I’ve proudly given time and resources to help Ukraine, founding Ghosts of Liberty in February 2022, and completing two trips and two months in the country. It has been one of the most rewarding and moving experiences of my life. I feel I finally put my defense background, which I left long ago 16 years earlier, to good use. The men I trained were good people and they were not fighters; they were photographers, real estate investors, doctors, dentists, artists. But they rose to the occasion. At least one has been killed, another captured, and several others wounded. Their pain saddens and angers me, as I empathize with what they are going through – and no one deserves to be thrown into such a brutal war as they have, especially in the 21st century. I have gotten to know many of them.
I was moved by a veteran of the 2014 conflict who had a bounty on his head from Russia, whom I watched receive news throughout our time of his friends, who had fallen in combat, as he shared their photos and stories.
I met a commander who went to the military academy with his good friend who became the head of the Black Sea Fleet, who told stories about how Ukrainians were treated as second class citizens in the Soviet system; and how his friend stopped talking to him after the invasion of Crimea.
I heard the story of a man from Sevastopol, Crimea, whose sister and parents remained on the peninsula and were supportive of Russia’s invasion- an invasion which he was fighting to end.
I learned the long history of Ukraine and its struggles for independence; it’s red and black partisan/resistance flag a symbol of sacrifice, representing the color that a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag becomes when stained with blood.
Since Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, I’ve read about how Vladimir Putin has dismantled free press, assassinated or jailed his rivals, consolidated power, falsified “elections”, engaged in massive cyber psychological warfare (to include “troll farms”) to influence elections in the US and abroad, and clearly stated his view for a new world order which includes a new Russian Empire. As a student of international relations and a kid who was always in awe of history and global politics, I was naturally interested.
A Ukrainian friend from undergrad was a Maidan protestor in Kiev in 2013-2014 and shared stories of what they experienced. One night a year later, I was invited to an event at the Ukrainian Embassy in DC, where I met the ambassador and learned more about what happened to Ukraine.
And finally, a classmate and friend I graduated MBA with in 2012 who is Ukrainian and living in Kiev with his family on February 24, gave me greater purpose when he was forced to defend his country.
The elaborate deception, tactful misdirection, and smoke and mirrors of Putin’s regime can make it difficult for most people to understand what’s really going on, and why Russia invaded Ukraine.
Putin has given many reasons to justify his campaign:
- To prevent Ukraine from joining NATO (he also said NATO should be pushed back to Germany as a condition for not invading Ukraine).
- To defend Russian citizens who were being attacked by Ukraine. A similar excuse he gave for both the 2008 invasion of Georgia and first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, where unmarked military forces entered the country and seized Crimea and key cities in the east under the guise of “local militia” which were Russian forces directed, funded, and led by the Putin regime.
- To protect Russia, a nuclear state, from invasion by NATO, a defensive alliance
- To “de-nazify” Ukraine, claiming that the regime is run by Nazis. A ridiculous claim considering that President Zelensky is Jewish and lost family members in the holocaust.
- Putin claimed that the 2014 Maidan Revolution was a coup, backed by “the west” to delegalize Ukraine’s independence and suggest that its own citizens have no agency.
This is not surprising, since Putin said he doesn’t recognize Ukraine as a sovereign state or people. No, he views Ukraine and its people as vassals of Russia. As property. And as an angry spoiled child, he’ll break it if he can’t have it. He routinely rewrites history and engages in wild rants to justify brutal, unforgivable acts of inhumanity not only against those outside Russia’s borders but against his own people. Putin is a corrupt, criminal, psychopathic dictator with no empathy or respect for human life, who steals from his own people.
Putin’s goal is the pursuit of power and territorial expansion through fear and conquest, and of course, self-preservation for himself and his corrupt and brutal regime.
It’s worth noting that Putin swore to the world publicly that Russia would never invade Ukraine, but the history of his actions speaks louder than words and shows that deceit, false flags, brutality, fear, manipulation, and lies are the principal tools employed by the Russian state.
Like an abusive, insecure, violently controlling ex, Russia demands that Ukraine returns to its fold and love it, while dragging it by the hair and beating it. Ukrainian citizens have not simply been killed but targeted in a campaign of terror that includes the rape, murder, and torture of innocent women and children. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children and citizens have been forcibly deported to Russia. Imagine a gang of brutes breaking into your home, occupying part of it, and kidnapping your children.
The Ukraine conflict makes me think of America’s war for independence, although much more savage and brutal. For hundreds of years, the people of Ukraine have fought for their independence and paid dearly. This is their time to cement their independence and identity into history.
In total, I spent about two months in Ukraine in three trips. My mission was not and is not to hurt Russians- it is and has always been to save Ukrainians. I believe that the best – and only – way forward is a Ukraine that is victorious on the battlefield.
- Provided night vision optics for machineguns and rifles for Alpha GRU (Spetsnaz)
- Provided bipods for rifles and machineguns
- Trained 80 Ukrainian Army and Territorial Defense on defense, assault, patrolling, ambushes, urban combat, close quarters battle, first aid, hand/arm signals, weapons handling, squad/platoon organization and leadership, fire and movement, boobytraps, strengths/weaknesses of various vehicles, and more.
- Equipped 80 of those trained with plate carriers, magazine pouches, and more
- Provided body armor to soldiers in the south
- Provided first aid supplies and kits
- Supplied encrypted radios to allow defenders around Bakhmut to communicate
- Provided night vision and thermal devices
- Motion sensor alarms
- Various long-range binoculars
- Camouflage, uniforms, ghillie suits
- 30 fire-resistant, cold weather flight suits for helicopter pilots
- Advanced drone with thermal imaging
- Attack drones
- GPS trackers
- Night vision
- Long-range binoculars and optics
In addition, I continue to support and facilitate various projects and groups.
One of the things I’ve learned is that despite the foreign aid you hear in the news, most of the war is crowdfunded. My initial thought during my second and third trips after spending roughly $100k in supplies and expenses was that a government should cover these expenses and supply these items.
But then I realized that Ukrainians are emptying their savings and investments to send vital supplies to their loved ones fighting along a massive and dangerous front line. I can return to the US and leave the country; they can’t. They have to stay and live the war. Individuals who are in a fortunate enough position to make a difference, must.
Their government is under extreme financial pressure and cannot sustain its forces and economy alone. People in the US often use comparisons of Afghanistan or Iraq, but this is nothing like them. There is never a “normal war”, and this high-stakes conflict in particular is a total war of survival for the Ukrainians. Front-line troops in defensive positions often lack necessities like first-aid, radios to communicate in trenches, night vision, and binoculars. People cannot shrug off moral duty by assuming government is sufficient to make everything right.
Russia and China publicly stated their desire to forge a new world order: one of fear, overwhelming and unquestionable power of the state, which is ruled by a powerful few, the subjugation of all people under its dominion, no justice, no human rights, no democracy, and one in which might makes right. A sick order ruled by despots with nuclear weapons must be resisted. It’s not simply the right thing to do, it’s necessary.
Russian assets should be frozen and used to pay for the damage and harm inflicted on Ukraine A new, global free trade and collective defense organization should be formed among nations committed to the principles of liberty. If the republics of the world do not stand together this century, they will certainly hang separately.
What matters is not where a people were born, but rather their values. The Ukrainians I’ve met are honorable, courageous, and kind. True warriors, who defend the weak against the strong. As Ukraine desperately fights for its right to exist, we must continue to support them. I will.