East Lansing man risks his own life traveling to Ukraine to bring medical aid

Posted at 5:50 PM, Mar 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-11 13:23:26-05

LANSING, Mich. — Ody Norkin’s East Lansing office is full of boxes with medical supplies donated from Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.

The boxes are being shipped overseas and will eventually end up in Ukraine. Norkin says he is on a mission to help the citizens of Ukraine, especially those in Odesa.

“Everything you see here from Munson is access. They had an abundance of stuff that they were willing to donate, and I said 'I'll take it all,'” Norkin said.

Norkin was born in Israel and served in the Israeli Army. He grew up knowing his Ukrainian grandparents were massacred in Odesa in 1942 during the Holocaust.

“My mind was on my dad and his siblings. When the Nazis and the Romanian army came across the Danube River and World War II, the Russians evacuated anybody who could work on trains to Siberia to Eastern Russia to work in the work camps. My grandparents were not allowed on because they were rendered too old to work in the camps," he said.

Norkin says his grandparents weren’t seen again.

Last year, when the Ukrainian crisis started, Norkin says he had an overwhelming feeling that he had to help.

As co-owner of the Michigan Flyer, he knows all about transportation. He thought he could use that knowledge to help.

Through his Jewish contacts, he was connected to a Rabbi in Odesa, who suggested they needed ambulances.

So Norkin used $10,000 of his own money, bought a plane ticket to Romania and, once there, went looking for an ambulance to drive to Odesa.

Then, he met a man named Marco.

“Marco is a diplomat by profession. He represents a Jewish agency in Romania. He is officially the president of the Zion Association of Romania and knows everybody," Norkin said. "He has all the connections. He says, ‘I’m too busy now, but come with me and bring generators and supplies to Chernivtsi, Ukraine. When we get back, we'll look for an ambulance because I've never bought an ambulance.’ So, the first trip I took just supplies."

Marco says he was flabbergasted when Norkin contacted him.

“When Ody landed in Romania, he first called me and said, ‘I'm this and this and this and this.’ And he made sure to say that he has a common background with mine. I had a split-second second that I said, ‘who the heck is this crazy man coming from the United States to Romania to do what? Buy and deliver ambulances?’ It was at the beginning of the war. But for some reason, I said, ‘well, I'm going to meet him,'" he said.

Norkin’s partnership with Marco proved successful. With the help of donations, Norkin bought four ambulances, lots of medical equipment and other necessities. Marco helped Norkin deliver the supplies to different cities in Ukraine.

Back home, many people have stepped up to help, including Matthew Gillet, one of the owners of Saddleback BBQ, who helped start a GoFundMe account.

“We raised just shy of $7,000, and it's meant to go to the ambulances there in Ukraine," Gillet said. "It’s just wild. It's the story itself, and it’s inspiring knowing that you can make such an impact in a global scene from just here in Lansing is amazing.”

Raj Wiener with the Williamston Rotary also got involved with other club members.

“It's a very inspiring story about what one dedicated human can do. We can’t all do what he's doing, but we can help him. That’s how I got involved. This humanitarian aid is what's needed. We took it to our rotary clubs, which jumped right in because that is what they do. We connected with Rotary Clubs in Ukraine. We found out their needs," Wiener said. "You know, they're being shelled. Civilians are being shelled. Firemen enter dark buildings without equipment and flashlights to pull out people without bladders. So, we reached out to all our fire departments and asked them if they had flashlights. Do they have boots? Do they have helmets? Can we send them?”

Gillet says Norkin is a hero.

“You want to talk about somebody putting his interests aside and doing what's best for what he believes in? I think defines this mission. If I had to leave my family, work and community to go overseas to a war zone to do a deed of this nature, that’s just incredible. And to know somebody like that is very fortunate for people close to me,” Gillet said.

We agree! And also want to thank all those who have helped Norkin along the way. Ody Norkin, congratulations, you are this week’s Good Neighbor.

If you would like to know more about Ody's mission or to help out visit https://www.jewishfederationlansing.org/

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