A Canadian veteran in Kyiv is teaming up with a U.S. tactical equipment distributor 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 reconsidered after his Ukrainian wife told him that she'd be going with him anywhere he went.
Leach said that when he met American Nick Pappas — who was forbidden by his loved one from taking up arms — they decided together to launch a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Project Volya to help in another way.
"Seeing that we're facing an existential threat from Russia, I have to contribute to victory," said Leach from his apartment in Kyiv. "Anything else, I would be crushed. It would destroy my soul."
Through donations from multiple countries, including Canada, the pair are ordering and sending shipments of basic wartime supplies from the U.S. and Poland. The supplies include tourniquets, hemostatic gauze to pack wounds and chest seals to help the wounded breathe.
"It's all about preserving lives, keeping Ukraine in the fight," said Leach, who from 2008-2018 served as a sergeant specializing in armoured reconnaissance.
"There are people being wounded but having their lives saved, healing and being able to return to the fight or continue to contribute to the effort against Russia."
WATCH / 'Every single day there are people being wounded'
The effort started when Pappas travelled to Lviv in western Ukraine in the first week of Russia's invasion. He loaded up duffel bags with $5,000 worth of medical supplies, thermal imaging telescopes and binoculars for the battlefield.
Pappas made his way to the Donbas region in southeastern Ukraine, donated his gear to Ukrainian soldiers and showed them how to use it, said Leach.
"These guys were so excited to have a foreigner come out to their position and demonstrate through action that they cared," said Leach.
Since then, said Leach, he and Pappas have built a network of local drivers — one of them a Ukrainian military veteran — to transport supplies across the border from Poland straight to fighters in eastern Ukraine. Smaller 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," said Leach of their connections with the Ukrainian armed forces. "It never has to go to a government warehouse."
The project is just getting started. One shipment has made it to the Donbas, a second shipment is en route from the U.S. and the NGO has raised enough money for another order from Poland.
Leach said it's all been a big change for him. Since 2018, he's worked for the Canadian contingent of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring team in Kyiv.
Before Russia invaded in February, Leach's job was to monitor the conflict zone in the Donetsk and Luhansk region for any violations of the cease-fire. In a room lined wall-to-wall with TV screens, Leach watched sophisticated cameras and thermal feeds scanning the "line of contact" between government and non-government forces in the conflict zone.
His role was to record explosions, heavy weapons on the front line or any other violations of the Minsk agreements.
"The whole idea was that this was going to avert a war," said Leach. "Sadly, it didn't work out."
In a separate effort, Canadian veteran and defence contractor Christopher Baxter said he's volunteering to help deliver medical supplies on a much larger scale.
Baxter runs the defence contractor company Caina-Longbranch; he said he's sent dozens of shipments of weapons and ammunition to U.S. bases in Germany and Baghdad during previous conflicts. This time, he said, he's handling logistics and working to arrange a cargo plane to pick up more than $750,000 worth of medical supplies from the charity Care Convoy in Idaho.
The charity said it received a large donation from a hospital that includes everything needed to set up and operate a field hospital in Ukraine. The shipment would include hospital beds, bandages, prosthetics, surgical tools, crutches, medications and sutures, according to Care Convoy.
"The adventure is to get a proper aircraft," said Baxter.
Having secured a private cargo plane through Ukrainian cargo carrier Antonov Airlines, Baxter said he's still trying to get the airport to waive landing fees and is asking for private donations to cover fuel and other costs. He said he wants the Canadian government to make cargo space available on military C-17 aircraft to transport privately-donated supplies to Ukraine.
WATCH / 'You have to put people back together'
"[Canadian] hospitals are upgrading and rotating out stock," said Baxter. "Some of this is perfectly good. If [Ukrainians] can't get donated stuff, they end up buying it on the black market, which could be ineffective, overpriced or downright lethal."
Baxter said the Canadian government also could set up Level 3 military hospitals in Ukraine's neighbouring countries — Poland, Slovakia and Romania — to help save those with potentially life-ending injuries.
"We've gone from 2022 back to 1945," said Baxter. "We're having complete, outright, full-scale warfare and decimation of hospitals. Everything you can name is simply being blown off the map. They literally need everything."