The war in Ukraine has garnered global attention as people struggle to comprehend the atrocities Putin is committing and look for ways they can support Ukraine. Many people follow the story closely, but have no ties to those impacted by the ongoing battle. For Jessica Gorsky, an associate at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston and the chair of MSBA’s Young Lawyers Section, the war has been personal.
Gorsky was born and raised in Baltimore but has roots in Ukraine. Her parents emigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 1979; her mother from Odessa, and her father from Kyiv.
Gorsky says her family’s history in Odessa led her to join The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore (the Associated), which has been in a partnership with Odessa for 30 years. After the Soviet Union fell, the Associated set up a Jewish Community Center and synagogues in Odessa, provided elderly services, and engaged in other humanitarian efforts in the community. Gorsky and her husband are on the board of the Associated, and Gorsky now serves as an ambassador of the partnership.
In a recent discussion with the MSBA, Gorsky talked about the experiences of her extended family since Russia attacked Ukraine. Her mother’s cousin, who maintains dual citizenship in the United States and Ukraine, had returned to Odessa at the end of 2021 and is still there. He started a non-profit organization and has been working with contacts in Romania and Poland to funnel resources to the border to help people fleeing the country. People leaving Ukraine are not permitted to take anything, so he helps them get necessities like clothes, food, diapers, and shelter. Gorsky speaks with him daily via WhatsApp to confirm he is okay.
Gorsky has relatives on her father’s side that never left Ukraine, including second cousins who decided to stay in Kyiv when the war began, operating under the assumption that things would blow over. When Putin started bombing Kyiv, the family decided to shelter in place together at Gorsky’s father’s cousin’s home. Two weeks later, Gorsky’s father got a call from his cousin, reporting that their attack had spread to their neighborhood, leveling multiple homes on his street. At that point, they were scared and trying to determine how to get out of the country.
Her second cousin’s husband, who has no military experience, was drafted, as all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 60 were called to serve. Gorsky’s family has had little contact with him, but when they did speak, he reported that they lacked the resources they needed and that many of the men fighting, like him, have no training. He expressed fear that he would die in battle and there would be nothing left in the country for his family.
Several members of Gorsky’s extended family ultimately left Kyiv via bus but could only take backpacks with them. Her father’s cousin traveled as close as he could to the Romanian border but, as a 56-year-old man, he was not permitted to leave Ukraine with his wife and daughters.
Gorsky and her family are trying to help her second cousins come to America, but they do not have passports. While some countries allow people from Ukraine to enter without passports, the United States operates under a discretionary policy, meaning some people without passports will be permitted entry while others will not. While Gorsky’s family members are safe for now, their future is unclear. They are currently in Romania and will need to apply for asylum or face deportation.
Gorsky’s firm has engaged in fundraising efforts to raise money to assist humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. When Gorsky got the email about Whiteford, Taylor & Preston’s initiative, she thanked her managing partner, who asked her to share her story. She did, and since then, attorneys from almost every office have reached out to Gorsky, even though many of them do not know her personally.
Gorsky advised Maryland attorneys who want to help Ukrainian people to contact the Red Cross, UNICEF, the Ukrainian Church of Baltimore, and the Associated. She noted that 100% of the money raised by the Associated goes directly to its efforts in Odessa.
The MSBA asks members with stories and insights similar to Gorsky’s to share them via feedback@msba.