American veterans and “War Santa” deliver much-needed supplies to Ukrainian fighters.
Be A Hero UA, a Polish charity organization, packs Jeeps and other SUVs destined for the battlefield with food, clothing, first-aid kits, tires, generators, and charging stations for Starlink, a satellite internet system commonly used by US veterans fighting in Ukraine.
Marta Małecka, the co-founder of the nonprofit, is supporting people who stand up and fight for what they believe in, she said.
“We have the same goal,” she said. “Victory for Ukraine and to finish this war.”
The Ukrainian military has been outfitted with heavy weapons and other munitions thanks to since Russia’s invasion in February. However, individual soldiers and units must turn to private donations to meet unmet needs on a granular level.
One of the people the organization supports is Issac Olvera, an ex-US Marine Corps infantry lieutenant, who has been advising the Ukraine armed forces since March and is one of the foreigners fighting with the country’s legion. He wanted charging stations to help his comrades US maintain long-range communications as they went on missions.
We are getting ready with another car for #ukrainianarmy . Winter doesn't slow us down. We are so blessed to meet great people who share their skills for common cause. #ukraine #NAFO @Marine_Ukraine pic.twitter.com/rve7UX05SQ
— Be a Hero UA (@BeaHeroUA) November 22, 2022
Around the world, volunteers are inundated with requests for drones and other equipment, whether day or night.
Małecka fills in the requests from Warsaw. Joanna Wylegała, another Pole, helps with deliveries from Poznań, the first NATO military base on the alliance’s eastern border.
According to Małecka, volunteers provide an extensive network of information and an invaluable source of emotional support. She paused while loading supplies into a vehicle to embrace Jagoda Pasko, a Polish volunteer who had just returned from delivering supplies at the battle lines.
“We have the same purpose,” she stated. “Victory for Ukraine and the termination of the conflict.”
Then apparently, we have a benevolent benefactor who uses the moniker “War Santa.” “War Santa” is a pseudonym for a 36-year-old former US Air Force sergeant who answers calls for assistance from his Texas home out of concern for his safety.
War Santa uses his military intelligence background to procure equipment and deliver it to Ukrainian soldiers, Americans, and other foreign fighters, working anonymously. The Poles provide crucial assistance in getting military supplies across the Ukrainian-Polish border, which may be subject to customs regulations.
Since March, War Santa has provided donations, high-end drones, night-vision devices, encrypted radios, and other equipment were successfully sent out to special operation and artillery units, as well as the members of Ukraine’s leading intelligence agency and the 92nd Mechanized Brigade.
“What I take in isn’t necessarily humanitarian; it is to help out the warfighter and help them do their job as if they were properly outfitted in the US military,” War Santa said. “The US government and Poland and Ukraine give soldiers specialty equipment on top of the basic gear, but there’s a lot of stuff that they don’t get so that’s where we’re going to meet those needs.”
A group of foreign volunteers called the Georgian Legion, together with War Santa began delivering equipment to them as a favor to a friend. As the story spread, he started making deliveries to other people as well. Only his boss at an investment bank—another veteran—and a few others know about War Santa’s secret identity, and he wishes to keep it that way.
“I don’t do it for the fanfare,” he said. “It is the right, human thing to do.”
With no thermal vision and night-vision goggles, Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of the Georgian Legion, said his 1,300 troops would be unable to conduct night battles or drive in front-line zones in the dark. Because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region in 2014, soldiers in the unit can get much of their own equipment using Twitter and rely heavily on private donations from nonprofit organizations.
According to Mamulashvili, the Ministry of Defense does not have any equipment to provide, so we must manufacture everything ourselves. Nevertheless, we are attempting to gather as many beneficial items for our guys as possible.
While volunteers tend to adhere strictly to official guidelines, their cause’s urgency sometimes necessitates creative alternatives. For example, drones, scopes, thermal-vision goggles, and other sensitive equipment have been smuggled across borders in bundles of clothing or, more frequently, concealed in pet food because ‘it stinks, and no one checks,’ said one Pole.
Bridging the Red Tape for Ukrainians
According to Stripes, War Santa and Olvera have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the effort, but fundraising pays for much of the donated gear. They actually fill a unique gap: obtaining costly, sophisticated equipment for units that don’t have enough of it to go around.
According to Olvera, coming to Ukraine from the United States, a country with well-funded military forces, was an incredible experience. The equipment shortages were among the biggest shocks. However, it is money well spent, he said.
“I think this is money well spent. In the grand scheme of things, when I’m 80 years old, it won’t matter that I spent $30,000 or $50,000 to help save the country.”
Because of his moral and patriotic duty, Olvera quit his job in management consulting and moved to Ukraine to fight for it. He says that he felt compelled to defend the cornerstones of Western democracies: the rule of law, free and fair elections, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.
“Ukraine shouldn’t have to fight for these values alone,” he said.
Fighters and volunteer equipment suppliers say that the most critical materials for the war are reconnaissance drones, night-vision goggles to spot enemy drones, secure communication radios, vehicles, and high-quality cold-weather garments, as winter approaches.
It’s difficult and dangerous to get these items into Ukraine. For sensitive things like drones, a lot of paperwork is required, and transporting specific equipment—firearm magazine, hard-body armor—could violate US State Department’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
Orphanage near #Lviv for disabled children – as if forgotten by the world.
We're definitely coming back there.
But we must have something to come back with.The magic is that there are always people who help us to help us to help
Maybe the magician is reading this post? #NAFO pic.twitter.com/t1HJjnZJQy
— Be a Hero UA (@BeaHeroUA) November 17, 2022
An ex-U.S. Army Reserve corporal named Kathy Stickel delivers drones from Poland into Ukraine, but she doesn’t leave them out in the open. She came to Ukraine from California at the beginning of the war to assist Jews because she remembered her Mormon childhood nagging her to do so. She focuses on Odesa, a southern Ukrainian city with a long Jewish history, where she predominantly operates.
She provided humanitarian assistance to civilians for months before shifting her focus to supporting soldiers.
Challenging Routes Faced by the Volunteers and War Santa
According to Stickel, a surveillance drone could have saved the life of her friend Dane Partridge, a US Army veteran who was killed in an ambush in the Zaporizhzhia last month. His platoon in Ukraine’s foreign fighter legion requested more drones. Stickel raised money for them on Twitter, purchased items from Wylegała in Poznań, and delivered them to Partridge’s men just before his funeral.
She tried to work as fast as she could. The trampoline method is the way to go — warehouses should not keep items for longer than a day and a half.
On the other hand, War Santa spreads his presents across Lviv in western Ukraine and Kyiv, the capital, after flying into Warsaw. He deposits them in bars, train stations, shopping centers, strangers’ homes, and even the conflict lines, among other spots. In addition, Olvera distributes gifts to locations where War Santa has no time to go.
War Santa started taking a train to Zaporizhzhia and spending time in the trenches during the summer. Seeing the supplies he provided in action left him feeling like a “sitting duck,” but he could see some of the stores he offered.
War Santa travels with four deployment bags stuffed with 300 to 400 pounds of equipment, protecting their precious contents with his body on overnight trains to Kyiv. After learning about his mission, foreign government officials have cleared legal roadblocks, and airlines have waived his luggage fees, he said. As a result, he is not a profiteer.
He said, “They tell me not to tell you to keep doing it, but to keep [expletive] doing it.”
War Santa has been on equipment runs for 42 days out of the country, dedicating about 20 hours each week to answering requests. The job is tough, but he gets strength from his War Santa alter ego—a “different mindset that allows him to do everything”—and the heartrending images of Ukrainian soldiers saying farewell to their families at train stations as the war began.
“Those families just stick in my head,” he said. “Whenever I’m frustrated because of how expensive things are, or not getting enough donations or I can’t get the gear sometimes on time because the need is so great, I just remind myself this is what it’s about. This is genocide going on over there, and we have to keep going.”
War Santa’s logistical route frequently had Wylegała a contributing participant, because volunteers worked tirelessly to assist one another and were united in ensuring that soldiers were adequately equipped for the harsh and punishing battlefield.