When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, CU Denver International Studies Alum Felita Gosau Reed, along with her Ukrainian husband and Ukrainian friend, launched a grassroots effort to collect and deliver needed medical supplies and transport and relocate refugees. Here, CU Denver News shares more about Reed’s journey, including how her time at CU Denver helped focus her dreams of making a difference in the world.
As a child, CU Denver Alum Felita Gosau Reed, a native Hawaiian who grew up on the North Shore of Oahu in a family that worked in tourism, dreamed of one day traveling the world. “I would make friends with hotel guests from all over,” Gosau Reed recalls. “I grew up in a place people always wanted to visit while always wanting to visit other places.”
Gosau Reed started at CU Denver in January 2017, after working in the Army for several years as an Arabic cryptologic linguist. “I chose CU Denver because it felt more non-traditional, they took the GI Bill, and I was returning to school at 27 and felt really comfortable on campus,” she says. She was able to transfer prior undergraduate credits and a lot of military credits from having attended language school in the Army.
In the fall of 2017, Gosau Reed attended CU Denver’s Berlin: Bridging Global Divides political science-geared study abroad program. “We focused on comparative politics related to refugee policies and sustainability,” Gosau Reed says. She and her student partner from CU Denver interned for three months in an emergency refugee shelter in Berlin housing primarily Syrian refugees, deepening her interest in, and growing commitment to, finding a career in international affairs.
“The program is so great for students because it allows them to get immersed in German culture and politics,” says Christoph Stefes, program director and professor of political sciences. “In addition to the classes they take in Berlin, the internships are so meaningful. Students have worked with refugees and in environmental NGOs (non-governmental organizations).”
While in Berlin, Gosau Reed fell in love with her future husband Kostja Gosau Reed, a Ukrainian living in the neighborhood who worked in project management for sustainable rural tourism associations. Despite the challenges, the couple kept the relationship going after she returned to campus. She continued taking classes and after being back in the states about six months to reset her visa, she returned to Germany and completed the rest of her studies at CU Denver online, while taking German courses.
Finding a Niche in International Studies
Gosau Reed credits CU Denver with helping her more narrowly focus her interest in all things international. “I really enjoyed my classes and professors, and found I was specifically interested in foreign policy and international cooperation,” she says. “Choosing to finish my degree online meant I had to learn online collaboration, something that ended up being so helpful to me over the last two years.”
Gosau Reed received a bachelor’s in international studies from CU Denver in May 2019. “I got along really well with Christoph and asked him about good schools in Europe that taught in English,” she says. “He mentioned the Hertie School, a private university that focuses primarily on international affairs, public policy, and now data science.” She earned a master’s in international affairs there in June 2021.
She applied for an international relations position (for which she is currently nearing the end of a lengthy background check) and worked on volunteer projects in Germany while Kostja continued pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and social change at the University of Tübingen. In February 2022, she returned to Hawaii to spend time with her family prior to beginning her new job later this year.
Meanwhile, although the pandemic forced them to forgo plans for a traditional wedding, the couple married in 2020. “The registrar’s office in our neighborhood was still marrying people in a little chapel inside a building that had been a hospital,” she says. “We couldn’t have guests but we had witnesses and a photographer.”
Channeling Concern for Ukraine into Action
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Gosau Reed was in Hawaii. Worried about family and friends in Ukraine, she and Kostja and one of his classmates in Germany, Viktoriya Tregub, also from Ukraine, brainstormed how to help.
“Viktoriya is from Kyiv, studied undergrad in Poland, and knew someone who could help us deliver supplies to Ukraine, which eventually led to assisting with helping relocate refugees,” Gosau Reed says. “We knew they needed medical supplies and my husband has a friend who is a pharmacist who ended up putting us in touch with other pharmacists who give us a substantial discount on orders of supplies.”
Gosau Reed reached out to family members and friends for support and funding. “A lot of people didn’t trust organizations, but they trusted us,” she says. Urgently needed medical supplies are purchased in Germany, dropped off in Poland, and then transported to crisis areas in Ukraine. While in Poland, Kostja and Viktoriya also pick up refugees and transport them to accommodations in Germany. Gosau Reed handles the background coordination with individuals, a partner association, and grassroots groups.
“We joke around and call me the ‘night shift’ since Hawaii is 11 hours behind Germany,” Gosau Reed says. “So, when they wake up, all the accounting has already been done and I usually have a refugee party for them to contact. We’re active in helping Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians—anyone trying to get out. So far, I think we’ve done four trips where my husband and our friend take the medical supplies to a town in Poland which is actually a dance school.”
The school collects supplies and a volunteer there arranges transport to Ukraine. “As for bringing refugees back, we coordinate with volunteers to find people who need a ride to Germany,” Gosau Reed says. “Everything is done online and through Facebook. My husband’s family is still in Ukraine and has friends of friends who may need rides. We pick them up in Poland near the Ukrainian border. It would be very dangerous for anyone to go into Ukraine, and we’re trying to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
Although they have partnered with a not-for-profit association (cassiopeia-ev.de) for help with the German regulatory and financial reporting side of things, the group remains largely grassroots “because governments can take a long time to come up with and then implement decisions, whereas grassroots efforts can respond more quickly and efficiently.”
Providing Sustainable Aid for the Future
“We’re talking about forming our own nonprofit association and applying for funds from the government, which my husband already has experience in,” Gosau Reed says. “Hopefully at some point this will continue as a paid project for him and our friend. I will continue as a volunteer. The career path I’m on my way to now is more in administration with international organizations.”
Like many Ukrainians, Kostja’s family remains behind. “They’re in a kind of stuck position, in a town that’s surrounded, so that it’s a risk to leave and a risk to stay,” Gosau Reed says. “It’s turned into realizing that we may not be able to directly help his family, but we can help other Ukrainian families and hope someone else can help ours.”