Nick Piazza, a Cody resident and owner of SP Capital Management in Ukraine, was sitting in Granny’s with his children when he got a FaceTime call from a Ukrainian friend. His friend was calling from a bomb shelter. Piazza heard sirens and the cacophony of noises that emanate from a war zone.
“You feel like a total heel because here you are sitting in Cody joking about French toast, and you hear people in a bomb shelter,” Piazza said. “You hear the noises, and you understand how awful it is.”
With a business in Ukraine, Piazza used to spend most of his time in the country, but that was before Covid and before Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
When the war started, it was hard for Piazza to wrap his mind around it.
“Some days I wake up ... and for a few seconds I think, this isn’t really happening is it?” Piazza said. “It’s really hard to internalize.”
Piazza spoke of his Ukrainian employees who had to stay in bomb shelters, sleep in cars and wait in lines for days just to cross the border. Some wrote their children’s names on their bodies so that if the family got separated, the children could be identified.
“It was a lot of horrible stuff that you’d never really want to imagine you’d have to deal with in your life,” Piazza said.
As Piazza watched tanks pour over the Ukrainian border on CNN, he felt helpless.
“It was really tough for us to continue in normal life,” he said. “It wasn’t affecting people’s everyday lives here [in Cody] ... but most of our life was there.”
This feeling of helplessness did not last long as Piazza and his wife, Yulia, stepped up to help the Ukrainian people.
“I lived in Kyiv more than I have lived anywhere else in the world, and all those people are important to me,” Piazza said. “I was brought up in Cody [and] when someone is in trouble, you help them out.”
In the beginning, the Ukrainian people needed everything, and that’s what Piazza and his family provided.
They sent food, water, fuel generators, guns and body armor to friends, family and employees in Ukraine.
Piazza then helped the Ukrainian army directly, providing them with protective gear, helmets, vehicles, weapons and ammunition.
He has since focused on the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force, providing them with night-vision goggles, guns, ammunition, vehicles and tourniquets.
While Piazza focuses on the army, Yulia works with Ukrainian hospitals to provide medical supplies.
“We have a lot of friends [and] acquaintances who were guys that worked in banks [and] worked in offices, and they decided to go defend their country,” Piazza said. “They’ve reached out and said we really need this, we really need that, and that’s where we found we can be the most effective.”
Piazza has even sponsored 15 to 20 fighters from the U.S. and sent them to Poland and Ukraine to help fight Russia. The sponsorship paid for the fighters’ hotels, flight and gear.
“They’re all guys with military experience, and they work together with the Ukrainian special forces,” Piazza said.
Most recently, Piazza worked through a U.S. State Department program called Uniting for Ukraine to bring two Ukrainian families to Cody.
One of the families had their building shelled, while the other was living in a parking garage and was forced to leave her husband behind because men aren’t allowed to leave the country.
“They had this one life and there were a bunch of normal things that went on every year, and now everything’s just blasted to hell, and people are having to put the pieces back together,” Piazza said. “We just wanted to be like any reasonable friend or family member and say, ‘Hey, we’re here to support you.’”
Under the program, a U.S. citizen sponsors a Ukrainian refugee, helping them find lodging, jobs and acclimatize.
Piazza is willing to help anyone in Park County sponsor a Ukrainian family.
“Twenty years from now, your kids are going to ask you, ‘When this happened, what did you do?’” Piazza said. “For me, it’s important that I can say I did as much as I could.”
As the war enters its fifth month, Piazza places all his bets on the Ukrainian people.
“It takes a lot to faze them,” Piazza said. “That’s why you had farmers hooking up tanks to their tractors ... and farmers plowing their fields as shells were going off.”
“They just keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Piazza added. “They’re just not the guys that roll over and play dead.”
Piazza is proud of what his family has been able to do in Ukraine.
“We know for a fact that we’ve saved lives,” Piazza said.
And, he plans to continue helping Ukraine no matter what.
“My family and I approach everything the same way, whether it’s Cody or Ukraine – a friend is a friend,” Piazza said. “If the shoe was on the other foot and this was the kind of support Cody needed, we’d be doing the same endeavor.”
For more information on sponsoring a Ukrainian refugee, visit www.uscis.gov/ukraine.