Six months ago today, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and a war that has killed thousands of Ukrainians and sparked the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
That same day, Spirit of America launched a Ukraine Emergency Fund. We have delivered over 180 tons of lifesaving gear and supplies to Ukrainian soldiers and civilian volunteers. Spirit of America has also provided aid to Ukrainian refugees in Poland, including families of Ukrainian soldiers.
Today also marks Ukraine’s Independence Day, a normally festive national celebration of the country’s separation from the Soviet Union in 1991. Instead, Kyiv has banned public celebrations in the capital for fear of Russian attacks.
Colleen Denny, Europe Regional Director, and Matt Dimmick, Europe Regional Program Manager, talk about what they’ve seen and heard over these past six months, how Spirit of America has helped Ukraine on the front lines, and why they believe Ukraine can win – and must win.
Based on what you’ve seen on the ground and your connections, do you think Ukraine can win?
Colleen: The people of Ukraine understand fully that if Russia stops fighting, the war will end; but if they stop fighting, their country will end. They are motivated, resolute, and determined. As long as the US and partner nations continue to provide military aid, equipment, and training to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they will continue to fight and will win.
Matt: Ukraine absolutely has the will and the fighting spirit to see this conflict through to a victory. In contrast to Russia, the entire population of Ukraine is mobilized and every Ukrainian is assisting in some way with supporting the war effort.
Reflecting over the past six months, what was the most important contribution Spirit of America made?
Matt: Spirit of America supplied over 10,000 sets of Level 4 body armor and helmets to Ukrainian units. That has had a tangible impact on the combat effectiveness of Ukrainian frontline troops. Having that level of protection could save the lives of all who wear the equipment, and it also gives individual soldiers the confidence necessary to take the fight to the enemy. Outfitting a significant portion of frontline troops with this type of equipment has stiffened Ukrainian resistance along many portions of the battlefield and prevented the Russians from seizing more Ukrainian territory.
What stories have you heard about the direct impact that Spirit of America is making on the safety and success of Ukrainian forces?
Colleen: I’ve received countless text messages and video messages of soldiers in the Armed Forces and the Territorial Defense Forces who pull off their Spirit of America helmet and show where it was shot and how it saved their life, or talk about how their Spirit of America-provided body armor is keeping them and their units safe. Our aid not only has saved lives, but also contributed to the morale of the Ukrainians who are fighting to defend their country.
Matt: Likewise, the thousands of individual first aid kits and hundreds of squad trauma kits are being used daily to keep wounded soldiers alive in areas of intense fighting.
As the war continues and evolves, what are our Ukraine and US partners telling us about what’s needed now on the front lines?
Colleen: Despite fighting for six months now, many of the needs are still the same. The need for body armor, helmets, and first aid kits continues to be a major need. The need for vehicles to transport troops and civilians continues, and the ability to communicate, see at night, and provide medical aid is significant. Additionally, the Territorial Defense Force needs further training and development to continue to have an impact on the battlefield.
What do Ukrainians want Americans – and the world – to know about this war and their fight for independence?
Matt: The Ukrainians feel they are fighting to protect the rest of the world from continued Russian aggression. They know that if Russian war aims are not crushed this time, then the freedom of other European nations will be placed at greater risk. In their opinion, material and financial support for Ukraine should not be considered charity – it’s necessary support for a nation that is fighting to defeat Russia for everyone’s benefit.
Colleen: I’ve asked this question to several Ukrainian contacts and friends. In July, when Matt and I were in Kyiv, a Ukrainian Member of Parliament summarized how Ukrainians understand that they are fighting not just for their country, but for democracies around the world. He told us, “This is a clash between two systems, not just two countries. We cannot lose, because it will be the collapse of the democratic system. If we lose, dictatorship regimes will dictate how the rest of the world can act.”
How will Spirit of America continue to stand with Ukraine for the next 6 months?
Matt: Spirit of America will continue to work closely with our Ukrainian partners, US military and diplomatic colleagues, and friends in the region to identify the shifting needs of Ukrainian frontline troops on an ever-evolving battlefield. Our direct work with key decision-makers and partners will help us continue to fine-tune the procurement and delivery of equipment that will have the most impact on helping the Ukrainians win.
Will Spirit of America continue to support Ukraine after the war ends? If so, how?
Colleen: The post-war needs of Ukraine will be enormous, and there will be a significant role for nonprofits and the US to play in helping rebuild and heal the country. We are already working with Ukrainian and US Government partners to identify where Spirit of America could play an outsized and important role in this space, and we are particularly interested in supporting and honoring Ukrainian wounded veterans. Spirit of America has been active in Ukraine since 2014, and we will continue to work alongside US troops and diplomats in Ukraine after the war ends.
What have you, personally, learned in these past six months?
Matt: At the outset of the war, it seemed that the sheer weight of Russian power would be adequate for achieving the Kremlin’s goals against a smaller and weaker Ukraine. However, the past six months have clearly demonstrated that the size and strength of Russia can not and will not outweigh the collective desire of a brave and independent people who are determined to preserve their nation and defend their homes.
Colleen: It has been truly inspiring to see the Ukrainian people fight for their country and their freedom. The unity, conviction, and bravery they’ve demonstrated over and over again have taught me the lessons of the modern-day version of David vs Goliath. The past six months have also felt like the most tangible example of how supporting Spirit of America can allow Americans to have a direct impact, by keeping soldiers alive, fed, and protected.