A VCU Police officer holding up ballistic vest panels in front of a table with more of them
VCU Police Ofc. Levin White holds up ballistic vest panels. VCU Police is donating 180 panels, which can outfit 90 vests, to White's nonprofit, Lift Up Ukraine. (Corey Byers, VCU Police)

VCU employees collect protective gear, medical supplies and clothes to support Ukrainians

Lift Up Ukraine, co-founded by a VCU Police officer, has already sent two shipments to Ukraine and raised $30,000 to purchase additional supplies.

Share this story

In the six weeks since the Russian-Ukrainian war started, VCU Police officer Levin White has co-created Lift Up Ukraine, an organization that collects and facilitates the delivery of supplies to civilians in the war-torn country.

White and two other co-founders have worked with policing agencies across Virginia to collect nearly 700 used ballistic vests and panels for vests, gas masks and helmets. Agencies have committed to donating an additional 1,000 vests on top of what’s already been acquired.

In addition, they’ve worked with hospitals and other nonprofit organizations to collect emergency medical supplies.

Lift Up Ukraine is a 501c(3) nonprofit and the co-founders haven’t wasted any time in their efforts to help besieged Ukrainians: They’ve already sent two shipments of protective gear and medical supplies overseas.

White co-founded the organization with his neighbors Ostap Zagorodnyy and Ausrine Zagorodna, who are married. Zagorodnyy is originally from Lviv, Ukraine, and still has family and friends there.

“I wanted to help and it just mushroomed,” White said. “It’s not about me, it’s about helping my neighbors from Ukraine and helping those who can’t help themselves.”

White said the protective ballistic gear is going to Ukraine’s civilian defense groups. Lift Up Ukraine has also raised $30,000 to purchase additional gear and supplies and they’re planning to collect clothing for Ukrainian refugees.

Last week, VCU Police Chief John Venuti agreed to support White’s efforts by donating 180 used ballistic vest panels, which can fit into 90 vests. The used panels were scheduled for destruction, but Venuti readily agreed to donate them instead. VCU Police headquarters will also serve as a collection site for vests and panels from other police agencies.

“I’m always willing to support officers in their outreach and this type of donation is a first for us,” Venuti said. “We’re typically focused on local efforts, but it’s been very hard to watch what’s happening to Ukrainian citizens. Other agencies across Virginia have also been moved to contribute and each vest that’s donated could save someone’s life.”

Lift Up Ukraine has also received support across VCU.

Oleksandr Misiats, an assistant professor of mathematical science at VCU, is originally from Ukraine and his mother still lives there. He has been supporting Lift Up Ukraine by assisting with advertising and police collections out of state.

“Right now my goal is to help people who are not refugees – who stay there – as much as possible,” Misiats said. “My mom is there and she does not want to be a refugee – she wants to be as useful as she can to the country. She is a 68-year-old schoolteacher, and she doesn’t want to leave.”

Misiats said he’s thankful that the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the College of Humanities and Sciences has been supportive of his efforts. His colleagues participated in fundraising and have donated 80 jackets, 80 sweaters, military boots, pants and other supplies.

“They did not just give me money; they offered to cover my classes if needed. They were extremely supportive of me in this situation, and they know my mom is there.”

For White and Lift Up Ukraine, the volunteer work continues: They’re planning to pick up another 800 used vests this week from agencies including, but not limited to, the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia Department of Corrections.