The drive is never easy. Even before the war the 443 miles from Kiev to Donetsk (home of Bakhmut) would take 10 hours thanks to pothole ridden roads. Now with checkpoints and stops it takes 13 hours. This time one of our vans got a flat tire only 25 miles from Kyiv. The other broke down completely when we reached Kharkiv ⅔ of the way through.
Usually we go in as a team of 3-4. This time there were 9 of us. We had volunteers and sponsors who wanted to better understand the needs of those at the front line. Jason, a Bermudian former regiment medic, was one of the volunteers. Judging by his reaction to artillery, I can say with confidence he is as brave as the Ukrainians he’s supporting.
While one of our team set about sourcing a replacement vehicle, by the side of the road we separated out the equipment destined for the front line: a diesel generator, camping gas cylinders and groceries donated by local Ukrainian businesses, starlink receivers and helmets from US, two-way radios and signal amplifiers from UK, tablets and monitors for viewing drone footage, tires to replace damaged ones, medical supplies donated by St John’s Ambulance and Atlantic Medical in Bermuda.
One of the group stayed behind with civilian provisions and waited for another volunteer vehicle while the rest of our group set off. Delaying further wasn’t an option, we had people waiting for us.
We always text each of the recipients when we’re on our way to give ETA and agree on handover location. Sometimes we don’t get a reply back. This time we had to call the mother of a 25 year old conscript. The call was short, she told us her son’s belongings had been returned to her meaning he had been captured or killed. According to the Geneva Convention both sides are supposed to agree on a date and location when they exchange both prisoners and the remains of fallen soldiers. Russia often breaks the rules robbing families of a final goodbye. Dealing with Wagner PMC is actually a little better than the Russian army- conversations are more cordial and agreements are usually met.
When we make deliveries we are often approached by other conscripts with their own requests. When this happens we exchange contact details and add them to our telegram channel, where they can share their needs, which we try to source and then deliver on a future trip. Countless crowd-sourced volunteer supply chains like ours are essential since conscripts rely on us for many of the essentials which the government doesn’t provide. AFU focuses on getting arms and ammunition to the front line but cannot handle the complexity of supplying all the right equipment to all the right places.
Sometimes the equipment they do provide isn’t suitable. While all troops are given standard issue helmets when they enlist, these are not compatible with noise-canceling headphones which are essential to avoiding confusion when issuing or receiving orders. Suitable helmets are expensive and hard to get in Ukraine- several weeks of soldier pay will go to buying a compatible helmet forcing conscripts and their families to make the hardest of choices.
This trip we provided an extra helmet.