Ukrainian-American helps deliver supplies to Ukrainian soldiers

So Poodle, a 31-year-old American citizen of Ukrainian descent who is on vacation from her day job in California as an attorney for music streaming service Spotify, packed her life in Silicon Valley, moved to Poland, and raised $13,000 for about 100 pairs of shoes. for her father and members of his unit.

“I like to tell people I’m a lawyer by day and a shoe smuggler by night,” she told CNN earlier this month. In a photo she shared with CNN, her father and another soldier can be seen beaming next to new boots stacked on top of cardboard boxes.

In some cases, Poodle and Western officials told CNN, private efforts to get equipment and supplies to Ukrainian soldiers were faster and more direct, albeit on a much smaller scale than government initiatives. Boots are just one of many needs, including firearms, ammunition and body armor, that volunteers and individuals from around the world are trying to fill for the Ukrainian army, which has grown in size since the Russian invasion two months ago.

The Biden administration is preparing to announce that it is sending another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, CNN reported Tuesday. If approved, the latest package would mean the US has provided about $3.4 billion in aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.

But for Poodle and others on the ground, aid provided by Western countries is still “too slow and insufficient,” she said.

Poodle said she managed to raise enough money — through her contacts on LinkedIn, WhatsApp and volunteer organizations like UkraineNow — to buy boots and get about a dozen tactical vests for her father and members of his unit. Last week, she delivered T-shirts to them, and the soldiers paid her back with pizza.

“These guys are just so grateful,” she said.

Poodle’s godmother had to pick up the boots in Poland and take them across the border multiple times, as Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are banned from leaving the country.

At that time, Poodle remained in Poland with her mother and sister, who fled Ukraine in the early days of the war. But highlighting how devastating Russia’s defeat in northern Ukraine was, Poodle and her family have felt safe enough in recent weeks to return to their hometown of Lutsk in northwestern Ukraine as Russia has shifted its focus to the country’s east.

In a statement to CNN, Serhiy Sobko, deputy commander and chief of staff of Ukraine’s territorial defense forces, said the troops are grateful to the volunteers for all the help.

“Within weeks, the TDF expanded to over 100,000 men ready to defend their country from the enemy,” Sobko said, leading to a shortage of equipment.

“The government of Ukraine, our international partners and (and) well-known Ukrainian charitable foundations immediately joined their efforts to provide the temporary detention facility with all the necessary equipment,” Sobko said. “And the TSO command makes sure that those brigades and battalions that are on the front line receive protection in the first place. Therefore, we are grateful to those volunteers from Ukraine and abroad who contribute to the equipment of our fighters.”

Soldiers say they need more

A U.S. official told CNN that in terms of equipment and supplies, the U.S. has so far supplied Ukraine with tactical secure communications systems, night vision devices, thermal imaging systems, optics, laser rangefinders, explosive ordnance protection, chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear weapons. protection, as well as medical supplies, including first aid kits.

The official did not specify how much of this equipment has been delivered so far. But Ukrainian soldiers need a lot more than that, they said, especially thermal cameras, night vision goggles and quadcopters. They also need extremely basic equipment such as harnesses, backpacks, flashlights and gloves, according to a list compiled by the soldiers and obtained by CNN.

When it comes to transporting heavier protective equipment such as body armor, Poodle and other volunteers, including two U.S. Marine veterans she met in Poland, faced significant obstacles: Level III and IV body armor are regulated by the U.S. and require special permission. from the State Department, contracts are often broken, and any equipment that does get in is often backed up at airports.

According to the National Institute of Justice, Level III armor provides protection against rifle bullets, while Level IV provides the most ballistic protection.

“One of the problems obviously is that we just got through Covid. So you have all sorts of supply conditions that are only difficult on the first day,” Trey Sharp, one of the Marine Corps veterans helping Poodle, told CNN. “And then, secondly, every time you try to acquire high-demand items, it becomes difficult.”

Bureaucracy is another problem, he says.

“So if I want to send a level IV plate (body armor) from the United States, for example, I have to deal with the American bureaucracy, the Polish bureaucracy, the Ukrainian bureaucracy, and then I have to receive the money, and I am trying to do all this from a mobile phone , often in the wilderness,” he said, referring to his travels in Western Ukraine. “It’s not like shopping on Amazon, you know. And I don’t need one (plate), I need thousands.”

Poudel said the situation is often demoralizing.

“Sometimes I get depressed and sad about how much I can’t do,” she said. “We have next to nothing and it doesn’t look like it’s all over just because Russia is refocusing on eastern Ukraine. They are still here,” in the country.

However, the effort is worth it despite the difficulties, she said.

“Doing what I can on earth feels more meaningful here than just sitting in the (United) States, even if it’s like buying them vests and raincoats,” she told CNN. “It’s like I’m doing something real. I can really see where it’s going.”

Poodle added that while humanitarian aid is clearly needed, it is nothing more than a short-term solution to the widespread suffering that Russia is inflicting on civilians – if that aid is delivered at all.

“I support humanitarian aid,” Poodle said. “But I think it’s just a Band-Aid. The most important thing now is to support the Ukrainian armed forces, because in most cases this humanitarian aid does not even reach the places where it is needed.”

Poodle’s father, Volodymyr Danilyuk, told CNN in a video interview that “what is needed most is helmets, vehicles and air defense systems. Because most of the time they attack from the air and we can’t protect ourselves from that. ”

Ukrainian officials have told the US that to keep Russia from controlling the skies over the country, Ukrainian forces need 500 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles a day. The Pentagon plans to speed up weapons production; deliveries have not yet kept up with the demand of Ukrainians.

Similarly, it is difficult to find medicines. Poodle explained that since many pharmacies were destroyed, Ukrainian women, including herself, began to travel to Poland to pick up medicines and deliver them back across the border.

Individuals are activating

Poodle said she is grateful to Spotify for letting her take time off to be with her family because she can’t imagine her mom and sister left to fend for themselves in Ukraine while her dad serves in the territorial defense forces. Spotify declined to comment.

“Basically, I am now the only breadwinner for my family,” she said.

But when it comes to supplying Ukrainian forces, Poodle is far from alone.

“There are thousands and thousands of guys just like me, hundreds of groups just like the group I created that are doing the same thing,” said another American veteran who privately delivers medical equipment to Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. who wished to remain anonymous. feel free to discuss your efforts. He said he raised enough money for 30 military trauma kits that he was able to deliver to Ukrainian soldiers earlier this month, according to photos he provided to CNN.

A non-profit organization called the Ukrainian Freedom Foundation is also engaged in purchasing protective equipment for Ukrainian troops and has already provided the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces with thousands of body armor, helmets, vehicles and field kits, as CNN previously reported. The Vice Mayor of Kyiv on Monday asked the organization for 200,000 gas masks to protect military personnel and civilians from potential chemical weapons attacks.

US police departments have also joined the effort. The governors of Iowa and Nebraska, for example, announced earlier this month that their states would send police protective equipment, including army helmets and vests, to Ukraine.

Poodle, for her part, says she has begun working with US Marine veterans to try and leverage their connections to companies that can supply essential equipment such as body armor, hard hats and turnstiles.

In many cases, volunteers working to bring equipment to Ukraine make sure that US government agencies are aware of their efforts, in part to make sure they are not violating any export control laws. Sharpe, one of the Marine Corps veterans, told CNN that Justice and State Department officials gave him advance instructions to comply while he worked to import goods.

The State Department and Justice Department declined to comment, but a Commerce Department spokesman told CNN that “numerous communities in the United States have sought to help the Ukrainian government and its resistance to the Russian invasion by donating firearms, ammunition, hard hats, bulletproof vests and related equipment.”

The spokesman added that the Department of Commerce is “promptly processing requests for the export of firearms and ammunition to Ukraine in accordance with existing procedures and authorities.”

There are a number of things the ministry has advised Americans to consider if they try to ship the equipment, including how they intend to transport it to Ukraine and whether the sender has Ukrainian government clearance to import, the spokesman said. supplies.

There are also tighter restrictions on exports to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the war has shifted in recent weeks, the spokesman said.

“We owe them all the support we can give because they are also fighting for us,” Sharpe said of the Ukrainians. “And all we need to do is give them more materials, experience and supplies. I think this is our duty, every person in the United States, in the world. They deserve our help.”

Danilyuk, Poodle’s father, said the next major challenge for Ukrainian forces would be to liberate the south from Russia, especially the Kherson region. There is also a “constant threat of danger” from Belarus, he said, and he does not believe the threat posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin will ever truly end.

But he still believes Ukraine will succeed, not least because of the determination of its people. In peacetime, Danilyuk is a writer and historian, and recently, in agreement with the Polish consulate in Lutsk, she published a book. We are talking about the late President John F. Kennedy’s connections with Poland and Ukraine.

Danilyuk misses journalism. “But there are times when a journalist needs to carry not a camera, but a gun,” he told CNN in a loose translation of a Ukrainian proverb.

“We were not surprised how well the Ukrainians fought,” he said. “All volunteers. They went to the front. Therefore, I am sure that we will win.”

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