A Canadian veteran in kyiv teams up with a US tactical equipment supplier to deliver critical medical supplies to treat injured Ukrainian soldiers in the field.
Retired Canadian Armed Forces reservist Kevin Leach said he was tempted to join Ukraine’s fight against Russian forces as a foreign fighter. He said he changed his mind after his Ukrainian wife told him she would accompany him wherever he went.
Leach said that when he met American Nick Pappas – who was banned from taking up arms by his relative – they decided together to start a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Project Volya to help in another way.
“Seeing that we face an existential threat from Russia, I must contribute to victory,” Leach said from his apartment in Kyiv. “Anything else, I would be crushed. It would destroy my soul.”
With donations from several countries, including Canada, the two men ordered and shipped basic wartime supplies from the United States and Poland. Supplies include tourniquets, haemostatic gauze to dress wounds and chest seals to help injured people breathe.
“It’s about saving lives, keeping Ukraine in the fight,” said Leach, who from 2008 to 2018 served as an armored reconnaissance specialist sergeant.
“There are people who are injured but whose lives are saved, who are healing and who can return to combat or continue to contribute to the effort against Russia.”
WATCH / “Every day people get hurt”
The effort began when Pappas traveled to Lviv in western Ukraine during the first week of the Russian invasion. He loaded up duffel bags with $5,000 worth of medical supplies, thermal imaging telescopes and binoculars for the battlefield.
Pappas traveled to the Donbass region in southeastern Ukraine, donated his equipment to Ukrainian soldiers and showed them how to use it, Leach said.
“These guys were so excited for a stranger to come to their post and demonstrate through action that they cared,” Leach said.
Since then, Leach said, he and Pappas have set up a network of local drivers — including a Ukrainian army veteran — to ferry supplies across Poland’s border directly to fighters in eastern Israel. Ukraine. Small shipments are easier to deliver quickly to military units in need, he said.
“We can get things where they’re going without any red tape,” Leach said of their ties to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. “It never needs to go to a government warehouse.”
The project is just beginning. A shipment has arrived in the Donbass, a second is on its way from the United States and the NGO has collected enough money for another order from Poland.
Leach said it was all a big change for him. Since 2018, he has worked for the Canadian contingent of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring team in Kyiv.
Prior to Russia’s invasion in February, Leach’s job was to monitor the conflict zone in the Donetsk and Luhansk region for any ceasefire violations. In a room lined with television screens, Leach watched sophisticated cameras and thermal power supplies scanning the “line of contact” between government and non-government forces in the conflict zone.
Its role was to record explosions, heavy weapons in the front line or any other violation of the Minsk agreements.
“The idea was that it was going to avoid a war,” Leach said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
In a separate effort, Canadian veteran and defense contractor Christopher Baxter said he is volunteering to help deliver medical supplies on a much larger scale.
Baxter runs the defense firm Caina-Longbranch; he said he had sent dozens of arms and ammunition shipments to US bases in Germany and Baghdad in previous conflicts. This time, he said, he’s handling logistics and working to arrange a cargo plane to collect more than $750,000 in medical supplies from the Care Convoy charity in Idaho.
The charity said it received a large donation from a hospital which includes everything needed to set up and run a field hospital in Ukraine. The cargo is believed to include hospital beds, bandages, prostheses, surgical tools, crutches, medications and sutures, according to Care Convoy.
“The adventure is about getting a proper plane,” Baxter said.
After securing a private cargo plane through Ukrainian cargo carrier Antonov Airlines, Baxter said he was still trying to get the airport to waive landing fees and was asking for private donations to cover fuel and d other costs. He said he wanted the Canadian government to provide cargo space on C-17 military jets to transport private supplies to Ukraine.
WATCH / “We need to put people back together”
“[Canadian] hospitals are upgrading and rotating inventory,” Baxter said. “Some of that is perfectly good. Yes [Ukrainians] can’t get donated items, they end up buying them on the black market, which could be inefficient, too expensive, or downright deadly.”
Baxter said the Canadian government may also set up Level 3 military hospitals in Ukraine’s neighboring countries – Poland, Slovakia and Romania – to help save potentially fatal people.
“We’ve gone from 2022 to 1945,” Baxter said. “We have a complete, outright war and a decimation of hospitals. Everything you can name is just wiped off the map. They literally need it all.”