Kyiv Post | 25Sep2014 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Help Ukrainian freedom fighters

There is a crying need to assist Ukraine’s freedom fighters. At a snail’s pace, Western countries are stepping up their commitments. The U.S. has allocated $60 million to strengthen Ukraine’s defense, security and border operations. At its summit, NATO committed $19.6 million for nonlethal aid from its annual $1 trillion budget to deal with the kind of violence Russia is perpetrating in Ukraine. It is a dismissive and paltry sum -- a green light for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Western civilization. But Ukraine should take every penny. And use it wisely. 

Canada sent humanitarian assistance comprising non-lethal materiel a few weeks ago. There is concern that the cargo might fall into the enemy’s hands or be sold on the black market. And rightfully so.

Knowledgeable sources describe incidents where members of the anti-terrorist operation were required to pay their unscrupulous old-guard superiors for government-issued ammunition or go without. 

Or, the fighters learn, too late, that the bulletproof vests sent them are not up to standard. Or, when ambushed, they are assured that desperately needed reenforcements are coming, but these simply don’t arrive. 

Mothers are buying equipment for their sons with their own funds only to have it confiscated as “inadequate” or exchanged for truly substandard products by those in charge. 

The concern runs deeper. Possible collusion between Ukraine and Russia’s security leadership was investigated by slidstvo.inform and reported in Ukrayinska Pravda and elsewhere. ATO commanders have appealed to President Petro Poroshenko to dismiss Maj. Gen. Viacheslav Nazarkin, deputy to the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s ATO, Viktor Muzhenko, and responsible for special operations. The general’s role in several botched rescue operations ended tragically for ATO forces and is in question. 

In turn, Minister of Defense Valerii Heletey has called the request to dismiss Commander Muzhenko a Russian provocation. Nonetheless, six of his top generals were fired last week; it is not clear whether Maj. Gen. Nazarkin was one of them. The situation needs close watching: treason is a heinous crime.

As more military assistance flows into Ukraine, it is important to ensure that it doesn’t get diverted by unscrupulous opportunists. Donors need to know who, ultimately, gets the goods. It would be ironic if Western military aid landed in Russia’s hands. Perhaps Canada might take a lead in working with Ukrainian entities on the ground to ensure proper distribution and mandatory oversight. One such Ukrainian organization might be the “Volonterska Sotnia,” or Volunteers Brigade. 

It sprung out of the need to handle the  logistics for Maidan -- food, shelter, then medical aid, hospitalization, relocation and more -- and turned to address the needs of the freedom fighters in eastern Ukraine when the Russia-led terrorists invaded. The immediate priority became to supply protective equipment for the front lines. It became critical to protect the fighters now rather than grieve and rehabilitate later.

Olia Onyshko, director of the film “Three Stories of Galicia,” had filmed the work of the Maidan volunteers. They knew her and called in late March with a desperate message: the freedom fighters have nothing but “holi ruky,” or bare hands, to fight the enemy in Luhansk and Donetsk. Ms. Onyshko called me and, in short order, we collected some $70,000. We were fortunate to receive most of the funds from a Canadian donor who understood the gravity of the situation. The Canadian funds were transferred via the Canada Ukraine Foundation. The Ukrainian Federation of America was the conduit for the U.S. funds. In Ukraine, the three founding women and friends, all volunteers, handled the procurement and delivery often in borrowed trucks or backseats of their cars to get the goods to “nashi khloptsi,” our boys.

Since then, the Volunteers Brigade has grown into a well-run operation comprising three arms -- materiel and logistics, hospital services and relocation of refugees -- and serving some 12 battalions, including the legendary Donbas and Atar [Aidar?]. Now, an incorporated charitable fund, its good reputation is spreading. It continues raising money from abroad, as well as from donors in Ukraine. The staff of the National Bank of Ukraine for instance, collected some $50,000, while Svyatoslav Vakarchuk of Okean Elzy fame stepped up with an undisclosed figure but similar to that of “the big-hearted” Canadian donor. 

The Volonterska Sotnia’s contribution to Ukraine’s defense effort has been noted. On Aug. 24,2014, Ukraine’s Independence Day,  Poroshenko awarded one of its founders, Olena Masorina 29, with Ukraine’s highest award, the Order of Kniahynia Olha. Canada’s aid program, that of other countries and NATO needs to work with proven organizations like Volonterska Sotnia to assure that the aid falls into the right hands. 

This is as important as donating. As Russia escalates the war and Ukraine’s casualties mount -- some 1,000 dead freedom fighters, 5,000 wounded and nearly 1 million displaced -- so does the need for assistance. Now, a proven home-grown organization exists to help them. Those wishing to support Ukraine’s freedom fighters against Mr. Putin’s terror may contribute directly to the Volonterska Sotnia. 

You may learn more about it by accessing Please make direct deposits to the account “CF “VS “Ukraine-World, Account No. 26009300002428, PJSC Diamantbank, Kyiv, Ukraine, SWIFT.DMBAUAUK

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn may be contacted at [email protected]. She is a former Canadian government executive who is a founding member of the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine