Canadian Combat Vet - fought ISIS, now using skills to support Ukraine

·4 min read

In Saskatchewan, a Facebook group - “Saskatchewan Hosts Displaced Ukrainians,” links Saskatchewan residents offering housing and employment to Ukrainians fleeing the war. Fundraising events such as the Stand with Ukraine Benefit Day on June 12th in Regina will see proceeds going to displaced Ukrainians in Saskatchewan Additionally, individuals and non-profit organizations are gathering humanitarian aid and sending volunteers to Ukraine. One Canadian veteran and his volunteers are helping by moving humanitarian aid through Ukraine.

Steve Krsnik, a combat veteran with the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), formed Humanitarian Emergency Response Operation, H.E.R.O. The volunteer non-profit organization has volunteers in Ukraine providing logistics support. HERO has had volunteers from across the globe, including Saskatchewan, BC and Alberta. They’ve included veterans, university students, and medics. People that have a calling to help.

Krsnik has always been the type of person that runs toward danger. During his eleven years with PPCLI, he deployed on two tours to Afghanistan. After leaving the military, It was the uprising of ISIS and the 2014 death of a 24-year-old reservist, Nathan Cirillo, who was performing ceremonial guard duty at the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa at the time of his death, that made Krsnik start to question what he was doing. “I was having this discussion in my head. I feel like I am pretending to be an electrician where all I know for the last 11 years is the army. I have had these refined skills that were just sitting on a shelf - in my head. I made the choice to go to Iraq and Syria.” He linked up with a Kurdish militia to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. There, he said he saw volunteers from across the world come together to fight back against ISIS. He recognized a need for vehicle logistics and training to bridge a gap.

In 2018 Krsnik provided emergency response in Wilmington, North Carolina, during Hurricane Florence. Here Steve experienced a large disconnect between Government response and the capability of Volunteer organizations on the ground. He attempted to fix those problems by working with different Government organizations to streamline rescues in areas that were flooded out and needed evacuations.

When Russia brutally invaded Ukraine in February in an unprovoked attack. Krsnik, now with a young family, struggled with the urge to do what he has always done. He needed to find a way to help from home.

What began as providing information to other veterans who wanted to go to Ukraine in a combat capacity, Krnisk identified the need for logistics support in Ukraine. However, he said, “It was something that required a substantial amount of capital to be able to start to buy vehicles, repair them, and provide fuel. Everything to keep a vehicle operational is not cheap.” An initial influx of money from generous donors got the logistics support up and running.

In the Western part of Ukraine, the City of Lviv became the staging area for humanitarian groups and is the supply hub. Warehouses are the initial collection point before being moved eastward deeper into the country. The group assists other organizations in moving their collected Items such as food, medical supplies and equipment and other essential needs eastward in Ukraine.

Krsnik says the costs of keeping vehicles operational in a war zone are their most pressing need. “The reason we are running into these problems are roads are bombed out or in very very rough condition from tanks and heavy vehicles driving on them to missiles landing on these roadways to disrupt the flow of goods moving to the areas that have been cut off by the Russian military. Just the bare fact that these missions are 11-12 hours driving in one direction from one side of the country to the other.”

“Right now, the biggest need we are running into is linking up with sponsors and getting donations coming in to keep these operations up and running. The day to day demands are - repairs to vehicles, tires, parts, labour, and fuel costs. And as vehicles become very damaged or broken, replacing those vehicles with newer vehicles. We need help.”

This past week the volunteers were at a standstill when their last van went in for repairs and was deemed not ideal for the transport work. It’s on its way to the Ukrainian military. There is another vehicle coming to the group. While they wait for it to arrive, they are helping out other aid organizations, hand packing Individual First Aid Kits, IFAKs, which will go to soldiers on the front lines.

Note: These reports are abridged for content

Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times

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