by David Kelley
GREENSBORO – For several years, I worked in the former Soviet republics where I learned a profound respect for the Ukrainian people. In recent years, I have been even more awed by the Ukrainian peoples’ heroic determination to build a free and democratic country in the shadow of Russia’s oligarchic tyranny. Not since Hitler’s invasion of Poland has a war been fought with greater moral clarity than Ukraine’s fight against Putin’s unprovoked, barbaric invasion. Many of us have been outraged by Putin’s butchery, but despite our outrage, few of us have been able to do much of anything to make a difference.
That is not true of Scott and Theresa Cianciolo and all of the friends and neighbors they marshalled to aid, support and help heal some of the many victims of Putin’s war. While the heroism of the Ukrainian people has been remarkable, the public record should show that there are some unsung heroes here in Vermont, as well.
Over the last year and a half, it has been my good fortune to get to know Scott and Theresa and the work they have done. Scott and Theresa’s Ukrainian journey began in 2014, in the midst of the Maidan Revolution when they adopted two twin boys, Sammy and Alex, with Down syndrome and autism, from an orphanage in Ukraine. The path led to work with more Down syndrome children in Ukraine, their parents, Ukrainian universities, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Education.
When Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine they were determined to help as many Ukrainian people as possible. They took $80,000 in equity out of their home. At their own expense, they went immediately to meet Ukrainians at the Mexican border. There they were able to help at least one Ukrainian girl get to Seattle for urgent heart surgery. When entrance through Mexico was stopped, Scott and Theresa worked with Senator Leahy’s office to help bring other displaced Ukrainians to the U.S. and when the Biden Administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program went into effect, Theresa and Scott worked tirelessly to create a safe haven, Mercy House, to help dozens of displaced Ukrainians to get back on their feet.
Within three days of arrival, every Ukrainian received Medicaid cards, EBT cards, Reach Up, and COVID housing assistance. Every child and adult with special needs received medical attention within 24 hours. One was at Dartmouth Hitchcock for seven days. Within two weeks, every Ukrainian was helped to sign up to see a dentist. In one of countless acts of incredible generosity, dentists opened their offices on Saturdays to provide care, free of charge.
A licensed RN met every displaced Ukrainian that arrived at Mercy House the day of arrival. They were given a baseline exam and two of those children who arrived went to the hospital immediately. One of those children died in two months. She was ten years old and she weighed 29 pounds.
Along with medical and dental needs, children’s educational needs were looked to immediately. Ukrainian parents were provided several options: public school, school at Mercy House with eight retired teachers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, Hope Academy, or home schooling. Northeast Kingdom Learning Services had two certified ELS teachers come in four times a week to help adults learn English.
There have been countless acts of generosity and kindness—from individuals, churches, local businesses, doctors, dentists, painters, electricians, and plumbers. I know that even artists and musicians rolled up their sleeves to lend a hand because the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro brought together artists not only from Vermont, but through the magic of the internet, from Ukraine, as well. In fact, the Ukrainian choir that helped was recorded and you can hear their wonderful holiday concert on the Highland Center for the Arts YouTube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=yG9J-znSOv0&t=163s.
Vermonters can be cantankerous, but we have a tradition of working together, especially in a time of need. The Ukrainian peoples’ fight for freedom and independence has made them our kindred spirits. Their fight is our fight and it is not over. So thank you to Scott and Theresa and all of the others who have stood with Ukraine. Hopefully, Vermonters will continue to do so until the Ukrainian people prevail.