How Hollywood Is Still Helping Ukraine

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In late February, when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Hollywood was quick to respond in helping the embattled country. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher launched a GoFundMe for humanitarian aid efforts that raised $30 million in two weeks, including $3 million of their own contribution; Hayden Panettiere established Hoplon International to raise critical funding for medical supplies and protective gear for those on the front lines; Bethenny Frankel’s BStrong raised nearly $20 million by the end of March; and Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds matched up to $1 million in donations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Cut to four months later, and the war is still raging in Ukraine, though the public attention — and therefore the financial support — has faded.

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“They saw the images. They were invested, they were horrified, they’re reading the news: ‘It’s so terrible what’s going on with all the kids,’ but they forgot about it because something terrible is happening elsewhere,” says Frankel, whose organization, in partnership with Global Empowerment Mission, has committed $250 million in aid and supplies. “There were children dying in Ukraine, and now there’s been a horrible tragedy in Texas [where BStrong also has donated to the families in Uvalde]. But we can’t just drop it; it’s real life and it’s real death.”

BStrong provided crisis relief amid Hurricane Maria, the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, and the early days of COVID-19, but Frankel says Ukraine has become the “Super Bowl, Hall of Fame of all relief efforts” when dealing with basic food and water, housing, war zone extractions, relocations and warehouse operations throughout Eastern Europe, as well as pandemic challenges. She has stopped asking for donations, seeing March and April as “the hunt, and now it’s the gather” phase of the aid. “If I did a raise now, it wouldn’t be an effective use of my time; it wouldn’t raise a lot of money because this isn’t what people are thinking about.”

World Central Kitchen’s José Andrés with Schreiber in Poland, where the two served meals together. - Credit: Courtesy of Ari Gold
World Central Kitchen’s José Andrés with Schreiber in Poland, where the two served meals together. - Credit: Courtesy of Ari Gold

Courtesy of Ari Gold

Chef José Andrés also has remained active in relief efforts through his World Central Kitchen, having provided 40 million meals to Ukranian refugees across eight countries as of June. “A plate of food cannot be the thing that solves the war, but it can bring comfort and hope, some light during a long and difficult journey,” says Andrés, whose work is currently documented in Ron Howard’s National Geographic film We Feed People. “To me, feeding is the best form of fighting.” 

And the Entertainment Industry Foundation has partnered with Dr. Irwin Redlener and Karen Redlener for the Ukraine Children’s Action Project to address the needs of more than 150,000 Ukrainian young people displaced in their own country. Michael Keaton and Joan Baez are among those on the UCAP’s advisory committee, as Irwin Redlener promises: “We will stick with this work for as long as it takes. Right now we need everyone’s support.”

Panettiere — whose ex-boyfriend, Ukrainian former pro boxer Wladimir Klitschko, joined the Kyiv Territorial Defense Brigade in February to fight against the Russian invasion — tells THR that, “I established Hoplon International to make a difference for Ukraine, and to provide assurance that donations from those looking to help are going to the right place.  I have been in contact with Wlad regularly and I’m well versed in the great need for medical kits and protective gear for those who are fighting. Hoplon sends 100 percent of its donations to the frontlines. The soldiers are the ones who provide assistance to refugees to evacuate, and we must ensure they remain equipped and protected. This war is far from over, and my foundation will continue to provide aid to those defending Ukraine for as long as it is needed.” Klitschko, who sent a message to THR via Panettiere, adds that “The daily war crime and the murdering of the Ukrainians by the Russian military is not news anymore, because it’s just happening. Heavy weapons are in need as well as isolating of Russia on all the different stages to show to them that the world is against this senseless aggression!”

Meanwhile, outspoken activist Sean Penn and his group CORE have teams in Poland and Romania providing flexible cash assistance, supporting refugee shelters, distributing hygiene kits and supporting wellness and protection services. Ben Stiller also recently traveled to Ukraine for an in-person conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky, and on the corporate level, NBC is hosting a hour-long primetime special on July 3 called Ukraine: Answering the Call, to raise education and funds for the crisis. Jon Batiste, Kristen Bell, Brandi Carlile, Brian Cox, Jeff Daniels, Vera Farmiga, Lena Headey, Alicia Keys, Simu Liu, Julianne Moore, Brad Paisley and Rosie Perez are among those taking part in the televised event.

Liev Schreiber, born in the United States but with familial ties to Ukraine, has taken an active long-term role in the cause as well and in the spring co-launched BlueCheck Ukraine, an initiative channeling critical financial support to Ukrainian aid groups.

BStrong’s family necessity kit, with 434 tons of Goya food products delivered so far. - Credit: Courtesy of Subject
BStrong’s family necessity kit, with 434 tons of Goya food products delivered so far. - Credit: Courtesy of Subject

Courtesy of Subject

“People were calling me because they thought I was Ukrainian because of my movie [2005’s Everything Is Illuminated] and press about my grandfather and just asking how they could help. I didn’t have a good answer, and so that was what set us off to find a good answer,” explains Schreiber, as his organization identifies trusted front-line organizations that need urgent support. As the war has evolved, so have those needs, with BlueCheck now assisting with education and mental health services on top of the medical aid, food and shelter needed at the onset.

“I think of America as a nation of grandchildren, and I happen to be a grandchild of Ukrainian grandparents,” says Schreiber. “I feel like I owe my grandparents — what they went through to give me the life that I have now, the suffering that they went through. If I can do anything — if we can do anything — to ease the suffering of those in Ukraine who are suffering at the hands of a fairly brutal invasion and, in my assessment, unexplained and undeserved, we should do it.”

This story first appeared in the June 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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