June 28, 2023

map of Ukraine

Hello all,

I want to share some more information today. My friends Goodie and Adam, two UK Legionnaires, were wounded again in a failed assault on Russian positions two days ago. Goodie has a severe TBI and is receiving a CAT scan shortly in Kharkiv. He is just a month removed from sustaining shrapnel injuries to his shoulder, knee, and eye in another battle. At the same time, my friend Andrei and his unit were advancing towards Russian positions and got caught in a minefield. There are videos on the internet that someone told me about. I did not watch them, nor will I, but I checked in with Andrei a few minutes ago and asked how he is doing and that I heard about the battle. He responded, “I am ok, but all my guys are dead.” I know two of his guys, but I didn’t ask. There is nothing I or anyone can say, so I just told him to hang in there and that he is in our prayers and to try and stay mission focused, but to me my words all sound lame and inadequate.

Then, being the selfless guy that he is, Andrei took the time to ask about my family and how the work here was going. Perhaps this was his way of taking his mind off the present. He is a great guy, and I wish there was more I could do.

It has been a rough time over here on this trip. I feel very sad and tired right now. The difference is that I can come and go, from the comfort of home to the chaos of war and back again. But my many friends, colleagues and their familes cannot. I look around, and talk to people like Goodie and Andrei and Rebecca, a combat nurse from the US who has been on the front for 16 months without a single break, or the residents of villages who have no homes, no water, no cars, no schools, no power and are still shelled all day, every day. The discomfort and fatigue and emotions that I feel are petty and irrelevant.

I am partnering with my teammate Hymie Dunn and a young girl, Tania, (she is designated Little Tania, so we don’t confuse her with Tania from Odesa and Tanya from Irpin) and her brother Stanislav. We will be assisting with the funding and some design of a set of mobile schoolhouses ( tiny homes) that will shuttle between villages on the Dnipro River that were damaged during the flood and are under constant shelling.

There is a discussion in the country about the wisdom of volunteers and the government continuing to support these villages versus evacuating the residents to IDP shelters away from the front. There are valid arguments on both sides. But for now, the families and kids in these places are staying put, and they need structure and access to educational opportunities. So we (you), are supporting this initiative.

Thursday, we will head back down to Kherson with “Little Tania” and meet with the designer and carpenter and have a look at the villages. This time, Tania’s church will give us the proper paperwork to get through the checkpoints so we can visit the villages and meet the woman who will be running the program. I will try to attach some photos of the project, and I will have some additional information in the future. I have also spoken to my friend and former co-worker Matt Dreyer about an art show featuring Tania’s photography from Ukraine. We hope to have an opening at Matt’s gallery in San Diego sometime after I return.

Tania’s photos can be found at her Instagram Page @taniasynia and her website https://www.tetianasynia.com/

Matt’s IG is @mattdrey_arts and his website is https://www.mattdreyarts.com/

Yesterday the Russians hit Kherson City with incendiary weapons. They have been using these on cities near the front for months even though they are banned under the Geneva Convention for use on civilian targets, and Russia is a signatory to that agreement. Luckily the burning particles take a long time to land once they explode in the air so there is time to take shelter.

As I am writing this, we became aware of a missile strike on a restaurant and shopping area in the eastern city of Kramatorsk. So far, the death toll is 8 dead including three children and 50+ injured. I was in Kramatorsk two weeks ago and had lunch near this spot. Kramatorsk is also the home of Brett and Eddy although they are not there right now thankfully. Russian pages are saying it was a strike on a military target, which is what they always say. It was also on the one year anniversary of their strike on the shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk. They like to assign significance to specific dates which is a throwback to Soviet times.

Today an acquaintance from my gym in San Diego posted another stupid meme about Ukraine on Instagram and stated that Zelensky caused the war and actually wants the war to continue so he can get money from the west and live a lavish lifestyle. There are millions of memes, Twitter posts and other nonsense like this all over the internet.

I have scrubbed most of my IG page and will use it sparingly now. But because we have a cordial and friendly relationship I couldn’t help but respond privately to his post and I politely pointed out the misinformation and erroneous nature of the post. He proceeded to explain to me, that despite my five trips here, my Soviet Studies major, my travels around the world, my friendships with Ukrainians from military officers to babushkas, and the now 7 books I have read about Ukrainian history and the origins of this war, that I have been brainwashed by Zelensky. And me and all those who support Ukraine are just ignorant paws in the attempt by the “global elites” to undermine the west. For those who aren’t aware, these are some of the talking points of a not so fringe political movement in the US and these beliefs are held by a significant portion of our fellow citizens. I just unfollowed him and blocked him. And while I digress a moment. I will block and unfollow in real life anyone who says or suggests anything, even remotely close to this to me. I don’t care if we share blood or if I have known them for 56 years, I have no more patience.

Thank you for your continued support. And more to Follow