Report from Mykolaiv

May 9, 2023

Our team returned from Mykolaiv a few days ago where we distributed 50 field medic backpacks to several brigades fighting along the frontlines. To the east, 25,000 Russians were amassing, preparing to assault through the city toward their main objective, Odesa. The mood amongst our Ukrainian partners was one of sharpening swords, preparedness, and anticipation.

White Stork is no stranger to Mykolaiv, we’ve been supplying frontline units there with first aid kits since the beginning of the war. But the city has changed. Restaurants and cafes, once full of life, were now either closed or sparsely attended, the effects of frequent Russian strikes over the last few months.

We met with Governor Vitaliy Kim, an outspoken Putin-critic and Head of the Mykolaiv Regional Military Administration. On my first trip there he showed me the building where he lived. Putin had put a missile through it, killing 38 people.

“What can I tell people in the United States that you need?” I asked. His answer surprised me.

“When people think about donations, they usually think about food, clothing, and medical supplies. But right now we need shovels – thousands of them.” My God, I thought, of all the things he could ask us for, he wants shovels.

It makes sense when you travel across the frontlines. Six foot deep trenches reminiscent of World War I stretch for hundreds of miles across eastern and southern Ukraine. “We need good shovels”, Vitaliy said, “because ours keep breaking.”

The experience of our Ukrainian partners, defending their land against an invader, made me also think about an ongoing debate between NGOs about UN OCHA’s humanitarian principle of neutrality. Some aid organizations have refused to support White Stork because we directly support the Ukrainian defense forces with medical kits. White Stork is not neutral; we only support Ukraine in this fight.

I believe that some organizations that claim adherence to this neutrality principle are being disingenuous at best and fake at worst, because they aren’t providing services to Russia either. These organizations are hanging onto an outmoded system in a similar same way Vladimir Putin yearns for the return of the Soviet empire. Sometimes in life you must pick a side, and when one side is systemically raping young women as a matter of policy, at White Stork we know which side we stand on.

There’s a lesson about this in the opening scene of the movie The Boondock Saints. Set in a church, a priest closes his sermon with a warning to those who stand idly by when evil lurks.

  • Monsignor : “And I am reminded, on this holy day, of the sad story of Kitty Genovese. As you all may remember, a long time ago, almost thirty years ago, this poor soul cried out for help time and time again, but no person answered her calls. Though many saw, no one so much as called the police. They all just watched as Kitty was being stabbed to death in broad daylight. They watched as her assailant walked away. Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.”
  • Connor : [as the brothers exit the church] “I do believe the monsignor’s finally got the point.”
  • Murphy : “Aye.”

Almost 6 months into this war, White Stork, with the help of our incredible donors, has continued to supply our Ukrainian defense partners with first aid kits and other non-lethal aid, all delivered directly to the end-users on the frontlines. We have done this while running one of the leading evacuation programs in country. But we need your help to continue these programs.

Other than the shovels requested by Vitaliy Kim, there are two urgent needs. The first is more funding to provide individual first aid kits (IFAKs) and field medic backpacks to the chief medical officers of various brigades along the eastern and southern fronts. The second is more funding for our bus evacuation program which today we had to put on pause due to lack of funding. On July 31st President Zelensky ordered the mandatory evacuation of the Donetsk region so the need for evacuations continues.

As you can see in the graphic above, our numbers speak for themselves – over 37,000 evacuated from Ukraine into Poland and over 17,500 IFAKs delivered – and we hope that you will continue to support our mission in Ukraine.