Manager Viktoria Stokratiuk works at the office during the day. At night, she draws the State Emblem of Ukraine and writes “Come back alive” on bulletproof vests purchased by her boyfriend. Later, this equipment will be delivered to the numerous Ukrainian hot spots, and Viktoria will worry post factum, when Vitalii, her boyfriend, tells he was 10 kilometers away from Sloviansk.
Yurii Biriukov, known as “Phoenix Wings” in social networks, has never engaged in philanthropic activity before. However, he succeeded at raising about four million hryvnias to purchase food and bulletproof vests for Ukrainian soldiers. There are plenty of such stories nowadays: Ukrainians do not wait until the state starts providing soldiers with necessities.
The Day talked to ordinary Ukrainians who support the army.
“RUSSIANS ALSO HELP UKRAINIAN SOLDIERS”
Kyiv-based businessman Yurii Biriukov could not come to his senses after the February events at the Maidan, when more than a hundred activists were shot by snipers or died during attacks of law-enforcement units. His wife dragged him to the sea so the man could relax. But instead of lying on the beach, Biriukov read the news from Crimea.
He sent the first package with portable radio transmitters to the 79th Brigade on March 9. Since then, he drives at least 1,200 kilometers every week: he travels from Kyiv to Odesa, Kherson, or Mykolaiv, and comes back to raise money again and buy more bulletproof vests. During this time, he raised almost four million hryvnias. These days he made a one-time payment of 400,000 hryvnias when he bought equipment. Biriukov lost count of how much of his own money he spent on gas and car repairs.
Money for Ukrainian troops is sent from all over the world. We receive support from Canada, the US, Mexico, Europe: from Poland and Slovakia to France and Great Britain. There were money transfers from Mongolia, Japan, Israel, Australia, the South African Republic, India. Russians help with money too. “They message me almost every time after making a transaction, say they feel ashamed for their country, and that is why they want to support us,” Biriukov explains.
He remembers one call: “Some time during the middle of March an old lady called, she said she had no money and asked for yarn. I could not understand why she wanted it. And she said: ‘Just supply me with yarn, and I will knit socks and gloves for the boys.’ We did not provide her with yarn, but we were touched.”
Biriukov thinks that Ukrainian army is just being born. He also says that activists will not allow to rob it anymore, as the government has been doing for the past 20 years. “We are going to make such an army, it’s going to be shiny and new! We will provide our boys with things they haven’t seen in 23 years. They will all become great specialists,” Biriukov says with inspiration.
“SOLDIERS WERE PLEASED THAT HELP ARRIVED FROM ORDINARY PEOPLE, NOT FROM POLITICIANS”
When Russian troops invaded Crimea, Oleksandr Yermoshyn, cab driver from Berdychiv, went to the recruitment center. He was told he would be summoned in case of a need, but he has not been contacted yet. “Instead of sitting around, I decided to help the army. At the time, I knew what Phoenix [Yurii Biriukov. – Author] was doing, I contacted him and joined the work.”
Yermoshyn is a coordinator of the 26th Artillery Brigade, which is located at the border with Russia. The man periodically delivers load bearing vests, uniform, hygiene products, socks, camouflage T-shirts. “We buy everything we have money for,” the activist says.
He remembers the soldiers treated them with mistrust at first, asked what party they represented, and perceived the aid as some political force’s campaigning. When we got to know each other better and they learned that everything was purchased with money of ordinary Ukrainians, they were pleased.
Yermoshyn says money is sent from all over Ukraine and from abroad. Residents of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast often call and ask him to tell everyone they do not want to join Russia, and they do not want to be abandoned.
Yermoshyn collects money, then he looks for the necessary goods, arranges for a discount, buys and packs everything, and delivers it to the brigade. Before the aid reaches soldiers, it is checked by the accounting department and put on the balance sheet. “We just give away cigarettes and T-shirts, but we put generators and other expensive items on the balance sheet. When we win, we want our soldiers to use those items in the future,” the man explains. Yermoshyn reports to people who donate money by posting photos of purchased goods and receipts in social networks.
“Our servicemen have exceptionally high morale. One soldier told me: ‘I have a garden to tend and a loan to pay out at home, I will tear those Russians apart just to return home faster and look after my garden.’ So, Russia does not stand a chance,” the activist says with a smile. And then he adds more seriously: “I think that it was not a revolution at the Maidan, but a war for independence, and it continues in the east now.”
The man is happy to help soldiers. He jokingly worries, because his wife threatened to kick him out of the house: “She rarely sees me, mostly when I sleep or eat. Perhaps, she will kick me out. But I will come back when everything is over.”
“WHEN WE AND SOLDIERS GO BUY LOAD BEARING VESTS OR COMBAT BOOTS, THEY ARE HAPPY LIKE CHILDREN”
He was a private entrepreneur just six month ago, and then he became an Automaidan activist. Kyivite Vitalii Umanets has been helping the army for three months now. “When military units were blocked in Crimea, we went there to establish the supply of necessary items. One group of our activists came back home, but another stayed, and they were captured by the ‘green men.’ We rescued our friends and realized that it was dangerous to go to Crimea, therefore we decided to help the troops in continental Ukraine, especially those located near the border,” Umanets says.
During this time, he purchased and delivered several hundred thousand hryvnias worth of goods. “It is a small sum, but it really helps. In order to bring a military unit into a more or less decent condition, hundreds of thousands are needed. I have no idea what they do with billions,” the man says.
According to him, soldiers require bulletproof vests, helmets, and clothes the most. They still have been wearing old uniforms and only now the Ministry of Defense has made an order for new uniforms. Soldiers also need military boots and load bearing vests, which allow to carry a lot of necessary things. “When we buy these items together with soldiers, they are happy like children. They say it is the first time since our country gained independence they received that much help,” Umanets says.
“When we bring purchased items to soldiers, they understand they are not alone, and they also understand why they are there and who they risk their lives for – for people who are left in the rear and support them. Army gains realization of whom it protects,” the activist says.
Now Umanets with friends and other activists buys mostly infrared imagers. These devices detect heat radiated by living creatures, which allows to know when someone is approaching soldiers.
Along with “serous” things, Umanets also delivers items sent by soldiers’ families. And recently a friend of his, art teacher, brought a few dozen pictures drawn by his pupils. Children from four to eight years old used colored pencils and watercolors to draw Ukrainian flags, guelder rose, soldiers, Maidan, and the New Year tree installed on Maidan. They also wrote wishes of peace and well-being. “It is done to raise the morale,” the activist says. “Even though it is already high. Especially now, when our soldiers are being killed. It is not just a war for the country. The soldiers fight for the killed ones, for that guy Serhii they slept in one tent with a few days ago or smoked together, and who is buried today.”
Umanets admits that helping the army turned into a job for him. “I made a break in my business affairs, because I realized we can wake up in Russia one day. Of course, I want to make money, spend time at the seaside, but it will happen when we win,” the man says.
“ONLY A REPORT SEPARATES THEM FROM GOING HOME, BUT THEY DON’T WRITE IT”
“Once I will have children and they will ask: ‘Daddy, what were you doing when there was war?’ And I will have to give them a reply,” says Kyiv-based IT specialist Vitalii Deineha.
He wrote on his social network page he was ready to spend 10,000 hryvnias on bulletproof vests and aid for the injured and called on to join his initiative. “I thought I was going to collect about 30,000 hryvnias from my friends that way. On the first day, there were about 17,000 hryvnias, including my money. The first package containing roll mats and multitools (small sets of tools including a knife, screwdriver, etc., which allow to fix weapons in the field) was sent literally the next day to the Arabat Spit, where armed ‘guests’ from Crimea periodically try to invade the continental Ukraine.”
The man instantly posted photos of things he sent the servicemen and he continued receiving money. In order to raise a larger sum, Deineha selected a list of people who theoretically could help. It consisted of 98 persons. The man called them and said they could join the project by providing financial aid or spreading the information and contacting their friends. Then he started working with his business partners. “I try to have lunch or coffee with people, to invite them over. Spamming on the Internet might bring in some money, but personal contact is much more effective,” Deineha shares the secrets of fundraising.
“Serhii, and acquaintance of mine, gave 1,500 hryvnias, then he gave me a ride once and remembered his nephew served in the 80th Brigade. After that, Serhii gave me almost 20,000 hryvnias for that brigade. We purchased bulletproof vests, night vision devices, gloves, flashlights. And Serhii started working with his contacts,” Deineha says.
He is sent about 10,000 hryvnias daily. “Four bulletproof vests per day is not bad,” the man smiles. He buys vests of fourth degree of protection. They protect against bullets fired from Kalashnikovs and sniper rifles. “Some boys stand there in helmets designed for protest rallies. Such helmets might protect from a paving stone, but not from a bullet. Soldiers at checkpoints wear vests of the second category, which can protect against a handgun or a knife. Only those who received aid from such people as us or their relatives are wearing decent vests. The Ministry of Defense finally started purchasing means of protection now. That is why we are switching to portable radio transmitters,” Deineha says.
His most vivid memory is that of the time when he delivered items to the town of Izium, Kharkiv oblast. It was controlled by Ukrainian troops. Deineha and the driver passed the town and were told they had to drive for a bit more. “This ‘bit’ was about 150 kilometers more, we basically drove around Sloviansk and stopped at the city limit. We drove through six Ukrainian checkpoints, where we were checked. If they were controlled by separatists, we would not get far with our Kyiv license plate. It was really scary at the end. We look at the map and realize that Sloviansk is behind the next hill. I called the soldiers and they told us to wait for 15 minutes and not to leave our car. During this time, one car blocked the road, and two military jeeps with heavy machine guns arrived. There were about 10 people without bulletproof vests, but armed with submachine guns, in each car. Jeeps stopped and everything happened like in a computer game. Soldiers jumped out of jeeps with incredible speed, they pointed their guns in assigned directions, and after that one of them came up to us and took eight bulletproof vests and food. They covered our departure. Their training is very noticeable, because these men are peacemakers, most of them served in Iraq, Sierra Leone, and other hot spots,” Deineha recollects.
He met volunteers, law-enforcement officers from Lviv, at the next checkpoint. They wrote reports they were ready to go to eastern Ukraine to save the country. They are separated by just one report from going back home, but none of them will write it. And they do not even allow thoughts of going over to Russia’s side, as some of their colleagues from Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts did. “Such morale inspires the greatest optimism,” says Deineha.
The IT specialist receives help from his girlfriend Viktoria. According to Vitalii, she is a reliable rear. The girl spreads information, helps reporting on the income and expenditure of money. When the fighting is over, the couple plans to organize a large charity party. All raised funds will be used to aid families of the injured soldiers from the 95th brigade.