukrainian society, about my history and my personal experience of existing and functioning and working, just being a part of Ukrainian society.”

Pereverten said in her presentation, she emphasized the feelings of loyalty that her generation has towards Ukraine.

“It’s our country, and we will defend our country until the very victory,” she said.

Pereverten said that students and staff at the University have embraced her cause. At an International Flavors Festival last weekend, Pereverten said she prepared traditional Ukrainian dishes using her grandmother’s recipes and was pleasantly surprised at the popularity of the Ukrainian cuisine.

“We were expecting to sell those within like four hours or something, but we ran out of food within one and a half hours,” she said. “We fundraised more than $2,000 within one and a half hours, donating (the money) to World Central Kitchen, which currently is providing Ukrainian refugees and Ukrainian civilians and the army in Ukraine, in Kyiv and Kharkiv and Odessa, supporting local volunteers cooking food for territorial defense and Ukrainian army.” 

Photo by Rich Guenzel

Recently, Pereverten had a moment in which she began to realize that her personal campaign has made an impact. 

“When the war started, I provided the university with a list of books I can post about Ukraine in English, so that our faculty and students have a chance to enrich their knowledge on Ukrainian history, Ukrainian culture,” she said. “Because a huge, huge part of this war and the pretext to this war was disinformation and Russian propaganda, and acquiring books in the library would be a great way to start this process. So I suggested to the library to buy these books. 

“Two days ago, I was walking to the library and I noticed an art book of Ukrainian artists, which I had on my list, and it’s being delivered to the library” she continued. “That’s absolutely stunning and astonishing. I almost started crying.”

Since the war started, Pereverten said she has been constantly emailing, meeting people, attending meetings and giving speeches to raise awareness about the plight of Ukraine. 

And although she’s feeling, finally, that she is making progress, there is still much work to be done. 

This weekend, two free public events will allow for further education on how Wyomingites can express their solidarity with Ukraine.

On Friday, the UW Center for Global Studies is hosting a panel discussion in the UW College of Business Building with keynote speakers Richard Holwill (a retired U.S. ambassador) and UW economics professor Alexandre Skiba, who is himself from Ukraine.

Then on Saturday, a rally titled “Stand With Ukraine – Laramie” is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. at Laramie’s First Street Plaza.

“The rally is to show that people don’t feel indifferent toward what’s going on in my country,” Pereverten said. “And people want to see the government implementing, not just declaring, but implementing certain actions against Russia and in support of Ukraine.”

Pereverten added that for those who would like to support the efforts of organizations on the ground in Ukraine, she and other volunteers will be on hand to provide ways to do so.

“Volunteer groups are providing the Ukrainian army with medical supplies, with ammunition, with transport and food and everything,” she said, but added it’s important to be selective, as many international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) usually take large percentages of donations for administrative expenses.

“Those will never ever reach Ukraine, in essence, so that’s why we want to inform people on how to support Ukraine efficiently,” Pereverten said.

Of her parents and family still living in a war zone, Pereverten said they are currently safe, having escaped the capital city of Kyiv when the fighting began. 

“They’re considering the option of coming back to Kyiv, which seems to be relatively protected again,” she said. “And we have 100% confidence in our victory.”

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Wyoming Husband and Wife Team Assisting War Efforts In Ukraine

in Wyoming and Ukraine/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As the war in Ukraine intensifies, a Wyoming husband and wife team with deep ties to the besieged country is assisting humanitarian efforts there.

Nick Piazza and his wife Yulia have left their home in Cody to do what they can for employees of Nick’s Ukrainian company who are in the midst of the devastation inflicted by Russia’s invasion of Yulia’s home country.

Piazza, whose business, SP Capital Management, is based in Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv, told Cowboy State Daily that he and his wife are doing their best to respond to the needs of their family and friends.

“I kind of grew up there,” Piazza noted, “but you know, my wife is from there. Most of these people are people we know personally, their friends, their acquaintances, their neighbors. So when we get these personal requests, we try to help with everything we can. 

“But you know, the number one goal is to win this war,” he continued. “Everything we’re doing right now is to make sure that Ukraine still exists as a free country with all of its territory.”

Leaving Cody

Piazza said he and his wife left Cody on March 9 to do what they can for those in war-torn Europe – and in the ensuing week, things have already been looking up.

“Family, employees, friends, staff are all either in lower intensity areas where they’ve chosen to be or they’ve left the country,” he said. “We feel better than we did before. You probably saw on the news that the Ukrainian army has mounted a bit of an offensive and is taking back a lot of territory around Kyiv. So, some good things are happening.”

However, Piazza noted that the need for humanitarian aid is increasing dramatically.

“Because they don’t have the ability to fight like a modern army, Russia is just flattening things, and that is causing massive humanitarian problems,” he said. “So they’ve been targeting farming, storage areas, food factories, to try to basically starve out Ukrainians and kill their will to fight.”

Piazza said he and his wife are working with several agriculture companies and food producers to provide food to the troops and to civilians. 

“Fuel and medical supplies are all in very high demand, and we see this demand growing, especially in the areas where fighting has been more intense,” he pointed out. “We see how it’s basically collapsing supply chains. And this is going to be the fight we have going forward – getting food, getting supplies to people.” 

Help From Wyo Neighbors

But Piazza said they’ve already received some support from their Wyoming neighbors.

“Cody Regional Health has been in touch with my wife to try to help get medical supplies and different medicines over to Ukraine,” Piazza said. “Also, Livingston (Elementary) School (in Cody) has reached out and done some fundraisers, which has been very helpful.”

And Wyoming residents have offered help in other, more direct ways, according to Piazza. When the invasion began, Piazza offered to organize Americans who were interested in actually fighting on behalf of the Ukraine people.

“Our Cody project is successfully operating,” he said. “We’ve had more demand than we expected, and we expected pretty high demand. So, we’re operating, and that’s pretty much all we can say about that, or all they’ll let me say. We are very thankful to those guys and gals and what they’re doing.” 

Piazza expressed his hope that the U.S. will step up and provide more assistance to the refugees fleeing Ukraine, similar to what some European countries are doing.

“All other countries in Europe are providing these streamlined ways for Ukrainian immigrants, people fleeing the war, to get work visas, to get into school with their kids,” he said. “They’re even posting job listings where they can get started working – and we’re talking Italy, Poland, a lot of countries across Europe. 

“The U.S. has not announced anything yet and that’s somewhat disappointing,” he continued. “They’ve done a great job of providing arms and things like that, but It’s kind of frustrating that the U.S. isn’t doing more on this front, and hopefully they’ll start soon.”

Ukraine Optimistic

However, Piazza said that the people of Ukraine are optimistic that they will emerge victorious – sooner rather than later.

“Our home in Kyiv, the security alarm went off, and we assumed it probably had been bombed,” he explained. “So we called the building administrator and he said actually, it’s been kind of quiet. And he went up to take a look, and he said, ‘You know what it probably was, there’s a guy below you remodeling his apartment.’ And he said, ‘I went in there and I said, Hey, what are you guys doing?’ And they said, ‘Well, the owner said we should just continue remodeling this apartment. So that’s what we are doing.’ So, this is one of the world’s greatest optimists, and as soon as we get back, I want to meet him.” 

Piazza’s wife, Yulia, has the same sort of optimism.

“The other day, we were talking about our summer plans, because usually, our plan is to be in Cody for the school year and then go to Europe for the summer,” he said. “And I broached the subject yesterday, like what are we going to do? And she very candidly, and with a few choice words, told me that she had a plane ticket for the day after school gets out to go to Kyiv, and she’s not changing that ticket and she doesn’t plan on it. So, her position is pretty clear.” 

And until that time, Piazza said they will keep doing all they can for their employees, family and friends.

“We’re currently in the process of setting up an office for staff in Poland, and seeing where that goes,” he said. “But the U.S. isn’t being particularly flexible, in terms of letting even our own people in, so we’ll see where it goes. 

“We’re doing a lot of things that I never honestly thought we’d be doing, but we’re trying to do them the best we can, and we’re hopeful that by May we’ll have a better understanding of where we’re going, what we’re doing and what the world is going to look like,” he added.

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Cheyenne Attorney Married to Ukrainian Says Wyoming Needs Refugee Program

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Cheyenne resident and University of Wyoming law professor are criticizing the fact that Wyoming is still the only state without a refugee resettlement program in the nation, making it difficult for the state to accept Ukrainian refugees.

Cheyenne resident and attorney Boyd Wiggam, whose wife is from Ukraine, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that he is disappointed at the lack of a program, as it essentially tells refugees that they are not welcome in Wyoming.

“This is something that has bothered me ever since I was in law school,” he said. “When I think of the United States, I think of a place that’s made up of the leftovers and misfits of the rest of the world. The lesson we should be taking away when it comes to these refugees, they are literally displaced by war. This should not even be controversial.”

He added it was “cruel” and “selfish” of the state and its legislators to not cooperate to launch a refugee resettlement program so individuals, charities and groups can better help refugees in need.

Wiggam noted that his church ran into several issues when attempting to help refugee families fleeing their countries, both from Afghanistan and Ukraine, partially due to the lack of resettlement program.

“If we’re really going to build a warm, welcoming, vibrant community made up with people who are community builders and are givers, we need to be able to let those who want to give be able to give were giving is needed,” Wiggam said. “What’s going on right now eliminate some of the arguments that you hear against encouraging refugees to settle in Wyoming.”

Boyd and Iryna Wiggam

UW law professor Jerry Fowler told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday he also believed there was benefit to having a refugee resettlement program in the state, even if there aren’t many refugees even coming into the United States every year and even fewer that would resettle in Wyoming.

“Historically, refugees have strengthened our country,” he said. “I think we are doing our state a disservice by not welcoming refugees. America is an idea that welcomes people who are fleeing persecution, like Ukrainians or our Afghan allies. Or is it a fortress, designed to keep people out?”

Fowler pointed out that there was an effort to establish a Wyoming resettlement program about six or seven years ago, but vocal opposition by some, who Fowler said were making unrealistic complaints, convinced then-Gov. Matt Mead not to go forward with the program.

Gov. Mark Gordon’s spokesman Michael Pearlman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the governor’s office has not been contacted about accepting Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion began.

“The Governor has been consistent on his position on refugees since late August, when he touched on this issue during a speech in Teton County,” Pearlman said. “At that time he said that before the state would consider taking refugees, we would want to have conversations with individuals, federal agencies and others to make sure (the refugees) were properly vetted.”

Pearlman added that Gordon believes Ukrainians deserve America’s compassion and support, and added that the Legislature may want to engage in wider discussions about the refugee resettlement program.

Wiggam said he understood the Legislature’s Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee was going to study the question of whether it would take up a resettlement program as an interim study.

The Legislative Service Office on Wednesday told Cowboy State Daily that all committee proposals for interim studies will be submitted for approval to the Legislature’s Management Council during an April 8 meeting.

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Ukrainian Student at UW Says Ukraine Will “Never Give Up”

in Wyoming and Ukraine/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Five thousand miles from her home, Anastasiia Pereverten is involved in the war that her family is enduring in Ukraine.

But Pereverten is fighting on a different kind of front than the Ukrainian civilians who have taken up arms against invading Russians.

As an exchange student at the University of Wyoming, she is battling the information war while recruiting her fellow UW students and other Wyoming citizens to join her effort to support the innocent victims of Russian aggression.

Pereverten, a cultural studies major at the UW, arrived in the U.S. in January, so she narrowly missed getting caught up in the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began at the end of February.

“I live in Kyiv, and all of my family and all of my friends – all of them live in Kyiv,” Pereverten said. “Now, partly, they still stay there, my parents and some of my other relatives moved to the suburbs of Kyiv. Most of them live in a country house. But my grandparents and my mom’s brothers, a couple of them are still in Kyiv.” 

Pereverten said she has been keeping in contact with her family via direct messages and social media. Although her family is currently safe, Pereverten noted that the Russian army isn’t limiting its action to military targets.

“Russian troops are shelling civilians, bombing neighborhoods, killing children and civilians, unarmed people everywhere in every big city or even the villages,” she said. “You can easily find videos on the internet where Russian combat vehicles are shelling civilian cars, or civilian houses, or just killing people who are trying to cross the street.”

Because she is unable to help with the war effort on the ground in her home country, Pereverten is advocating for her country here in Wyoming, contacting reporters across the state to shine a light on the injustices taking place in a country that few people in Wyoming knew much about before the war began.

“Generally in the U.S., the knowledge of the European part of the world is very superficial and it’s cursory,” she said. “I believe that no one I met here knew about, or had known about Ukraine before meeting me.”

Pereverten has also been emailing and calling UW professors and student leaders, along with officials at other colleges and universities, to shine a light on what is happening in Ukraine.

“I’m doing everything I can to expand the knowledge of Ukraine and raising awareness of what’s going on right now,” she said. “On Wednesday, we’re going to have a table in the Union Building campus to inform students about Ukraine.”

Pereverten pointed out that Ukrainians aren’t helpless — they are fighting on several fronts, including the war of information.

“We’ve got our own army,” she said. “And in Ukraine, there is the Ministry of Digital Transformation – they are curating the work of thousands of IT specialists around the globe. Part of them also work on the information on war, and the hybrid war. 

“We’ve been in that war for the last eight years, with cyberattacks, misinformation, falsification, disinformation,” she continued. “All of that happened to us. Now it’s more intense. Now there is a fog of war. That’s a dangerous phenomena.” 

Pereverten said a rally will be held at the university’s Simpson Plaza at 3 p.m. Wednesday to show support for Ukraine.

“With community pressure, with people protesting, as people sign petitions, addressing their governors, writing letters, issuing official letters, all of that will start working,” she said. “We need to be able to protect Ukrainian skies, because that’s something crucial right now, not just to let our army defend the country and the whole of Europe, but also to save Europe from nuclear threat.”

Pereverten praised her country, and its people, for their strength and perseverance.

“Ukrainians are the greatest people on this planet,” she said. “They are not giving up their territory, never giving up. And that’s not only something I hear from my friends connected to military, but also even from my grandparents, who are staying on the 12th floor in their neighborhood in Kyiv. Everyone’s like, ‘Whatever happens, we’re staying here defending our country.’” 

Pereverten stressed the importance of international support for the people of Ukraine, particularly in the face of unprovoked war.

“We cannot predict the extent of their madness right now,” Pereverten said of the Russian leadership. “They are  just destroying Ukrainian cities and killing civilians because they cannot resist our army.” 

Pereverten supplied a list of credible sources for information on the Russian-Ukrainian war:

For anyone who wishes to help Ukrainians with aid or to bolster the country’s defensive capabilities, Pereverten has compiled a list of what she said are credible resources.

Ukrainian National Bank Fund: 

One-click donation: 

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Wyomingites Banding Together To Support Ukraine

in Wyoming and Ukraine/News

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming residents are joining the rest of the world in efforts to show support for Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion.

From the Wyoming Legislature to community ski areas, public support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russian actions has spread across the state. 

The day after the first bombs were dropped on Feb. 24, Sens. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, and Brian Boner, R-Douglas, stood in front of the state Senate to publicly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I believe that this criminal act will not stand in the years ahead,” said Salazar. “I pray for the people of the Ukraine and for my friends who are caught in the Ukraine, and I wish them only victory.”

The support hasn’t been just verbal. 

Sleeping Giant

Nick Piazza, a Cody businessman whose company, SP Capital Management, is based in Ukraine, also owns Sleeping Giant Ski Area west of Cody. Sleeping Giant is contributing all of the proceeds from this weekend’s ski day to support Ukraine.

“Every dollar that’s earned on that day is going to be directly donated from us – from Sleeping Giant – to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” Piazza said. “There’s a foundation in Ukraine called Come Back Alive, and we plan to donate to them. They basically made sure that soldiers have the supplies they need to defend the country.” 

Piazza said that donating in this way is the responsible thing to do, given that the purchase of Sleeping Giant was made possible by the success of his business in Ukraine.

“A large portion of the money we’ve earned in our careers as the Piazza family has come from Ukraine,” he said. “It’s the responsible thing for us to do, to try to give a little bit back, and we think that it’s a fun way to allow people in Park County to come out and show their support.”

For those who want to help but can’t go skiing on Saturday, Piazza said supporters can purchase a ski ticket online for Saturday, March 5, and put a “love note” to Ukraine in the notes line. 

“We’ll redeem the ticket and add it to the fund,” he said.

Humanitarian Efforts

Piazza said he’s heard from many county residents who are anxious to support Ukraine. He pointed out that there are several other options, listed below.

For those looking to donate money directly to Ukraine’s Army, please follow this link. “The National Bank of Ukraine, basically the Fed, has set up accounts,” Piazza said. 

For those looking to send supplies for humanitarian efforts, Nova Poshta Global is a private parcel service similar to UPS. “You can ship supplies to their US warehouse and they will make sure they get to Ukraine,” he said. 

Piazza urged people to do more than donate in support of Ukraine.

“Please contact your government officials,” he said. “Write them emails, call their offices, call them to action.”

For those seeking a more hands-on approach to supporting the people of Ukraine, there’s a more daring opportunity that some Wyoming residents are already looking into.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on Sunday the country is establishing a foreign “international” legion for volunteers from abroad.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, issued a global invitation via Twitter for people from other countries to join the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

“Together we defeated Hitler, and we will defeat Putin too,” he wrote.

Going to Ukraine to Fight

Piazza confirmed that several people from Wyoming have already reached out to him with serious interest in going to Ukraine to join the fight. 

“From our side, we have made arrangements with Ukrainian friends and partners to get volunteers from the border, housed and signed up with the foreign legion or other volunteer support groups,” he posted to Facebook on Sunday. “We also will finance the travel and logistical support for any volunteers.”

Piazza warned, though, that any volunteers that go to Ukraine will be required to go through a vetting program led by former U.S. military personnel; would need to supply their own “non-lethal kit” (uniform, body armor, medkit, CAT bandages), and be ready to commit to a 30-day tour.

“This is a very serious choice, and we are extremely thankful to those that are willing to take this step, but please, serious applications only,” he added. 

As of Tuesday, Piazza said six Wyoming residents had contacted him to begin the application process.

Piazza’s connections to the European country currently under siege aren’t simply business. His wife, Yulia, is Ukrainian, and her family has been caught up in the events there.

“Everyone is out of Kyiv except Yulia’s grandma and uncle,” Piazza told Cowboy State Daily. “They are in a bunker in Kyiv.”

Piazza’s Ukrainian employees are also the focus of his concern.

“Three families of employees crossed the border without their dads,” he said, noting that the men of the family stayed in Ukraine to fight. “The families will likely eventually end up in Cody.”

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Cheyenne Bar Stops Selling Russian Vodka Over Ukraine Invasion

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

In front of a raucous, and somewhat lubricated crowd, the manager and patrons of Cheyenne’s Four Winds Bar poured out dozens of bottles of Stolichnaya Vodka as a way to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Kiona Shepard, the manager of the Four Winds, began dumping the “Stoli” vodka in the parking lot with plenty of help from patrons of the popular establishment.

As the group emptied the bottles to chants of “We support Ukraine” and other less family-friendly cries, many drivers along Pershing Boulevard honked their horns in support.

J.J. Moran, owner of the Four Winds, said the decision to dump the Russian vodka and to quit selling it altogether was his way of standing up to the “aggression of Russia.”

“You just feel like there’s nothing you can do when you see these poor people in Ukraine,” Moran said. “On the news, you see husbands walking their families to the border and then they go back to fight for their country — maybe never to see their families again.”

“This is our personal sanction,” he said. “This is how we can make a difference.”

Moran said Stoli is Russia’s most popular exported vodka and if every bar in the city, state and nation refused to serve it, it would send a powerful message.

“We’ll hit them right in their pocketbook,’ he said.  

In the addition to the removal of the Stoli product, Shepard placed signs throughout the establishment that said “In Support of Ukraine, We Don’t Serve Russian Vodka.”

Further, Moran said the bar will no longer serve White Russians or Moscow Mules. The concoctions will still be made, he said, but they will name them something else.

Moran said he was thinking about mixing a non-Russian vodka with Fireball whisky and calling it a Putin Punch.

“Their economy isn’t the best right now,” Moran added. “Hopefully we can all stick together and hit them where it hurts.”

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Wyoming Businessman With Business in Ukraine Says War With Russia is Just “Step One”

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

“It started.”

Those two words, sent via Facebook Messenger at 8:12 p.m. Wednesday evening, implied a deep sense of sadness and concern on the part of the sender, a Wyoming businessman who lives part of the year in the now war-torn country of Ukraine.

“So far, everyone is safe,” Nick Piazza, a Cody native whose investment business is based in Ukraine, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.

But he expressed concern the fighting that has begun half a world away won’t be limited to the central European country whose people are now frightened for their lives.

“What (Russian President Vladimir Putin) is really trying to do is dismantle this U.S.-led system of law and order that has been ruling the world since World War II,” Piazza said.

“And so we start in a little spot in Ukraine, and all of a sudden you have the Russian army on the border of Europe, and they’re saying that they don’t want NATO in the former Eastern Bloc countries,” he said. “So that’s Poland, that’s Slovakia, that’s Czech Republic, Romania – that they don’t have the right to defend themselves and that Russia gets to have a say in how they govern themselves, that’s terrifying and would change the whole world.”

Russian military forces on Thursday morning (Ukraine time) launched a full-scale invasion of the central European country, sending in troops and tanks from multiple directions, as well as targeting cities and military bases with land-based missiles. 

The attack this week is the largest ground war action Europe has seen since the end of World War II.

“This is not an attack on Ukraine per se,” said Piazza. “This is basically an attack on the international security structures that have been in place since the end of World War II.”

Piazza’s investment firm, SP Capital Management, is based in the country’s capital city of Kyiv. He told Cowboy State Daily that in many ways, what’s happening in Ukraine has great meaning to many people in Wyoming, as the Ukranians are taking steps to defend themselves.

“There are a lot of restrictions on who can basically own firearms and things like that (in Ukraine),” Piazza explained. “And given everything that’s going on, the Ukrainian Congress approved the new law that now allows Ukrainians to own firearms legally. And from a Wyoming perspective, it’s something that we think is very important, to defend our freedoms.”

With the passing of the new law, gun stores in Ukraine are seeing a dramatic increase in sales, with some reportedly running out of inventory. A report in the Guardian said almost 400,000 Ukrainians have combat experience and Piazza said the citizens there are not afraid to fight for their homes.

“They’re very big on the idea of being free from the Soviet Union,” he said. “And I think we need to remember that they’ve already lost roughly 15,000 people to this kind of hot and cold conflict with Russia since 2014.”

On social media Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted that “Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom.”

Piazza pointed out that the United States has spent decades focusing on keeping the peace around the world and the attack by Russian troops signals a dark turn for international relations.

“We’ve put a lot of people in the ground, we’ve shed a lot of American blood, to make sure that the world is a free and safe place,” he said. “And this guy (Putin) is trying to tear that down and divide the world between the US and Europe, and Russia and China. And this is step one, in my opinion.”

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Ukrainian Families Share Invasion Fears With Wyoming Relatives

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

The Ukrainian capitol of Kyiv, is 5,555 miles from the capitol of Wyoming. And yet, the actions taking place in that far-away country are striking close to home for a number of people who live here.

Casper resident Lisa McDonald has family ties to the European country. Her grandparents were born in Ukraine, captured by German soldiers in World War II and emigrated to Canada after the war. 

“I grew up speaking Ukrainian,” McDonald told Cowboy State Daily. “I grew up involved in a lot of Ukrainian activities – Ukrainian church, Ukrainian dance, Ukrainian youth group.”

Although many of her close relatives have moved out of the country, McDonald said she keeps in touch regularly with extended family remaining in Ukraine.

“(My sons) and I went in 2019, and we spent three weeks in Ukraine and visited my family,” she said. “And so now with Facebook and social media, I’m friends with a bunch of family.”

For her, the developments unfolding in Ukraine are alarming. On Wednesday, Russian forces invaded, and casualties are mounting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a state of emergency to be imposed across the country beginning at midnight Thursday.

“I do have a lot of friends and a little bit of family near Kyiv, near the capitol,” she said. “I think for the most part, they feel confident that the West will help them and it’s in the benefit for the rest of the world to help them, because if (Russian President Vladimir) Putin takes over Ukraine, I mean, that’s the highway to Europe.” 

The country itself is a treasure trove for minerals, fossil fuels and agriculture. The second-largest country in Europe, Ukraine ranks first or second in the world for mineral reserves such as iron ore, uranium, manganese, and titanium. It is an important agricultural country, ranking in the top five globally for the production of sunflowers and sunflower oil, barley, corn, potatoes and rye. The world’s third-largest natural gas pipeline system also runs through Ukraine. 

Ukrainians have been on the front lines of Russian aggression for eight years now, McDonald said, so residents have become used to living under threat of war. But the recent escalation is concerning to her loved ones there, McDonald said.

“This war has been going on since 2014,” she said. “They took Crimea, and since (Putin) started pushing his way in on the eastern side of Ukraine – it isn’t new news. It’s just that he’s amassed more (troops) to make a bigger deal out of it.”

McDonald said that her friends and family in Ukraine love their homeland and are ready to fight for it.

“The Russian (soldiers) are forced to fight,” she said. “But the Ukrainians fight because they want to fight. They don’t want to go back to the old Soviet system. They love their country, they love the fact that they’re becoming a democracy. They love all that stuff. They want to be more aligned with Europe. They do not want anything to do with Russia.” 

McDonald added that for military families here in Wyoming, there is real concern.

“I work with a lady whose son is in the Navy, and he’s posted over there,” she said. “They’re waiting in the U.K. right now to get their orders, you know? And so she’s terrified, because Putin is a madman, he really truly is. He’s an egomaniac. He wants to be memorialized for putting the Soviet Union back on the map, and the West needs to stand up to this bully and take care of it sooner than later.”

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