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From a Billboard to Boots on the ground, new efforts strum up support for Ukraine

A nonprofit in San Diego just unveiled a billboard to raise awareness for the war-torn country. American Service in Ukraine is signing up volunteers to go to Ukraine

SAN DIEGO — “I showed up right after the war broke out, and it turned out that the biggest need was on the other side of the border in Ukraine,” said American Service in Ukraine Director Aswar Rahman.

Being boots on the ground literally in Ukraine, native Minnesotan by way of Bangladesh Aswar Rahman says he simply wanted to help the people fighting in Ukraine, so he started a nonprofit called American Service in Ukraine and flew out there in March.

Rahman showed the meals and medical supplies needed in Ukraine and says their first aid kits and food are running low.

“We really do need people, so if somebody out there thinks they can help, this is the time to help,” said Rahman, who recently moved to Los Angeles.

Other than his partner, Rahman had no real Ukrainian connection. He's a business owner who works from home just returned from Ukraine. He is now traveling across the U.S. to get other Americans to join his effort and volunteer their time in the war-torn country for at least one month starting in September.

His group American Service in Ukraine asks each person to pay their own way to get there and then they'd provide a place to stay based on their area of volunteer service.

"We have things like shelters that need support in English classes that need staffing and even things like search and rescue operations that are closer to where the combat is,” Rahman said.

His warning is that they do work close to the front lines and volunteering can be dangerous work.

"Attempts of missile strikes, but thankfully we have not been close to physical danger yet,” Rahman said.

Now on display in the Midway District at Kemper Street, a billboard that reads "Please stand with Ukraine Drive for freedom" is up.

“No matter where you are standing in the office, those eyes are looking up at you and it is penetrating, and it says help me,” said Richard Rovsek, chairman of the Spirit of Liberty Foundation.

Rovsek says Clear channel donated the billboards now up across Southern California in San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County as part of their fundraiser for Ukrainian charities. The group is also selling replica paintings of the billboard’s colorful picture of Volodymyr Zelenskyy for $5,000 each, and two people have purchased a painting so far.

“I had to boyhood friends in the sixth and seventh grade whose parents came from Ukraine. It hit me instantly that we needed to do something. It’s taking us more than two months to put this together. The news doesn’t carry it every day, but the war has increased and it is more difficult today than it was 60 or 90 days ago,” Rovsek said.

Members of the Spirit of Liberty foundation met under the billboard on Midway Drive carrying American and Ukrainian flags. The Mission Heights Chocolates store nearby joined the effort by selling a special dark chocolate bar for the fundraiser.

“I was like well how can I help, I like to and want to help people. It's more like if somebody came into my home and displaced my family I’d hope that somebody would help out my kids,” said Camille McKenna, owner of Mission Heights Chocolates.

WATCH RELATED: San Diego photographer traveling to Ukraine to document life-saving mission (July 2021).


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