The playground slide travelled more than 4,000 miles from Ukraine to Nantucket. While it will never again bring joy to children as it once did, it will now serve as a poignant reminder of the war in Ukraine and, perhaps, as an inspiration to individuals and groups here in the U.S. to help the Ukrainian people whose lives have been turned upside down by the ongoing conflict.
From a distance, the slide looks like any other you might find on a children’s playground. But upon closer inspection, the scars of war are clearly evident. It is riddled with holes from the shrapnel of Russian bombs that decimated a neighborhood in Irpin, a Ukrainian city located northwest of the capital Kyiv.
With the blessing of a local church and local Irpin officials, the slide was disassembled and brought to Nantucket thanks to an international group of people assembled by island resident Chris Yates.
The slide, Yates said, will serve as “a symbol of the atrocities, to bring awareness and awaken the world as much as we can what is happening to innocent civilians, their families and their children. We have to act.”
The slide has since made appearances at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum, on Main Street, and this week it was in Washington D.C. at the Ukraine Action Summit. Yates and the Nantucket Cares group arranged for the slide to travel with them to Capitol Hill for the summit, where they joined others in lobbying Congress for more funding for Ukraine, and to have Russia declared as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The group is calling the slide “the first historically significant cultural wartime artifact from Ukraine.”
Since its initial visit to Poland in April to aid Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, the Nantucket Cares group has continued its aid mission. But after listening to the refugees they encountered in Poland, Yates and the other members of Nantucket Cares were determined to do more. They wanted to bring aid directly into Ukraine, where larger aid groups were still struggling to deliver the items that were most needed by the people desperately fighting back against the Russians, or those simply trying to survive.
Building on the connections he had made in Warsaw with Nantucket Cares, Yates hatched a plan to launch humanitarian aid centers in Ukraine, working with contacts on the ground in the warzone.
“I enlisted retired defense contractors and prior military subject matter experts specializing in reconnaissance and front line supply chain logistics to form a warehouse and humanitarian aid supply chain to all regions of Ukraine, but first and foremost, to the most heavily engaged areas,” Yates said. “We met and formed partnerships with Alex (Korbut), a man serving as Ukrainian liaison with the front line and hardest hit areas in need. We started moving 18 tons of medical supplies we had procured with the help of ‘JT’ our logistics specialist retired recon specialist into those areas to start.”
From there, the group went to the Ukrainian cities of Irpin and Bucha, discovering that residents were in dire need of food, water, and everyday necessities. Korbut and other volunteers on the ground helped Nantucket Cares get connected with the Irpin Bible Church and the local city government.
Yates connections on the ground were recording videos of the devastation they found in Irpin - where hundreds of people had died amid the Russian incursion - when they came across a neighborhood that had been bombed. A series of buildings, now abandoned, surrounded a playground where the slide was located.
“I thought, how is the world standing by and allowing these atrocities to take place? I saw that slide and thought it was a symbol that could bring that point across,” Yates said. “I made it my mission to get that equipment and bring it back out of there.”
With the help of Alex Korut, along with the son of the pastor of the Irpin Bible Church , as well as local Irpin officials and a man named Victor, a former resident of the neighborhood, the process of removing the slide began in coordination with Yates and the Nantucket Cares team back in the U.S. The charitable fund Oberig-26 was also instrumental in organizing the trucks and drivers that would be necessary to move the slide.
“Some residents were not happy we were removing this war crime evidence, and some were very grateful and hoped our idea would in fact prove to help them,” Yates said. “As one might imagine, they were apprehensive about trusting us after what happened to them.”
Island resident Galia Koteva served as the logistics coordinator for the effort to bring the slide to the U.S.
Yates said Koteva sent and field roughly 200 emails with Korut, as well as border crossing agents, and an international aid coordinator to get the slide to Poland, then eventually to Boston and finally Nantucket.
Following its first public appearance at the Nantucket Cares event at the Whaling Museum last month, Yates and the group brought it with them to the Ukraine Action Summit in Washington D.C. from Sept. 18. They met with lawmakers including Senator Cory Booker, Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating and New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, while showing the slide in the courtyard of the Rayburn House Office Building, a congressional office building for the U.S. House of Representatives on Capitol Hill.
The trip to D.C. was spearheaded by Nantucket Cares member Jacquie Colgan, who was joined by Yates, Koteva, Kit Noble, and Johnathan and Kasia Rodriguez.
The group is calling the slide “the first historically significant cultural wartime artifact from Ukraine.” Yates said that during the D.C. visit, the U.S. Inspector General’s Office representative for war crimes investigations was interested in the slide and ensuring it is permanently preserved, and available for a potential investigation.
Small grassroots humanitarian groups like ours and individuals networking together are definitely changing the war,” Yates said. “We have been able to get aid to hard hit areas with effectiveness, speed and accuracy.”