Local community leaders, private-sector humanitarian organizations, and local governments are forging a path for sustained US support for Ukraine. Through conversation, volunteerism, and advocacy, overcoming growing war fatigue among Americans is possible. GMF’s Whistlestops for Ukraine tour is showing how.

Connecting People

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the community of Odessa, Missouri was rattled. The town, a sister city of Odesa, Ukraine with just over 5,000 people, came together as residents and friends, paraded homemade signs of support through downtown and sold borscht at the local park. They raised more than $5,000, signaling a commitment to the cities’ partnership.

Two years later, during GMF’s Whistlestop in Missouri, that same community demonstrated its sustained support in a virtual conversation with Oleh Kiper, governor of Ukraine’s Odesa oblast (region). Providing an update on the port city bombarded by Russian forces, the governor’s message was clear: “If you don’t forget about us, it will be the best help you can offer. Communication is our best weapon and if we have connections, we will stay human.”

This shared hope is essential for Ukrainian’s victory. There is a powerful human element to Ukraine’s resilience, and this hope can help US communities overcome war fatigue by reminding their friends, family, and neighbors of their fellow humans’ tribulations.

Group of people speaking in a diner
GMF President Heather A. Conley speaks to local residents in a diner in Odessa, Missouri during the 2nd stop of the Whistlestops for Ukraine tour

Including the Local and Private Sectors

Since the invasion more than 1,000 Western companies have publicly announced a voluntary curtailment of or complete withdrawal from their operations in Russia. The degrees of downsizing differ, but well-known firms are working to provide significant aid to Ukraine. Cargill, for example, is prioritizing food security for populations reliant on crops from the Black Sea corridor by  partnering with World Central Kitchen, Kyiv City Charity Foundation, and the World Food Program to help provide staple foods such as bread, cereal, and infant formula to those in need. Through a partnership with the HALO Trust, Cargill is also assisting Ukrainian farmers with safely removing landmines from their fields. Since the invasion, HALO has launched a digital risk education campaign alerting more than 15 million Ukrainians to the location of explosives. It is also testing remote-controlled devices designed to unearth mines.

Still, more can be done. The opportunity for larger companies to work together with local businesses, rather than in silos, exists. GMF’s Whistlestop in Minnesota, the tour’s first destination, highlighted the Protez Foundation, a nonprofit based in the state that provides prosthetics, training, and mental health services to wounded Ukrainian soldiers. The foundation’s efforts are made possible due to sponsors including firms such as KLMB Transportation and Esper. Such partnerships are essential to increasing support for victims of the war and bolstering prospects for Ukrainian victory and reconstruction.

The tour also elicited media coverage and conversation about the foundation’s efforts. Increased visibility of such local initiatives and cooperation with the private sector allow local communities to learn of Ukraine’s needs, efforts underway to meet those needs, and roles individuals can play in providing assistance.

Large group of people sitting around a set of tables set up into a square
Kansas City Chamber of Commerce members attend a meeting with Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova, Howard Buffett and Heather A. Conley during the Missouri stop of the Whistlestops for Ukraine tour

Engaging Local Leaders

Many cities have passed resolutions or announced proclamations condemning the Russian invasion. However, sustained support is a critical factor for a Ukrainian victory, and local elected leaders are key to achieving this support. Americans are most likely to trust local government, creating an opportunity for local officials to engage with their communities without heated partisan narratives. Oksana Markarova, Ukrainian ambassador to the United States and Whistlestops participant, recognized the unique situation of local leaders when she discussed the on-the-ground reality in Ukraine while visiting Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas. One goal of her conversation was to ask the mayor to remind his city’s residents of Ukraine’s resiliency.

The local-level engagements that GMF’s Whistlestops for Ukraine facilitates are proving to transcend national polarization. They keep Ukraine a topic of discussion among Americans, encourage support for local initiatives, and clarify the importance of continued support for the besieged country, all of which contributes to eroding war fatigue.

Mayor Quinton Lucas speaks to Ukraine Ambassador Oksana Markarova
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas speaks to Ukraine Ambassador Oksana Markarova during the Missouri stop of the Whistlestops Tour