Ukraine Update: Operation Yetzias
Why military veterans are the missing link needed to support the Ukrainian people
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About a month ago, a small team of five veterans self-funded to get to Poland and understand the situation on the ground. Initially, they tried to join the Ukrainian Foreign Volunteer Legion, but as I wrote about in a previous post, volunteers are not given equipment and are routinely asked to sign indefinite contracts and have their passports taken until the war is over.
Another urgent need quickly arose, however, and our team pivoted to support the evacuation of the Ukrainian Jewish community of approximately 250,000 who mainly reside in the Russian-threatened cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odessa. Evacuation can be especially difficult for the Jewish community due to the presence of the Azov Battalion; a former neo-Nazi paramilitary organization that split off from its political wing and integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard in 2016. Although officially denouncing any anti-Semitism, especially in a country led by a Jewish President who is the descendant of Holocaust survivors, internally-displaced Jews have reportedly had great difficulty getting access to services, evacuations, and protection in areas with a dominant Azov presence.
Evacuation of Ukrainian Jews from the Russian invasion is critical. Authoritative reports of atrocities and war crimes at the hands of the Russian military are making their way to governments and international criminal courts; meanwhile, those left behind are doomed to suffer. Amidst the societal breakdown of a wartime environment, it is absolutely imperative that every last Ukrainian Jew is cared for and rescued.
Our team on the ground is operating under the support and permission of the Ukrainian government which is too stretched to defend their country and evacuate 10 million displaced citizens, especially in areas under Russian occupation. The Federation of Jewish Communities facilitated a large-scale evacuation of nearly 50,000 Ukrainian Jews early in the conflict, but as the war progressed, evacuation routes closed and the operation became too dangerous to sustain. This is where our team of highly-skilled career special operations veterans stepped in to rescue Ukrainian Jews who would otherwise fall between the cracks and be left to a terrible fate.
What is taking place in Ukraine today is a war at a level of intensity unmatched in this century. Tactical gear is required to operate in these environments; a majority of incurred fixed costs come from this requirement which also demands a long-tail of specialized logistics due to import/export restrictions and scarcity during times of conflict. One veteran just retired from the military and has not yet started receiving his pension; he used his life savings to pay his way into country. For perspective, most retired enlisted personnel earn only ~$30,000/year; just to show up and help by doing a job nobody else can do, they are spending at least 33% of their own personal income for the year.
Evacuees need protection and support as well; luckily once they escape to Poland, there are many services to support them, but during the evacuation, it is critical for them to be adequately protected from the dangers of a wartime environment. During a food run, one of the vans used to evacuate refugees was struck by a Russian RPG and destroyed. Vans can be replaced, but this is just one of the many dangers that our evacuees and teams face while conducting this crucial mission.
More than ever your help is needed to prevent this horrific tragedy from getting worse. Support the evacuation of Ukrainian Jews through my crowdfunding site here or by donating to www.heartofanace.org, a registered 501(c)(3) supporting humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and Ukraine. In the “additional instructions” section, please be sure to instruct your donation to support “Operation Yitzias” – 100% of your donation will go to support evacuating Ukrainian Jews from behind enemy lines. You can also donate through Bulwark Foundation by making a one-time or even a monthly donation. Also, feel free to reach out to me directly if you wish to contribute directly or become more involved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and do not reflect those of J.P. Morgan Chase, American Jewish University, the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, or any other organization.