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How Sunflower Seeds Ukraine Supports Those Affected by the Russo-Ukraine War From Boulder

Article by Jessica Mordacq

Photography by Gina Dodge

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

The Russo-Ukraine War started in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began armed conflict in Donbas. After a Russian military build-up on the border of the two countries late last year, they launched an invasion of Ukraine in February. 

Ukrainian couple Andriy Zakutayev and Viktoriya Oliynyk began the all-volunteer, nonprofit Sunflower Seeds Ukraine in Boulder when the war first started as a grassroots way to provide medical supplies and protective gear directly to the frontlines.  

The husband and wife reached out to friends in Ukraine to ask how they could help save lives. With their home country in terror, this Boulder family also called on their action-oriented local community to help provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian people and medical supplies for small groups of their defenders. 

“Besides the fact we live here, we think Boulder is highly educated and compassionate in international relations and foreign politics,” Andriy says on why they started the organization in Boulder. “It’s a very natural place for a grassroots organization because of the global awareness people have here.” 

As Sunflower Seeds Ukraine’s team in Boulder grew, so did the amount of aid they could provide in Ukraine. Their team near Rivne, in western Ukraine where Andriy grew up, ensures medical help gets to those in need at the frontlines in the eastern and southern parts of the country. When possible, the organization buys tourniquets, bandages and other first-aid kit components in Ukraine to support the local economy, which has been derailed by the war.

When materials can’t be purchased in Ukraine, Sunflower Seeds Ukraine instead buys them in Germany, then their Polish team delivers these items to Rivne. When the organization has to buy specialty medical items in the U.S., they find friends and volunteers willing to take them in extra luggage to Ukraine or Poland.

“There was one person from Nederland who managed to take 26 suitcases from Denver on her way to vacation in Poland, along with 3 kids of her own,” Viktoriya says, with the bags then delivered to Ukraine. With methods like this, smaller grassroots organizations find ways to move quicker and more flexibly than big, national ones like Red Cross or UNICEF, staying agile to ever-changing needs during the war. 

On July 7, a team led by volunteer Ben Teitelbaum, professor of ethnomusicology and international affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder, put on Night Out For Ukraine. Sixty participating restaurants, half in Boulder with the rest in surrounding Front Range cities, donated a fraction of their proceeds on that day to the organization. Though Sunflower Seeds Ukraine is still totaling the final amount, the event raised tens of thousands of dollars.

“It’s a major amount of money for people in the Ukraine and can provide hundreds of first aid kits and personal protective gear items,” Ben says, estimating that most adults there only make $200 to $400 a month. This isn’t nearly enough to provide supplies to a friend or a family member at the front line, let alone a larger number of people in Ukraine.

Following the fundraiser, Boulderites reached out to put on similar benefit events to help Ukraine. On September 17, Sunflower Seeds Ukraine is helping a local artist organize Benefit Art Auction for Ukraine, with all proceeds from dozens of pieces of excellent original art going to this cause. 

Events like these help Ukraine by funding supplies, but also increase awareness in Boulder during a war that continues destroying the country. Andriy says he and his wife, as well as other volunteers, channel their heartache surrounding this war into helping those who defend Ukraine. 

“We found a cure for that sadness in Sunflower Seeds Ukraine. We are able to do things in Boulder that help save lives in Ukraine, one first aid kit at a time,” Andriy says, and he encourages others to do the same. “There’s always a need for good hands, kind hearts and smart brains, which are plentiful here in Boulder.” 

Learn more about Sunflower Seeds Ukraine at