JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The distance between Buchanan County, Va. and central Ukraine is smaller than one might think — and it’s being bridged to Ukrainians’ benefit by a new non-profit centered in local coal country.

United Coal Co., headquartered in Johnson City and with mines in Southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, is owned by Metinvest, Ukraine’s dominant coal company.

With a massive logistical infrastructure in the war-torn country and lots of warehouse space, Metinvest quickly took action to respond to humanitarian and medical needs following Russia’s invasion in late February.

Within weeks, United established its own domestic 501(c)3 non-profit in the U.S. (unitedcoalfoundation.org) and began soliciting donations from people interested in a direct way to help the war-torn country.

“There’s four key main activities of the (Metinvest) foundation over there provides that we’re associated with,” United CEO John Schroder said from his office in Beckley, W. Va.

Workers pack aid for Ukrainians impacted by the war in one of Metinvest’s massive facilities in Ukraine. (United Coal Foundation)

Those include humanitarian aid kits, primarily in the form of food packages for adults, children, retirees and disabled people. They’re purchased and then assembled by people who work for Metinvest, some of whom have been idled from their regular jobs due to impacts of the war.

Other activities in the giant warehouses and other logistical centers include intake and distribution of medicines for Ukrainian hospitals, which are severely strained by the increased number of wounded people, and medical equipment for those same hospitals.

“Even in eastern Ukraine, which is under heavy fire right now,” Schroder said. “They receive a large influx of victims.”

Finally, the foundation is also providing rehabilitation centers to aid the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who are trying to recover both physically and psychologically.

Schroder said people from the Ukrainian-based portion of the company have built an infrastructure to aid civilians since 2014, following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the beginning of a protracted war in eastern Ukraine.

“They’ve got experience in this, they’re experts in the logistics part of getting things distributed throughout the country and being able to handle large-scale stuff,” Schroder said.

“Working with steel products, iron ore, all their main workflows over there, they can also kind of let this flow into moving humanitarian aid stuff as well.”

On the local front, donations to the United Coal Foundation are tax-deductible. Schroder said the foundation is targeting its vendors and business partners, but he believes it’s an excellent way for individuals to help Ukraine with smaller-dollar donations.

“We’ve had a lot of support from our employees; they’ve pitched right in and donated.”

Schroder said the leverage that Metinvest’s buildings, infrastructure and workers are bringing to the effort makes donations an effective way to be sure people’s money is directly helping Ukrainians impacted by the war. He also hopes the effort will help keep people from completely losing focus as the war, now nearing the six-month mark, drags on.

“It’s no longer the top headline, but there is still a lot that we need to do to help those great people over there,” he said. “That’s our concern is just making sure we’re continuing to get the word out there, continuing to help.”

In addition to the website, the foundation can be reached by calling (423) 279-6915 or emailing info@unitedcoalfoundation.org.