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From Lviv

From Lviv

May 22, 2022 4:56 amComments are Disabled

I’m back in Ukraine.

In the last few weeks, my work here has become a full time job, on top of the day job I already have. Doing the first from 8am-3pm and the second from 3pm-midnight has left me little time to write. Now I find myself in a relatively quiet spot on a relatively quiet weekend to jot down some thoughts.

There’s a conventional wisdom in military life that routine is important and necessary for success, and I’m getting a real firsthand lesson. As one of my ex-military colleagues here (two tours Afghanistan, one tour Bosnia, one tour Somalia) tells me, the adrenaline wears off in the first couple days, and at that point you “mellow out” which I can now feel happening to me. Although the missions I’m running are becoming increasingly more dangerous, things that felt risky only a month ago seem now to be rather banal. At the same time, the routine I’ve developed — logistics and supply in the morning, my day job at night, and a solid 8 hours of sleep — has kept me grounded and productive even while the situation here becomes more chaotic.

One of the Canadian expats I’ve done a couple missions with over here is part of a group we fondly refer to as the “Eh Team.” A beer brewer back home, he has been driving thousands of kilometers across Europe and Ukraine for extraction and supply missions. He’s also a tall, stout man with an intimidating beard and an encyclopedic knowledge of history. He and I got to talking the other night in Przemysl about how often we cry, and over what things. The most recent thing that got him was learning that due to lack of basic tetanus medication, simple flesh wounds are now being treated in the field with full arm amputations. This is confirmed by reports of the number of amputees coming out of Donetsk and Mariupol that need extraction. Right now, my Canadian friend is on his way to Italy driving a boy with cancer and his family to a safe place for treatment, hopefully listening to the podcast I recommended to him.

A Scottish guy (bloke?) I met at the same pub that night is here with his mom. He has a key chain with five car keys — his van and car in Ukraine, his van and car in Poland, and his car back home. A Pole I met grew up in the UK and is working with a trade union to send supplies to their comrades across the border. I’m working with two teams of drivers here — a British girl with a Gaelic name who is working to supply soldiers on the front lines with basics (toothbrushes, towels, etc) and a Danish girl who has a 5-man drive team doing extractions and supply runs to the far east. Two of her team are medics, and they have intel connections in the military to plot safe driving routes cleared of Russian activity. A Californian ex-pro surfer, now in real estate, is staying in a flat in Lviv and is now running regular missions to Kyiv, Kharkiv and elsewhere with his Ukrainian girlfriend, a police cadet who first mistranslated her occupation as “Baby Police,” a joke we’re having fun with. By far my favorite colleague in the last month has been a Scottish film logistics coordinator who has a gift for gab, a larger than life personality, and a work ethic to match — she drove 7 cross-border missions in just one week, at one point crossing the border twice in one day. She has selfies with all her favorite border guards.

Our saving grace this month came in the form of a direct descendant of a famous European composer and looks just like him (not giving internet sleuths anything else). He showed up in Przemysl with 80 pallets of humanitarian aid donated by an Italian NGO and absolutely no instructions or equipment to get it the last leg of the journey into Ukraine. We’ve partnered with him and his team to transport over 60 pallets of his supplies so far to various destinations in Ukraine: an orphanage, a refugee center, our warehouse in Kharkiv, and another Kharkiv aid office. The two warehouses they are storing their stuff in looks like an Eataly with Nutella, Biscotti, and many other famous Italian brands. We’ll be sending the remaining goods to front line soldiers and a church in Odessa.

We also ran a mission for SSF, transporting large 30 suitcases of concierge medical treatments for survivors of Mariupol and Donbas. By far the most rewarding mission we’ve done so far was to bring 2 pallets of toys and candy and chocolate to an orphanage in Lviv. The children came out to help us carry the boxes in, and we had great fun with these eager little laborers. One of the Italians got her hair braided.

And of course, every time we come across the border now we bring 200-400L of diesel, since none of the supply missions in Ukraine are possible without it, and the gas stations are all out. I’ve started getting texts from strange Ukrainian numbers asking me if I could import fuel for them, at a price of course. I won’t be doing that, even at cost — since everything I do has to be humanitarian only, I’m only importing diesel for our driver networks to run supplies. It is frustrating, however, that the main cause of gas shortages the Ukrainian government itself imposing price caps. I guess I know now how smugglers get started.

There’s no question that I’ve become “established” here, and may even be developing a reputation. I’m frequently fielding requests now that are becoming increasingly difficult to manage, and some of which I may not be able to help at all. But I’m doing what I can. Keeping all the available vehicles, supply needs, border crossings and meetup times in my head is becoming a full time job. Everything here is volunteer coordinated, and volunteers frequently disappear and appear from all over the world.

We found out at a presentation from a local NGO that 12 million Ukrainians are now internally displaced. Unlike those displaced persons abroad, internally displaced persons have no easy access to food or medicine. There is little commercial availability of goods and grocery shelves in the east are empty. In the most dangerous parts of the country, the only way to get supplies is through volunteer driver teams, most of them Ukrainians who risk their lives to bring food to loved ones trapped near or behind enemy lines. Since Russia pulled back from Kharkiv, we thought the humanitarian need would be less. It’s greater.

Thanksfully, we successfully got a 10-ton truck to our Kharkiv warehouse this week, after almost a month of nonstop labor from over 30 nameless volunteers from all over the world. The food on this truck will feed the people of the Kharkiv region for maybe a week or two more, before we will have to send another. So far, in May, we’ve spent $1,617.92 on aid, and $1,583.71 on transport costs (mostly fuel). Note that most of the work we’ve done has been transport of existing supply caches, which is where most of the need is right now. The diesel alone to get the 10-ton truck across the country to Kharkiv costs $1,300.

Which is to say, we need more support. Your donations are helping a lot. We have a new Venmo now, @ukraineaidinternational, tied to our tax deductible bank, so please send more if you can.

Thank you all for your support.

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