Exchange Bank trust officer and Ukrainian native Andriy Lesyshyn is described by those who love and support him as not the kind of man who stands back in retreat.
So when faced with his sovereign homeland being bombed and threatened, the eight-year Sonoma County banker, who works in the Santa Rosa-based bank’s trust and investment management division, didn’t just rely on trusting things were simply going to work out. He answered the call to come to the aid of his compatriots.
Going on a leave of absence March 14 until April, Lesyshyn, 42, met up with his brother, Vasyl Lesyshyn, in Warsaw, Poland, to work in a humanitarian aid hub set up by Ukrainian businesses about 50 miles from Ukraine’s western border. The sibling duo receives aid trucks from all over Europe and ship the packages into Ukraine.
On March 19, the “Help Ukraine Center” effort arranged through assistance from the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and the Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine accepted aid from 16 trucks and dispatched 19 trailer loads amounting to 150 tons of food and other supplies to the war-torn country. His muscles are sore, but at least he packed anti-inflammatories.
“I’ve walked more than I normally do throughout the day,” he said in a series of texts and emails.
While in Poland, Lesyshyn is also finding varying ways to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Poland by connecting them with humanitarian networks and donations.
His motivation to leave the comfort of his Sonoma County home in Cloverdale that he shares with his wife, Karen Lovato, was simple on a few fronts.
“(With) the injustice of unprovoked violence directed at the Ukrainian people by dictator Putin; the courage of ordinary Ukrainians and armed forces who have stood up to it; the thought of hundreds of thousands of innocent people having to leave home under horrible conditions, remaining on the sidelines was not an option for me,” Lesyshyn said.
Plus, there’s the power of family. Lesyshyn still has family members in the country. He grew up in Drohobych in north central Ukraine. His niece living in Kyiv evacuated out of eastern Ukraine when the war started Feb. 24. His cousin’s family safely crossed the border into Poland in the first week of the war, then onto Denmark.
But his loved ones, including his boss, John Mackey, fear Lesyshyn will become involved in more drastic measures, such as engaging in combat.
“So far I feel absolutely safe in Poland. Yes, I am closer to the war than before, but in comparison to Ukrainian cities, this is nothing,” he said, stopping short from saying he wouldn’t join the military effort. “I told my wife that I wouldn’t do it without advance notice.”
He and Mackey, the bank’s senior vice president and managing director, shared a candid conversation about Lesyshyn’s safety during the conflict that worsens by the day and the hours.
“John knew that I had to do something, so my decision to go to Poland didn’t surprise him,” Lesyshyn said.
That’s Mackey’s assessment, too.
“When he first told me of his plans, I said: I’ve been expecting you. Understanding the character he has, there was no way with his family in harm’s way that he was going to stand by and let someone else handle this,” Mackey said. “And I’m hugely relieved he’s found a way to meet this need to make a contribution where his life is not in jeopardy.”
But with the passing days of the crisis escalating, doubts creep in.
“The truth is, I’m scared to death for him,” Mackey said.
There’s also long-term uncertainty about the future of the Ukrainian economy.
“(The Russians) have wrecked the country in the east and the south. But (they) have the ability to recover. It will take allocations of investment dollars that will allow them to recover,” Mackey said.
Lesyshyn agreed, noting the damage inflicted on the Ukrainian infrastructure as to the magnitude to set the country back. He estimated it would take years to recover from the devastation, including sectors related to the seaports, airports and agricultural hubs established in mainly eastern Ukraine.
For now, recovery will require people chipping in when they can and support from others.
To that, Exchange Bank President Troy Sanderson sent an employee bulletin filled with “prayers and support” for Lesyshyn.
“Andriy’s message to us is simple and strong: ‘Continue to root for the Ukrainian people, who have shown their mettle to Putin and to the world,’” Sanderson wrote.