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Liev Schreiber's family ties to Ukraine push him to help its people

Liev Schreiber co-founded the aid network BlueCheck Ukraine.
Dia Dipasupil
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Getty Images
Liev Schreiber co-founded the aid network BlueCheck Ukraine.

Long before Ray Donovan, Victor Creed or Richard Roma, the main character in Liev Schreiber's life was Alex Milgram.

"He became like a superhero to me," Schreiber tells NPR's All Things Considered.

The actor, who counts those roles among his long list of credits, shares a deep connection with Milgram, his maternal grandfather and a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant to the U.S. Following Schreiber's parents divorce in 1972, Milgram was the one who raised him in many respects.

"He was the kind of guy that would slap me in the back of the head if I didn't open a door for somebody," he says. "Not hard, but hard enough."

Despite their emotional bond, Schreiber didn't feel like he knew his grandfather's history well. Milgram wasn't someone who liked to share a lot of details about himself.

After Milgram died in 1993, Schreiber says he had a "powerful emotional feeling about him ... that I hadn't bothered to get to know him. It was something that really motivated and inspired a lot of the work I did from that time forward."

He has since explored that side of his heritage — including with his directorial debut, the 2005 film Everything Is Illuminated, an adaptation of a story about an American Jewish man who goes to Ukraine looking for the woman who saved his grandfather's life during the Holocaust.

And now, Schreiber finds himself focused on Ukraine again, this time for a humanitarian cause after Russia's invasion of his grandfather's country.

In March, Schreiber co-founded BlueCheck Ukraine, a network that identifies, vets and funds grassroots organizations providing assistance for Ukrainians. He talked with NPR's Michel Martin about the group's work.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

On how BlueCheck Ukraine came to be:

I can't think of the word right now, but it didn't feel good to not do anything. [Then] some friends called me and asked me if I was interested in doing something. We came up with an idea that if we could identify and fast track financial support to groups that were on the ground or even preferably Ukrainian, that would be a real service not only to Ukrainian nationals, but [also] to this huge groundswell of Americans and people all around the world that want to support them.

On the kinds of organizations that BlueCheck Ukraine is supporting:

We're working with a group called Kidsave, which is actually an American charity, but they've got boots on the ground in Ukraine. And we met a guy named Pavlo Shulha and his wife, Olena, who with their friends put together this network of taxis and cars and drivers. They were assigned by Kidsave to evacuate 117 registered orphans. Since he was contracted, he's rescued well over 10,000 displaced women and children. And you can just see that him and his crew, it's their country, it's their family, it's their people, it's what they do. So they're the best suited to do this work.

What we're trying to do with BlueCheck is give as high a percentage as we possibly can. Right now, it's 100%. We have no administrative costs. How long we can sustain that, we'll see, but what we're able to do right now is get 100% of the money you give to Pavlo and his wife.

On his plans to continue helping Ukrainians:

The families, the women carrying suitcases behind them and heading to the border with their children, while their men go off to the front lines to fight a battle in which they're hugely outgunned and outnumbered — that is the big image in my mind.

The challenge for me is sustainability: like keeping everyone interested, keeping this in the headlines, keeping people aware of what's going on. Because I do believe they're going to win, but they need support, they need our help.

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