Napa-based vineyard owner joins efforts to replace Ukraine’s war-shattered windows

“Hearing about Ukraine’s needs, I wanted to help any way I could,” Matthew Rorick said.|

With subzero winter temperatures less than three months away, Ukraine residents returning home following Russian withdrawals face the daunting task of replacing thousands of blown-out glass windows in otherwise habitable dwellings to block cold air and keep them warm.

This critical need formed the foundation for a U.S.-Ukraine friendship between a vineyard owner in Napa and a British engineer working to solve the nationwide replacement challenge estimated to involve 10 million destroyed windows.

Until hostilities cease, the goal is to find ways to fund and implement a project involving the mass production of a low-cost, shatterproof temporary alternative to glass that can be installed quickly with the help of locally trained — and paid — workers to start the repair process and improve local economies.

“Hearing about Ukraine’s needs, I wanted to help any way I could,” said Matthew Rorick, Napa-based owner of Forlorn Hope Wines and Queen of the Sierra, a 75-acre vineyard in Calaveras County.

He learned about living conditions in Ukraine from his life partner, Mara Ambrose, who described experiences of her mother’s family living in the country.

Ambrose, who is an assistant winemaker at Carboniste in Napa, suggested selling wine as a fundraiser starting with unlabeled bottles of 2016 dry Muscat in Rorick’s cellar — with labels designed by her nephew in Odesa. This lot sold quickly, with almost $9,000 in proceeds sent to nonprofit World Central Kitchen to provide meals to disaster victims and refugees.

Wanting to do more, last summer Rorick took a three-week leave of absence from his vineyard to cook meals, including borscht and lentil soup, at World Central Kitchen feeding refugees passing through the train station in Przemysl, Poland, near the border with Ukraine.

Before leaving the U.S., he packed much-needed medical supplies in a suitcase collected by a friend that contained $10,000 worth of tourniquets, coagulants, and other items to give to Ukraine’s medical personnel.

Back in the states, Rorick continued to look for other opportunities to aid. A friend named Alexi, whom he met at World Central Kitchen, advised him to follow the work of Harry Blakiston Houston on social media. Alexi had worked for Houston as a truck driver bringing water and supplies to people. Rorick took his advice and emailed Houston asking how he could get involved.

Houston had been a University of Cambridge engineering student before interrupting his Ph.D. biotechnology program to develop an innovative way to make temporary replacement windows.

He welcomed Rorick’s offer to help, and described his unique solution with a simple design using four layers of flexible, translucent plastic polyethylene sheets along with PVC piping, pipe insulation and duct tape. Unlike glass, most of these materials are readily available in shops throughout Ukraine.

Houston founded Insulate-Ukraine.org, a nongovernmental organization raising funds from individual donors, charities, corporations and government agencies around the globe to support this humanitarian project.

Rorick and Ambrose asked their New York wine merchant, T. Edward Wines, if proceeds from sales of Forlorn Hope wines could be used to support Ukrainian refugees rebuilding their homes.

With the help of T. Edward Wines, over $10,000 was raised for Insulate Ukraine.

Replacing glass with glass is not an option while the conflict continues. However, the temporary “fix” Houston developed could last from five to eight years, or longer. They could be repaired and reinstalled, even if nearby explosions push out the replacement.

Boarding up windows is not realistic if natural lighting is needed, and glass is not available due to the loss of the country’s 10 former glass factories during the war. Even if glass can be sourced outside Ukraine, it could cost from $200 to $500 each to replace damaged window frames. While a new Ukraine glass factory is planned near Kyiv, at present the nearest glass sources are in Belarus and Russia.

According to Houston, Insulate Ukraine’s temporary windows can be made and installed in 15 minutes at a cost between $15 and $20 per square meter of the window, providing an insulating factor comparable to triple-glazed windows.

Konstantin Salii, president of the All-Ukrainian Union of Building Materials Manufacturers, said, “Before the war, those making windows would purchase glass alone for $2.02 a square meter and sell their products for $3. Ukraine needs some 750 million square meters of glass to reglaze shattered windows. Today glass costs twice as much — or more — if we could get it from abroad.”

Windows are a key component of good building insulation. The Ukraine emergency is due to the need to prepare for winter temperatures plunging to -22 degrees. Temperatures rise between 18 and 20 degrees in less than a day after installing Insulate Ukraine’s solution.

“Extreme temperatures last winter forced those still living in damaged buildings to take unusual measures, such as sleeping in a bathroom tub, as one elderly woman reported, since this was the only non-freezing area of her home,” Houston said.

Rorick flew back to Ukraine in January 2023 to work alongside Houston’s team and become personally involved in replacing windows.

“When arriving, I was shocked by the scope of the destruction in Izyum, a city on the Donets River in the Kharkiv Oblast (region), eastern Ukraine,” he said. “The entire business district was burned out along with much of the housing. Most homes had walls with bullet holes. Every size and shape of windows were either shot out or blown out from nearby explosions allowing bitter cold air to enter the structures.”

When asking locals where people returning are living, Rorick learned abandoned homes still standing were being occupied, along with schools and other public buildings, warehouses and businesses, with most living in structures with broken windows.

Rorick said, “By replacing windows with something other than glass it will be possible for refugees to return sooner.

“What impressed me most was the resiliency of the locals. The lack of everyday necessities has not dimmed their morale and spirits. Some residents never left, while surviving frequent bombing and artillery attacks.”

Insulate Ukraine now operates in six cities, including Dnipro, Nikopol, Izyum, Kherson and Shevchenkove, with plans to expand by establishing hubs across Ukraine. The organization installs more than 400 windows a week in towns, cities and villages throughout eastern Ukraine and trains locals to run the projects.

Houston says an average person can be shown how to build these windows in about 10 to 30 minutes from a flat-packed kit. The goal is to be able to replace any shattered window within 24 hours after providing instruction and required materials. Current plans call for raising $182,000 to install 50,000 windows throughout the Kharkiv region alone.

“If we received sufficient funding tomorrow, we could get most shattered windows in Ukraine replaced by Christmas,” Houston said.

Rorick plans to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so those wishing to give can realize a tax deduction.

“It’s inspiring to see the vitality and strength of the Ukraine people,” Rorick said. “I can’t overemphasize how much our support is appreciated. Ukrainians are thankful for every small act of kindness, including U.S. donations. I can’t wait to go back there again. If I didn’t have a vineyard to run, I’d be there full time.”

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:
  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.