For some Ann Arborites, the war in Ukraine means a few minutes of footage on the nightly news, a blue-and-yellow cityscape, or concerns about rising gas prices. For McDonald and her husband, Marc Hewko, a first-generation Ukrainian-American, it is immediate, personal, and terrifying. 

Hewko was raised in the Ukrainian enclave centered in Warren, and he and his family there had no news from family members in Ukraine for the first two weeks after the Russians invaded in February. They finally learned that some of the women had reached safety across the Polish border. The men, he was told, had moved into the mountains of western Ukraine to establish refugee camps. “Marc has talked about flying into Poland to help—and he’s not the only American who is considering that move,” McDonald says.

Marc Hewko’s parents escaped Ukraine after WWII and lived the American dream, yet he didn’t learn English till he started school—they spoke Ukrainian at home. Now he and McDonald are collecting aid for the beleaguered country. Photo by Mark Bialek

During World War II, Hewko’s parents, then teenagers, fled the returning Russian forces. They managed to reach Western lines and after four years in “displaced persons camps,” made it to America in 1949. 

They met in Michigan’s Ukrainian community in the early 1950s and “were able to live the American Dream,” Hewko says. His father became an engineer for General Motors; his mother taught elementary school in Clarkston for
thirty-five years. His father introduced Rotary International to Ukraine and worked as chief engineer for the construction of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warren, while his mother headed the Ukrainian National Women’s League. 

“My parents were strong patriots,” Hewko says. “They constantly worked to help Ukraine in its infancy as a separate nation. They were always arranging for shipments of medical supplies and even mammogram machines.” They passed their commitment, as well as their national traditions, on to their children.

“My brother, sister, and I were raised speaking Ukrainian at home,” Hewko says. “I didn’t learn English until I went to school. Every Saturday I attended Ukrainian School, and I belonged to the Ukrainian Plast—Boy Scouts. In the summers, I went to Ukrainian camp … We learned the history of Ukraine and our family stories.” 

Hewko followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an engineer. And, like many young people in his community, he participated in pro-Ukraine marches in Detroit and at the Russian Embassy in Washington. His brother John, an international lawyer, was stationed in Moscow when the Soviet Union collapsed. He helped write the Ukrainian constitution and was present at its signing.

After the Iron Curtain fell, Marc traveled to Moscow, Kyiv, and the villages where his parents and generations before them had been raised, and he found the cemeteries where his great-grandparents were buried. He met aunts, uncles, and cousins, some of whom later visited the Hewkos in the U.S. “We keep in touch through Messenger,” Hewko says.

The couple are raising their sons, Tim and Andrew, with a strong sense of their heritage. “When they were younger, they attended Ukrainian School on Saturdays and Ukrainian camp [in Brighton] during the summers,” McDonald says. “We sing the Ukrainian national songs, dance the traditional dances, bake and cook the traditional meals during the holidays.”

McDonald owns the TeaHaus on N. Fourth Ave. During Michigan’s first pandemic shutdown two years ago, she kept her staff working, assembling lunches for school children from low-income families and downtown residents who’d lost their jobs. Once schools took over serving bag lunches, they delivered lunches and hot meals to the Food Gatherers Community Kitchen in the Delonis Center. Two years later, the café is still providing between 300 and 500 free meals every week. The cost of the food is covered by the TeaHaus, wait staff tips, and contributions from the community. 

Now McDonald has added Ukraine to her causes. She is baking and selling Ukrainian-themed sweets—blue-and-yellow macarons and cookies—and has rearranged her shop to sell other products sporting the colors of the nation’s flag, honeybees, or sunflowers. (Ukraine produces nineteen percent of the world’s sunflowers, and honeybees are essential for pollinating them.) Local craftspeople and artisans have donated other items for sale there. All proceeds are divided between the Ukrainian National Women’s League and the Ukrainian-American emergency response organization Razom (which means “together” in Ukrainian).

Meanwhile, Hewko is working with the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren and local humanitarian organizations to identify a central collection spot in Washtenaw where donations of everything from diapers to cash can be efficiently funneled to organizations capable of shipping large quantities of assorted goods to Ukraine as swiftly as possible.

“Sending individual packages of medical supplies or baby supplies isn’t as effective as large bulk mailings,” he explains. “The postal services in Ukraine and the NATO countries surrounding Ukraine are overwhelmed, so small packages are often put aside while large shipments are processed. Individual cases of baby formula, for instance, may be expired before those packages can be delivered.”

Next, the couple hopes to establish a foundation, “so we can continue to help in times of crisis,” Hewko says. “We want to make a difference in the world—and right now, in Ukraine. A foundation will mean that contributions to the causes can be tax-deductible.” 

“The world was shocked to see Putin’s preparations for war along the border of Ukraine—but Ukraine wasn’t,” Hewko says. “For the past ten years, Ukraine has been on the right path, the path to democracy. This is a war with Russia that Ukrainians have been fighting for generations.”

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” McDonald adds. “We tried to help during the Orange Revolution in Kyiv thirteen years ago, and we’ll keep at it.”

“We’re in for the long haul,” Hewko echoes. “It’s winter in Ukraine, homes and schools have been bombed, and people are freezing. There’s an urgent need for warm clothing, as well as bandages, tourniquets, medical supplies, food, and hygiene products.”

They’re collecting contributions through the TeaHaus for Ukrainian organizations and the Red Cross. And Hewko says the store will continue to provide “information about how people here in Washtenaw can donate funds and essential items locally, to help the Ukrainians.”