Supplying the army quickly, often with imported items, could not easily be done otherwise: The military’s lingering post-Soviet bureaucracy makes reacting to its own soldiers’ needs difficult. Soldiers get kitted out with gear when they sign up, but lost or damaged items, from socks to helmets, are not automatically replaced. The Defense Ministry is busy dealing with big-ticket items, distributing tanks and heavy weapons coming in from all over the world.
That’s how we, the volunteers, ended up fund-raising and supplying so many essential bits and pieces through ad hoc arrangements with parts of the Ukrainian military. In the grand scheme of things, our individual efforts are minuscule, but they are lifesaving all the same.
Two of the biggest nonstate volunteer groups, Come Back Alive and the Serhiy Prytula Charitable Foundation, provide cars and armored vehicles, night- and thermal-vision instruments, drones and other items to the army. Odesa-based Wave91 alone supplies hundreds of Chinese-made Mavic camera drones and fabricates thousands of first-person-view drones.
My most recent delivery was to the 3017th Military Unit of the Ukrainian National Guard.
The 3017th fought for some five months in Bakhmut this year and was recently stationed near Zolochiv, north of Kharkiv, 10 miles from the Russian border. With this information in hand, I start off in a Mitsubishi pickup truck bought in Britain with money raised in Poland. The steering wheel is on the right side, but I learned to drive British-style vehicles on my last delivery, a Nissan pickup that I took to soldiers in Odesa.
I pick up the vehicle in Berlin. On the Polish side of the Rava Ruska border crossing into Ukraine, I am waved through. On the Ukrainian side, the customs officers know me from previous deliveries, so things go smoothly there, too. An hour later in Lviv I meet up with Olga Shpak, a biologist specializing in whales who abandoned her research, friends and apartment in Moscow two days before the invasion to return to her native Kharkiv. She now is a representative there for another volunteer group, Assist Ukraine, co-founded by the retired NPR journalist Anne Garrels.