ACT Capital Advisors’ Managing Director Reflects on Ukraine Mission Trip

An ACT Capital Advisors Managing Director, Chris Sheppard, recently returned from the Poland/Ukraine border, where he volunteered to help Ukrainian refugees. Chris is a former Marine, and in March of this year, he felt distraught about the events unfolding in Ukraine. He thought about what he could do to help for weeks, and after a conversation with a co-worker who mentioned knowing people who had gone to help, Chris decided to go himself. So, he bought a flight to Krakow, Poland, 36 hours later.

Chris initially planned on funding his trip himself. But as he began posting about his upcoming trip on social media – spreading the word to colleagues, friends, and family- personal donations began pouring in as people felt compelled to help… Once Chris started posting about going to Poland, he received more opportunities, connections, and information than he ever could have imagined.

Over the course of Chris’s three-week trip, over 165 people donated $47,300 to support his mission. “My work colleagues and company, ACT Capital Advisors, raised $17,000 alone,” said Chris. “That honestly floored me – I couldn’t believe it.”

The donations from Chris’s network paid for over 600 pounds of medical equipment, humanitarian supplies, and a plane ticket for a Harborview trauma nurse named Andee Vaughan (who volunteered her time to assist refugees with medical care). In addition, the donations also paid for groceries, Mylar blankets, hand warmers, hats, socks, propane heaters, bus and plane tickets for refugees within Europe, train tickets for refugees within Ukraine, and more.

Through other volunteers that he met in Poland and Ukraine, Chris was able to form a network of people who helped each other organize logistics and get medical equipment into the supply chain system of the Ukrainian army and civil defense forces. He also supported two aid organizations, Aid for Ukraine and OperationAid. Aid for Ukraine is an organization that helps connect refugees with needed resources via a downloadable app. OperationAid is a Swedish grassroots, boots-on-the-ground NGO aiming to help Ukrainian refugees. The organization focuses on transporting refugees to Sweden, assisting refugees at border crossings for people stuck in queues, and fast response relief missions in Poland and Ukraine.

While working with OperationAid for over two and a half weeks, Chris met dozens of contacts directly helping Ukrainian refugees on both sides of the border. He also met people from organizations like the Red Cross, World Central Kitchen, and groups with specific causes like saving refugee animals. The volunteers in the foreign aid community were from dozens of countries throughout Europe and beyond.

Together, Chris and Andee donated $7,000 (about eight bags) of medical supplies, medicine, and protective equipment to Ukrainians taking supplies to Kyiv and beyond. Chris and Andee then donated an additional $4,000 – $5,000 (another four bags) of supplies to an NGO supplying field hospitals in Eastern Ukraine. Chris served sixteen straight days at the Polish/Ukrainian border, on the Ukrainian side, for six to twelve hours each day to handing out supplies and helping to escort refugees through immigration. “This meant carrying people’s bags and personal effects as they crossed 1.2 kilometers through the control zone between custom houses,” Chris explained. “This was emotionally and physically taxing but deeply rewarding.”

One night, about ten days into his trip, Chris and an English man named Dean Wheatley traveled from the Polish/Ukrainian border to Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine. First, the two dropped off medical supplies at a Ukrainian medical facility; then, they headed to the city’s train station. The park adjacent to the train station was filled with hundreds of people sitting on benches and looking for a way to leave the country. Most were stuck there for the night, out of money and needing help. Chris and Dean handed out food and cash (in Polish currency) to many families, mostly women and children. Despite the language barrier, they recruited three families (three women and three children) to accept a ride to the Polish border. Chris and Dean safely got the refugees to the Polish border that night and gave them $100 in cash to help with their first week in Poland. They were extremely grateful and even somewhat bewildered by the support.

Chris had many unforgettable moments on this trip, but one heartbreaking incident stood out the most. On an evening in early April, he had just taken five new American volunteers who arrived that day to the Ukrainian side of the border to educate them on the process of volunteering on the Ukrainian side. While the American men were on the Ukrainian side of the border, a car pulled up next to them and parked on the curb. A woman and small child got out.

The woman asked Chris where Ukrainian customs was, and he told her where to go, offering to help carry her bags to the line. The woman showed them a Polish news article, then pointed to her daughter. The girl was 11 years old and had blue dye around both sides of her jaw and neck. “I looked closer and saw black stitches, and the horror set in,” Chris recounted. “The blue dye was antiseptic… Fourteen days earlier, a Russian soldier shot this little girl while her mom watched the whole thing.” The girl and her mother were from Mariupol, and the Russians attacked them after fleeing the city. The American men put the girl in a wheelchair and quickly walked her and her mother through customs to reunite with the girl’s father on the Polish side of the border. “It was an unforgettable 1.2-kilometer walk,” Chris said.

Chris’s colleagues at ACT were deeply moved by his Ukrainian relief trip and followed him for daily updates and stories on social media. Since returning to the United States, Chris has mentioned going back to help even more. “I’ve made many contacts and have learned how to set up logistical networks between the Polish border and Lviv, Ukraine. You need drivers, translators, money, and grit. A lot of this was trial and error, but it was doable,” said Chris. “In all, Andee and I have directly donated almost $50,000 (in both donated and purchased items) to Ukrainian refugees. This was all made possible by the cash donations we received and the material items donated in Seattle and taken to Poland and Ukraine. In the end, I didn’t do nearly enough. And I don’t think anyone can possibly do enough.”

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