Olena Kozlova-Pates ‘97 is a long way from her home geographically, but her thoughts are never far from Ukraine. Her country has been wracked with war since the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. In the intervening years, more than 10,000 of her fellow Ukrainians have been killed in the conflict that rages in Southern and Eastern Ukraine. Two million Ukrainians have become internally displaced refugees, fleeing the areas where the fighting is fiercest.
Kozlova-Pates, who now lives in North Carolina, was shocked by the violence in her homeland--and dismayed by the lack of response from the rest of the world. “In the middle of Europe, in Europe's largest country, there is this war that is happening right now with so many casualties and so many refugees, and you don't see very much about it in the American or European media,” she said.

PictureJohn Lohnes of Duke University Remedy Program and Voice of America journalists in front of Kozlova-Pates' van filled with medical supplies for Ukraine.
​The problems were vast. The needs were great. And she was 5,000 miles away. What could she possibly do to help?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Kozlova-Pates, who has a background in international policy and development, began working with U.S. hospitals to collect discontinued medical supplies to send to war torn regions of Ukraine. Bandages, intubation tubes, suture material, wound clips, and more, have a designated shelf-life after which they must be tossed out, even if they are still usable. “U.S. hospitals can’t use these supplies for insurance reasons, but they are in great condition and are useful,” she said.
In the last few years, Kozlova-Pates has funneled millions of dollars worth of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the areas of Ukraine that need it most. She and colleagues have also started a Wounded Warrior project that provides rehabilitation resources for those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Over 100,000 men and women have served in the military in the war zone in this conflict. Many have experienced terrible things. When they return home, they will bring it with them,” she said. “We don't want them to turn this experience into drug addiction or destroying their families or suicide. We want to provide services for them to work together with other veterans to teach and support each other.” She has known a number of Ukrainian volunteers, veterans, and refugees who have committed suicide because of the trauma of this conflict. “It is a problem associated with war. This education is an incredible way to make a difference,” she said. “It has been a very rewarding experience for me personally, to be a part of this.”

PictureUkrainian soldier Vasyl Stuzhenko lost three limbs in battle then endured numerous surgeries to remove shrapnel from his body. Kozlova-Pates and others have helped his family financially.
It’s hard to know how much impact her work has had. However, she hears from people in Ukraine constantly that her efforts have not been in vain. “We have been told that we have saved lives,” she said. “We have provided a livelihood for people who have lost their homes. We've helped orphans and widows. We've been thanked by parents of those wounded soldiers who have lost limbs….we’ve made connections that have been life changing.”

“Every day on Facebook, I see the faces of these beautiful young men who have been killed. On a daily basis. Then I get an email from the mom of one of the soldiers that we have helped, saying ‘the money that you have sent or the prosthetic assistance program you have helped with has changed my son’s life. He can walk again. He’s a different person.’”
It’s those kinds of emails that keep her going.
Her stateside work also involves advocacy and raising awareness for the plight of her people. Kozlova-Pates is in touch with the media and her local government officials regularly. She plans and participates in cultural festivals and parades to represent Ukraine. Social media has been a valuable resource as she networks with other concerned people all over the world who want to help with the crisis in Ukraine.
Kozlova-Pates says her prayer is that at the end of all of this political strife, her country will finally be free of the oppression and corruption that stem from its dark Soviet past. Sometimes it is hard not to be discouraged. However, she is heartened by the network of support that has grown out of this tragedy, including her family, church, and local and online communities. “It's a terrible circumstance that I'm working under, but I have been given this opportunity to make a difference. So many families have lost loved ones, both military and civilians, including many children. Every little bit of assistance helps...There's so many people who support us and so many wonderful organizations that provide us with supplies. I've been fortunate to be able to connect all of these things together. But it's not just me--there is a group of us and we are doing this together.” 

Her own personal history was impacted by seismic political shifts in Ukraine, as the country became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. It was at that time that missionaries were able to come into the country. She became a translator for Marvin Bryant, a preacher from Alabama, whose brother John was on the Board of Trustees for York College for many years. Marvin introduced her to the Gospel and eventually helped her to attend college. At YC she studied history and English, and organized two Master’s Apprentice Program trips to her homeland. “It was an amazing blessing to be connected to the Bryant family,” she said. “They have become my American family. They have adopted me into their family.”
After leaving YC, she attended the Pepperdine School of Public Policy to earn a master’s degree. It was there that she met and married Jason Pates, a fellow graduate student. She went on to work for an non-profit in Washington D.C. that promotes democratic principles around the world. Later she moved to a similar non-profit whose mission included medical research and assistance for developing countries. Jason is a project manager for Cisco Systems and is a support and encourager for his wife’s international efforts. “He is my rock,” she said. The couple has two children, Jennifer (13) and Christian (8).

Kozlova-Pates current humanitarian work is the culmination of her various jobs, experience, and training. “It's completely volunteer work but it's much more work than I've ever done in any other position,” she said. “The assistance we can give is limited and small, but nevertheless, it is help.”