BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Chicago humanitarian and entrepreneur Tanya Polsky returned recently from her native country, Ukraine, where she has created two hostels for women and children in Odessa and two after-school facilities in Izmail, her hometown; assisted evacuation efforts; and worked with United States Marine veterans who deliver emergency medical kits to soldiers fighting on the front lines and for every train captain.
While visiting her father and cousins in Izmail, located on the Danube River near the Romanian border, she also met with local residents and refugees facing the challenge of the approaching cold weather without adequate food and heat, initiating the “Winter in Ukraine” project.
“It is very hard to see people suffering, and I have always been looking for ways that I could be of help. I was driven by my heart to go back and was not scared,” she explains. “Ukrainians live and work on the front lines, and I wanted to do what I could to help. The people know that they are in the fight of a lifetime. They are so patriotic, and you just put yourself in with them. Everyone, especially the new generation, feels an amazing sense of belonging to their country.”
The hostels Polsky created and currently funds are located in war-torn Odessa, filled with women and children fleeing the war. In addition to supplying food, medical supplies, and other necessities for the hostels, she works in both Ukraine and in Chicago with Operation White Stork, composed of Marine veterans, businessmen, and professionals who have evacuated almost 40,000 people and pets and supplied almost 18,000 medical kits, called IFAKS, containing tourniquets, emergency bandages, and gauze to Ukrainian soldiers, saving countless lives during combat. “Just this week, Russia bombed a civilian train, resulting in 25 casualties, with children among them. This is what these kits are for,” says Polsky. “They save innocent people’s lives.”
Polsky describes her recent return to her hometown: “Although we heard air sirens, I found Izmail the peaceful, beautiful place I remembered.”
A town of just 70,000 right now houses over 35,000 refugees, forced to live in abandoned homes on the edges of the town without water and central heating.
“The people hope is to return to their homes after the war, or rebuild, or stay in Imail or Odessa. People do not want to leave Ukraine unless they have to do so,” she shares. “In Odessa and other large cities people can get food and medical supplies from humanitarian organizations. Many surrounding towns and villages are very small and hard to reach, which means supplies aren’t available. People are living off their vegetable gardens now but when winter comes and there is perhaps no gas and electricity, it will be a horrific situation. I cannot sleep at night thinking about it.”
Despite her work schedule and her young family, Polsky spends countless hours daily on her philanthropic efforts. In May of 2020 Classic Chicago profiled Tanya and Michael Polsky’s project Sewing Masks for a Safe Chicago. She was asked by a fellow Latin School mom (and front-line doctor) for help from other third-grade parents. Just weeks later 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith called the project they created “one of the most effective and impactful charities in the entire city.”
At the time Polsky told us, “I thought of my housekeeper from Ukraine who had been trained in sewing, and she said sure she would make masks, then she spread the word to her friends who sewed professionally. Someone thought of dry cleaners who have tailors who now would not be working. Each of us on the text chain reached out and we created a GoFundMe page.”
Her current efforts with Operation White Stork will receive a boost from a fall performance of the Kyiv City Ballet at the Auditorium Theater—an optional donation to the organization can be made when attending this special September 24-25 staging.
The day before Ukraine was invaded in February, The Kyiv City Ballet unknowingly took one of the last flights out of Kyiv. The company flew to Paris to begin a long planned tour. France sheltered them and the company has been performing throughout France, Europe, and now the United States since then.
Viewed as a “voice of resistance,” the Kyiv City Ballet’s mission is to bring joy to audiences through ballet by bringing exemplary artists to theatres around the world. In the past decade, the company has successfully toured throughout dozens of countries on four continents. Two of Ukraine’s prima ballerinas, Krystina Kadashevych and Oksana Bondarenko, will perform with the company on their US tour. The company’s principal dancer is Vsevolod Maevskiy, a former soloist of the Mariinsky Ballet.
“This is the main ballet of Ukraine and these talented young dancers have not been able to go home since the war started. They are dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of their countrymen,” Polsky says. “Classical ballet, modern pieces, Ukranian folk dances, and newly choreographed pieces will showcase their extraordinary talent.”
For more information about the Kyiv City Ballet performance on September 24 and 25, go to auditoriumtheatre.org or call 312-341-2300.