A group of US veterans has helped raise more than $30 million to send much-needed supplies to Ukraine’s military as Kiev begins its fight against Russia.
They have been coordinating and distributing more than non-lethal aid to the frontline since the full-scale invasion began in February last year.
Nearly 9,000 civilians have been killed and more than 15,000 injured since Vladimir Putin’s all-out offensive in Ukraine.
A former infantryman and overseas territory officer, Dimmick served overseas assignments in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Russia, Iraq and Georgia.
Russia invaded its neighboring country on February 24 last year, launching a series of attacks on the capital, Kiev
A missile hits a residential building in a Ukrainian city during a frenzied Russian bombing campaign.
Spirit of America, a Virginia-based nonprofit that counts several former servicemen and women among its ranks, tracks non-lethal military supplies and takes them to the front lines to help the war effort in Ukraine.
It is the only agency in the United States that works directly with the Department of Defense to identify the needs of Ukrainian soldiers.
Arms shipments are left to Ukraine’s allies, with a small number of US officials tracking the supplies inside the country to ensure they don’t end up in the wrong hands.
The group was founded by tech entrepreneur Jim Heck in 2003 after the 9/11 attacks.
Present in more than 100 countries, it has been on Ukrainian soil since 2014 after Moscow illegally annexed Crimea, initially focused on setting up a radio station to counter Kremlin propaganda.
But the focus shifted when Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin sent troops and tanks into the capital, Kiev.
Its staff and donors have made possible the shipment of more than 200 tons of non-lethal equipment such as helmets, body armor and surveillance drones.
The company, based on its Ukrainian government contacts, has even paid to refurbish old Soviet-era military vehicles to help the country’s military in its war against Russia.
Colin Denny, now a director of Spirit of America, has worked with the US Coast Guard for nearly a decade and was involved in the humanitarian response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Colleen Denny, who has worked with the US Coast Guard for nearly a decade, joined the nonprofit in January 2019.
“We were actually working with the US embassy in Kiev and US military partners for months before the full-scale invasion,” he said. ‘We were just reading what was happening and understanding what Russia was doing.
When the Russian army finally rolled over the Ukrainian border, Denny was on vacation in Utah where he watched the events unfold on TV.
‘I was watching the news and seeing what was happening and how unfair and cruel it seemed,’ Denny said.
But just 24 hours later, the Johns Hopkins graduate returned to his home in Washington DC and packed his bags for Poland.
From there he will spend the next few weeks coordinating the ‘memorial act’ of getting supplies to those in need in Ukraine within 36 hours.
The 35-year-old, who was involved in the US humanitarian response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, arrived in Rzeszow, a major supply hub for the Ukrainian war effort, by 28 February.
‘Our first cargo plane landed on March 18,’ he says. ‘I don’t even know how many signal messages, WhatsApp messages, emails I got from some Ukrainian who somehow got my number.
‘I think my weekly screen report averaged 21 hours. We were right around the clock.’
‘It was really like a triage of how we prioritize and assess what funding we have and the support we can offer.’
Denny and fellow veteran Matt Dimmick, seen here with Ukrainian troops on the ground, are helping coordinate critical non-lethal aid deliveries from neighboring countries.
Just before Russia’s latest illegal land grab, Ukraine’s government revised rules to make it easier to join the country’s Territorial Defense Force.
According to British defense think-tank RUSI, their ranks have grown from 55,000 to 110,000 by May 2022.
A presidential decree prohibits men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country.
This meant that demand for life-saving items such as Kevlar-plated vests in Ukraine increased in the first few months of the war.
In fact, a donation from the group helped lure a young soldier to the frontline in the southern port of Mykolaiv after coming under Russian fire last year.
‘We gave him the helmet he was wearing,’ Denny said. ‘He texted a photo and said “I was in a fire last night and it saved my life”.’
Spirit of America hopes to eventually send the equivalent of $200 million in non-lethal aid and equipment to the Ukrainian army, which on June 10 launched a long-awaited counteroffensive against Russian invaders.
Unlike many other non-profit organizations, it prides itself on being ‘non-neutral’ and openly supports US foreign policy goals.
Its website calls Vladimir Putin’s illegal aggression ‘the biggest threat to freedom and democracy since World War II’.
Retired Colonel Matt Dimmick, who served 29 years in the US Army as an infantry officer and overseas territory officer, said he signed up because he missed working on the ‘difficult mission or cause’ that came with serving his country.
‘For veterans, it’s hard to replicate that from the outside once you take off the uniform, explains the 52-year-old.
A Russia and Ukraine expert who has advised the Pentagon and the White House, Dimick described the task of coordinating aid delivery to the war-torn country as ‘like coming home’.
Experiences abroad in conflict zones like Kosovo and Bosnia were ‘part of the recipe that got me to where I wanted to be after I got out of the military,’ he said.
‘These are similar examples where you’ve got an aggressive, larger neighbor wreaking havoc and destruction on a smaller population…’There are things powerful countries can do to help those people resist brazen aggression.’
The West Point and University of Kansas graduate was preparing to go live on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network when he learned that Putin ‘went ahead with this madness.’
However there are individuals who are part of the project and are still working in some capacity.
The son of Bangladeshi immigrants, Adel Hussain is a reservist paratrooper and psychological operations officer in the U.S. Army in addition to his work with Spirit of America.
From September 2017 to June 2018, the 28-year-old helped train Ukrainian soldiers as part of a NATO program known as Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Hussain, a practicing Muslim, served as an Army Field Artillery Officer with overseas tours in Germany and Poland.
The 28-year-old canceled plans to study international relations at the University of Denver rather than help Spirit of America’s efforts to support Ukraine.
The night Russia attacked, he decided to drop out of the University of Denver’s international relations graduate program and join an Arlington-based nonprofit.
‘I felt this kind of helplessness where you hope that the training you gave your friends in Ukraine is keeping them alive right now,’ Hussain explains. ‘But I felt incredibly frustrated and guilty that I wasn’t doing more.’
Against the backdrop of the Spirit of America fundraising drive, some in Republican circles argue that US taxpayers should not be helping Ukraine’s military at all.
The Biden administration has pledged just $77 billion in aid to Ukraine since February 24 of last year, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
Only $47 billion was used for weapons and other military equipment, most of which was manufactured in the United States.
“The US government spends hundreds of billions of dollars every year, even trillions of dollars over time, to prevent Russia from doing exactly what they’re trying to do with Ukraine,” counters Dimick.
He told Newstimesuk.com, ‘Ukrainians taking on Russia and taking away huge assets of the Russian military machine is a huge boon to all the freedom-loving, freedom-loving people of Europe.
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