Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: In Baltimore, raising funds for her Ukrainian homeland’s fight against Russia | COMMENTARY

Shane Gerken, co-owner of Barcocina in Fells Point, with his wife, Marta Lopushanska, at Wednesday evening's fundraiser for Ukraine.

Born in 1903, Volodymyr Lopushanskiy was a writer, newspaper editor and military historian who grew up during Ukraine’s many struggles for independence, from the time of the last czar through two world wars and the repressive Soviet era. He told “stories of liberation” in books. He wrote plays. He ran a bookstore. In 1952, Lopushanskiy was arrested for allegedly anti-Soviet activities and sentenced to 10 years in a gulag.

“I come from a family that has deep roots in Ukrainian nationalistic history,” says Marta Lopushanska, his 42-year-old granddaughter in Baltimore. “My grandfather was a writer who was sent to Siberia for writing essentially a memoir. He got back to Lviv completely a changed man and never spoke to anyone about what happened to him when he was in prison.”


Volodymyr Lopushanskiy died in 1987, a couple of years before the collapse of the Soviet Union that had imprisoned him.

Ukraine declared its independence in 1991, and now finds itself in another existential struggle, its army and citizenry fighting off an unprovoked and horrible Russian invasion that has devastated cities, displaced families and left hundreds of civilians dead. Lopushanska watches with shock and horror as Russia terrorizes her homeland and the country of her relatives and friends. “This is not a military to military war,” she says. “This is just a civilian massacre.”


So, more than 4,600 miles away from her hometown of Lviv, she honors the spirit of her grandfather and her proudly Ukrainian family by raising money for the battle with Russia.

She started a “United for Ukraine Baltimore” Facebook group, collected more than $33,000 (so far) through online donations and at least another $10,000 from a fundraiser Wednesday night at a Fells Point bar and restaurant co-owned by her husband, Shane Gerken.

“This is not just Ukraine’s war,” she says. “We have to unite. I’m sure everyone realizes by now that, on the grand scale of things, it’s a war for democracy.”

Marta Lopushanska was born in Lviv in 1979. Her parents were doctors — her father a pediatrician, her mother an endocrinologist. Marta grew up in the last decade of the Soviet era with a clear understanding that she was Ukrainian, not Russian. “We have our own identity, our own language,” she says. “We have our own traditions, our own church. Our culture is so rich.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Ukraine suddenly an independent state, life became a hard struggle for her family and for everyone she knew.

“Everything my parents and grandparents had worked for disappeared due to inflation,” she says. “We went from being a middle class family to living paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes my parents were paid with barter — a pair of boots or a sack of grain. We all experienced hunger on a daily basis. In winter, my boots were too small for us. We walked with holes in them because my parents were too poor to buy me a pair of boots that would be sufficient, and the winters were very hard.

“My grandfather took it to heart. He had strokes and became very weak. He could not take the fact that all the money he had in the bank, his life savings, all of a sudden was worth nothing.”

Her father took a job as an emergency room physician, her mother taught continuing education classes for nurses.


On top of the hardships of daily life, there was, Lopushanska says, an ever-present fear. “Being Ukrainian, living in an independent Ukraine, there was always a fear of Russian invasion, always,” she says. “It was a fear so deep down we didn’t want to believe it would come to fruition.”

Lopushanska was in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005 and again during the bloody Revolution of Dignity in 2014 as Ukrainians fought against corruption in their government and against the nation’s ties to Moscow. But then came Russia’s annexation of Crimea and now, eight years later, its indiscriminate bombing of cities in an attempt to reclaim all of Ukraine. The United States says war crimes have been committed, but, indeed, the war itself is a crime.

“You feel so disheartened that this happened in the 21st Century,” Lopushanska says.

With only $80, she left Ukraine in 1999 to become a student at the Maryland Bible College and Seminary in Baltimore. She taught English as a second language at community colleges before becoming, by 2005, a real estate agent. She now works in Canton for Berkshire Hathaway.

Gerken, Lopushanska’s husband, runs Barcocina on the waterfront in Fells Point, site of United For Ukraine’s $50-per-person fundraiser. All food and drinks were donated. Lopushanska says all proceeds, including a donation from Pimlico Capital, a Pikesville-based real estate lender, will go directly to small volunteer groups serving two causes in Ukraine — food, clothing and transportation for people (mostly women and children) displaced by the war and supplies for front line troops and militia.

Lopushanska made the connections, she said, through friends and relatives in Lviv. She’s already made some donations — $4,000 toward a van for Ukraine troops — and received videos and photos of men in uniform expressing thanks for her help with the fight against Russia.


She’s already planning other fundraising endeavors.

“The military guys are all fathers and brothers and husbands,” she says. “These guys are willing to give up their lives to protect everyone. We have to do everything to help them.”