Oxana Chorna finishes loading the vehicle with tents, uniforms, shoes and, most importantly, food and water. She triumphantly brandishes a bag with “survival kit” written on it, as if it was a trophy.
“I got it! I finally found the type they needed,” she says. She was able to buy a total of 50 such kits.
A veteran of the Maidan protests at the height of the demonstrations against former president Viktor Yanukovich, Oxana, 34, has found a new outlet for her commitment to a sovereign and independent Ukraine.
Every 10 days since the end of May, she has travelled from Kiev to the country’s east where government forces are battling pro-Russia separatists, to help supply an army short on almost everything.
'Each time I go there, I don’t know if I’ll come back’
With her bracelets, wavy hair and long floral dress, it is hard to picture this young economic researcher from the National Academy of Sciences in the middle of a battalion of Ukrainian soldiers.
She usually sets off in the morning, driving as far as Dnipropetrovsk, her hometown, where she spends the night.
The next day, she travels to just a few kilometres from the frontline held by the 20th regiment of the territorial defence force of Dnipropetrovsk, near the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, and waits for a military escort to pick her up.
“I could leave the supplies somewhere on the rear lines for them to come and collect. But I want to see them, because they never say on the phone that they need one thing or another,” says Oxana.
This time she makes the journey in an armoured minibus, (instead of her usual ageing Mitsubishi), a trip that will take her to “her” soldiers in the 20th regiment. She has the phone numbers of around 15 of them, including a section commander, and she relies on the information they provide to know when it’s not too risky to approach the frontlines. Once there, she will stay with them for one or two days.
"I am scared each time I get close…and even more so when I hear the shots and especially when I can see the enemy positions,’ says Oxana. “Each time I go there, I don’t know if I’ll come back. I still haven’t told my mother what I’m doing. But I have to do it.”
‘To help just one soldier is to help the whole battalion’
She began making supply trips after one of her best friends, who volunteered for the regiment, showed her his equipment.
“When he showed me his uniform,I understood they that fight for us in terrible conditions," says the former “Maidaner”, who has never been a member of any political party. Driven by a mix of maternal instinct and patriotism, Oxana now spends all her time on her supply drop-offs.
“I told myself, to help just one soldier is to help the whole battalion.”
Finding supplies in large enough quantities is always the biggest problem. “Often traders don’t have 50 sets of the same pair of shoes,” she explains.
When in Kiev, Oxana searches every corner of the capital to find helmets, food and medicine to bring to the soldiers. She gives the example of Celox, a product used to stop bleeding and imported from overseas. She knows where to go to get the best prices for what she needs.
To pay for the goods she relies on donations made through her Facebook page, which has more than 1,000 followers. Donations can vary from around 2 to 700 dollars per person.
“Each week I think I get around 10,000 dollars in transfers to my bank account,” she says, enough for her to buy supplies for around 60 to 70 soldiers. “My bank account details are online, even though I know that it’s not very secure. It’s not only my friends or friends of friends who make donations.”
Oxana estimates she has also spent around 2,000 dollars of her own money over the past six months.
“I can’t just do something else. In any case, I can’t concentrate on other things. When I see other Ukrainians quietly going about their business while our men, are fighting in the east … I can’t understand it!”
Oxana also acts as a go-between for the soldiers and their families, bringing them letters and photos of loved ones. She even makes postcards for soldiers to thank donors and vice versa.
But despite the growing success of her operation, Oxana is less than confident when it comes to the future.
“No one seems to understand that this conflict won’t just stop in a few weeks. It is quite simply the start of World War Three.”
At the soldiers’ request, Oxana is now ordering winter uniforms.
Date created : 2014-08-21