Fields Corner native Julio Salado earlier this month spent a week in Lviv, a war-damaged city in western Ukraine, working alongside other volunteers inside a kitchen preparing meals for Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the frontlines against Russian invaders.
A personal trainer, health equity advocate, and founder of Fitness Foundry in Malden, where he now lives, Salado made a similar volunteer trip to Poland last year, an experience that motivated him to reach out via Twitter to Lviv Volunteer Kitchen, where he connected with a British-Ukrainian volunteer through Facebook.
Salado has used his career to give back to the community that, he says, helped him out of a dark period when, as a young adult, he experienced homelessness and clinical depression.
“I knew that I liked the humanity that people have and that people were good,” Salado said in an interview. “Ever since, I’ve always tried to pay it forward, and be part of the community.”
With a fitness and medical background – Salado is a certified emergency medical technician (EMT) – he said he saw the volunteer opportunities as a way to pay it forward beyond his Boston community.
“The catalyst for me was that I have the health and I have something within me,” he said. “I just had something that said: ‘I can go there.’”
That’s how he found his way to Ukraine. “There is no, ‘Take this train and here’s some money,’” Salado said. “It’s like ‘When, if, you get to Lviv, direct message me and I will tell you where it is and what you have to do.’”
After an 11-hour flight to Warsaw, Poland, and another 11 hours on the ground, Salado arrived in Lviv. An early riser, he woke up on his second day ready to work but not before getting a coffee at a McDonald’s. “There is no Dunkin Donuts and I have a reputation of always having an iced coffee,” he said.
By 8 a.m., he was at Lviv Volunteer Kitchen looking over the vegetables he’d be dealing with: potatoes, carrots, and beets. “They have a system,” Salado said. “We peel them, and then they process them. We clean them by hand, then shred them, dehydrate them, then make them as ready-made meals.”
After returning to Boston last Friday, he talked about meeting a wide range of people, working not only with young adults but also with a large group of volunteers aged 60 to 80.
“I felt like I was like part of a family,” he said. “The first person I met ended up giving me a handmade keychain.”
He also mentioned the boarded-up windows and sandbag-covered streets of Lviv that he walked by en route to and from the kitchen every day. “It dawned on me that they were in case of bombing,” he said. “It’s all a reminder that it’s a country at war.”
Salado documented his trip on social media to provide information about the war and spark interest in future volunteers. “I hope from me going there physically and doing the journaling,” he said, “it’s going to provide continuous support not just to Lviv Volunteer Kitchen, but to other organizations that are providing relief efforts.”
“I know it’s hard to think about, but it’s a genocide, it’s a real war,” he said. “If [people] are reading and sharing that information, they’re part of the common good and that’s one way to counter the misinformation that’s out there.”
In the face of the grim reality that he witnessed, Salado said that it was the people he met who made clear to him why he went. “The Ukrainian people are resilient, we know that,” he said. “But don’t confuse resilience with not needing help. They are resilient because they have no option.”
For more information about supporting Lviv Volunteer Kitchen, visit @frontlinekit on Twitter or search their Facebook group. To learn more about Salado’s trip to Lviv, visit www.fitnessfoundry.net or follow @fitnessfoundry on Twitter.