When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the news was personal for Dillon Carroll, a 24-year-old Ridgewood resident whose best friend, Mark Kreynovich, was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The two met when they were roommates at Cornell University and have remained close.
In 2018, Carroll got a firsthand look at Ukraine and its people when the friends took a trip to Kreynovich’s hometown.
As news of the war reached the United States, Carroll says his mind immediately turned to Kreynovich and his family. “I was so scared and so concerned,” recalls Carroll, who, along with his friend, graduated from Cornell in 2020. “I knew these people; I knew how peaceful and loving they were.”
Wanting to offer support but feeling helpless from afar, Carroll suggested they go to Ukraine. Kreynovich responded, “And fly into a war zone?” So the two devised a plan and, that night, after telling their parents they were leaving for a week, were on a plane to Vienna, where they connected with a Cornell graduate who would help them find supplies.
“Many Ukrainians were behind the Polish border, and many were in Ukraine needing help,” says Carroll. “The war broke out on February 24, a day before Mark’s and my shared birthday, so our birthday was a call to action.”
They started fundraising online through SpotFund and, in less than 24 hours, had received nearly $10,000 for their newly formed organization, Mission to Ukraine. In Vienna, they found a pharmacy that agreed to sell them discounted items in bulk, such as insulin, baby food, diapers and medications. The supplies would go to refugees and those still in Ukraine. Through Kreynovich’s connections, a hospital in Ukraine sent invoices itemizing needed supplies.
On their second day in Eastern Europe, realizing that most refugees were fleeing across the Polish-Ukrainian border, Carroll and Kreynovich drove from Vienna to Krakow.
“In those early weeks in Krakow, 20,000-30,000 Ukrainians were at the train station,” says Carroll. “We knew that wherever there were refugees, help was needed.”
They found an apartment that could house a family of nine and their pets, purchased groceries for families settling there, and helped refugees find their way around strange surroundings. “The need was immense, and we worked long days and paid little mind to sleep,” says Carroll.
Returning to Vienna, they picked up the medical order and drove to a warehouse in Bratislava, Slovakia, 45 minutes away. Trusted Ukrainian drivers, whom they found through word of mouth, then collected the critically needed items and delivered them to Ukraine.
The one-week plan to provide aid stretched into eight months as contributions from 1,800 donors worldwide rose to $570,000. Both Carroll and Kreynovich have taken leaves from work and are now focused on their mission full-time.
As of our deadline, they have delivered more than $500,000 worth of critical equipment, helped evacuate more than 1,000 civilians from Russian-occupied territories in southern Ukraine, and sent food and medication to more than 3,000 people.
Now based in Kiev, Carroll says it’s necessary to be somewhere he’s needed, regardless of the risks.
“You become accustomed to a war zone. Despite the curfew, Kiev functions like any city in the United States, with people going to cafés and restaurants,” he says. “The air raids are scary, but you learn life needs to go on despite terrible circumstances.”