“I need ammunition, not a ride,” said Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A quote that will go down in history.
The Ukrainian community in the Bay Area is now heeding that call for help.
But instead of supplying weapons, one group is sending shipments of bulletproof vests and combat helmets to protect civilian soldiers from Russian attacks.
“Our soldiers, our brave Ukrainian defenders of Europe, they will not die without anything on them,” said Mykyta Safronenko of San Mateo.
Safronenko is not an arms dealer. But he’s spent the last couple of weeks becoming an expert on buying and shipping bulletproof vests and helmets that can withstand ballistic attacks.
“We know the price of freedom so we will fight until the last – it's better to die than to live under Russian occupation,” he said.
Safronenko runs the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council – a non-profit that was once focused on celebrating Ukrainian culture and is now zeroed-in on helping Ukrainian civilians fight off the Russian invasion.
“We will not let them go to Europe as well,” said Safronenko.
The council has raised more than $300,000 to buy military-grade helmets and vests, which can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 each. Buying them in bulk is one thing. But getting them to Ukraine is another.
“We work with our partners in the Ukrainian embassy in Poland and Polish government and they allow us to move it through the border and it comes to Lviv – on the western part of Ukraine,” said Safronenko.
It comes as Russian forces seized their first major Ukrainian city and the Russian army continues to bomb civilian targets.
“I have to talk with Putin, the world has to talk with Putin, because there are no other ways to stop this war,” said Zelenskyy.
The help for Ukraine is pouring in. The Stanford-based non-profit Nova Ukraine is raising money to help refugee families.
While Safronenko anticipates Ukrainian refugees will soon be seeking asylum in the U.S., the life-or-death matter at hand is helping his countrymen gear up for battle.
“People are very motivated they don’t want to lose Ukraine,” said Safronenko.