US military veterans rescuing Ukraine’s orphans

As most true heroes will tell you, if you can get them to talk about themselves, they’re drawn to running towards the fire rather than away from it. Not because they possess extraordinary courage or remarkable strength, but because of a deep sense of purpose.

A week ago, a group of foreigners, including Vlad Finn, Tyler Merritt and a small group of American veterans volunteering with the Air Recovery Group, crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine at the exact moment the sirens rang out for the night curfew.

They had 72 hours to complete their mission to rescue as many of the country’s orphans as possible from the attacked areas and bring them to safety.

“Over 400 orphans have been rescued so far,” said Merritt, a retired member of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who works with ARG, a team of combat-tested American veterans. . The United Nations Children’s Fund has reported that more than a million children have escaped from Ukraine since Russia started the war a month ago. The biggest concern was that these children would be abducted, leading to child trafficking, exploitation or death.

Merritt is the type of guy who is always driven by a goal. He founded his company Nine Line Apparel, which makes patriotic and military support apparel and gear, in part to employ local veterans in Savannah, Georgia. When his friend Scooter Brown said he was adopting a child in Ukraine when the war started, and as a result discovered that there were many children in danger there, Merritt got involved.

Merritt arrived in Poland, where he met several veteran ARG volunteers, as well as Finn, who is also driven by a higher purpose, though different from Merritt’s. While Merritt is a tactical warrior, Finn said he has a personal connection to the orphans of Ukraine as not too long ago he was one of them.

“I was born and raised in Kharkiv, Ukraine until I was 15 with my younger brother Denis,” he explained from his home in California. “My father died when I was 6 and my mother started drinking heavily.

“I ended up on the streets and stayed there for a few years, sleeping wherever I could find warmth and depending on the kindness of strangers,” he said.

At 11, he ended up in an orphanage. His brother was in another about 30 miles from him. “I was able to visit her a few times with my carer from the orphanage, he said.

Finn’s brother visited America in 2005 with a small group from his orphanage, and an American couple put him up for two weeks. “They fell in love with him and decided to adopt him, but the process took two years,” Finn said. “Towards the end of the process they found out that Denis had a brother and they also had to adopt him. At that time I was 15 and at first they said no, but after a while , they changed their minds and decided to adopt us both.

The family immediately bonded. Although he didn’t know a bit of English when he arrived, he played on the local high school football team, later earned a degree in finance, and moved to California.

“When the news of the invasion of Ukraine broke, I knew I had to go out there and help,” he said. “My first thought was to join the International Defense Legion, but I have no combat experience and thought it wouldn’t last long.”

Instead, he decided to go help in any way he could. “I partnered with Aerial Recovery, which rescues orphans from dangerous areas in Ukraine and settles them in the east of the country. It couldn’t be more perfect since I was one of those orphans before, except they got much worse because of the war. Helping them and spending time with them has been an honor and an incredible opportunity to have a positive impact, just like so many people throughout my life have done for me.

As soon as Merritt, Finn and the ARG team were in Ukraine, they got to work. Finn knew the language and knew where to go, and Merritt knew how to properly set up shelters, and they all handed out the supplies they acquired. More importantly, they set up a volunteer relay system not only to rescue the orphans but also to keep them in their home country.

And out of the hands of the Russians.

“When I was there, there were two Ukrainian carers for the orphans we were ferrying out of town, and (the Russians) pulled them out of the 30-passenger van full of orphans and, in front of the orphans, executed them. “said Merritt.

“The van driver said he had to run through the barricade, and he ended up joining us,” he added. “But there are orphans who had to see the only people they ever knew as carers executed… And it’s not that the Russians are bad – it’s that Putin is bad. And everyone should know that leadership has important consequences.

Merritt and Finn said they would be back at work with the ARG for an additional 72 hours in less than a week.

“It’s an incredible organization that’s completely out of its element,” Merritt said. “They are doing God’s work, risking their lives on a shoestring budget and saving and protecting Ukraine’s treasure, their children.”

The aid organization has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ukrainian government with a policy of keeping the children in Ukraine but removing them from dangerous areas where there are many orphanages.

It costs about $500 to move each child, and more to make it happen, as well as to pay the drivers who risk their lives to save those children. Merritt has raised over $100,000 through Nine Line.

Merritt said his interactions with Ukrainians were inspiring: “People say they’re in it for the long haul. They throw away their wives, they throw away their children, and many of them die, and yet they won’t stop defending their country.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, journalist and columnist for the Washington Examiner.

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