A call to Defense contractors: Ukraine doesn’t just need weapons – but humanitarian aid too

Congress has okayed billions of dollars in security assistance for Ukraine. But one group thinks the U.S. Defense industry is well-positioned to provide not jus...

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Congress has okayed billions of dollars in security assistance for Ukraine. But one group thinks the U.S. Defense industry is well-positioned to provide not just weapons — but humanitarian aid, too. The needs on the ground range from search and rescue equipment to medical supplies and satellite phones. A collection of Arizona-based industry groups is helping to identify those needs, ask for donations from contractors and get the supplies where they need to go. Lynndy Smith is chairwoman and co-founder of the West Valley Defense Alliance. She talked about the project with Federal News Network’s Jared Serbu.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: Lynndy, start us off by talking a bit about what you’re actually asking members of the Arizona defense industry to do today for Ukraine.

Lynndy Smith: On behalf of the Arizona defense coalitions, which includes the West Valley Defense Alliance, which I head up, we are encouraging Congress to enforce or I would say encourage the United Nations to enforce green corridors in Ukraine currently. There’s a lot of civilians that are still trying to evacuate out of Ukraine, especially in eastern Ukraine and unfortunately, have no pathway to do so. There’s still many green corridors that were agreed upon between Ukraine and Russia that unfortunately, are seeing a lot of artillery attacking civilian vans that are coming out of that area. And it’s making it really hard, obviously, for people to come in and out. And so first and foremost, we are trying to help enforce the green corridors in Ukraine. Additionally, right now we’re seeing a lot of support that is still needed for civilians in Ukraine, trying to evacuate. The United States has done a great job of supporting military aid to Ukraine, but we’re seeing a lot of needs that are still happening within the civilians on the ground. A lot of this has to do with materials for health, you know, gauze, medical equipment, other things like civilian drones, satellite phones and walkie-talkies. Gas for vehicles are still in very short supply and is obviously limiting the ability for those evacuating to do so safely. And so we are reaching out to defense industry across the nation to ask if you are willing to donate, if you are willing to even sell any of these types of equipment that you please get in contact with us, because we have a pipeline into Ukraine with a lot of great organizations that are doing work with the civilians on the ground. And we would love to help get those resources into the hands that really need them.

Jared Serbu: Is there anything special about the defense industry in Arizona that you feel like makes your company’s especially well postured to provide this sort of civilian crisis support for a situation like this?

Lynndy Smith: You know, I wouldn’t say that we’re necessarily anything super special, but just that Arizona has the benefit that we have a really strong defense community that is very united through what are known as the Arizona defense coalitions. These coalitions were actually started back in 2015, under Sen. McCain’s (R-Ariz.) leadership, in which he was trying to get a better pipeline of knowledge from defense industry and military installations into his office and up to the Hill in D.C. What spurred out of that initiative and conversation, were the Arizona defense coalition that not only did advocacy back in D.C., but also worked with each other as regional organizations to provide much needed solutions. Whether that was partnerships to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, or like what we’re seeing today, with the crisis in Ukraine, we need to come together as defense industry to figure out how to solve problems. And so obviously, seeing the crisis as it exists today, we came to the table and actually got to hear from a citizen who had family in Ukraine and was trying to evacuate them, heard a lot of the struggles that she faced trying to evacuate her family, and started to rally defense industry around the idea of how do we get these much needed resources into the hands of those that need it. And so we have a platform in Arizona already. And now we’re just trying to reach nationally to say, if you’re willing to support no matter where you are, whether it’s Arizona, whether it’s Florida, whether it’s New York, please get in contact with us, because this issue is obviously not regional. And we’re all here to help. And so if you can, we definitely encourage you to do so.

Jared Serbu: Yeah, I think a lot of our listeners across the country might be surprised to hear that there’s an aid pipeline to Ukraine that runs through Arizona of all place. Talk a bit about the mechanics of how that pipeline actually works, your relationships, whatever relationships you have, with folks on the ground in Ukraine, and what level of confidence folks should have that whatever they supply is actually going to get into the right hands.

Lynndy Smith: So a lot of this all started, as I mentioned, the from actually an employee of Acronis SCS, which is who I formerly worked with, she had done a lot of work, evacuating her own family. So she went over to evacuate her whole family and then worked with other organizations in Ukraine to actually evacuate over 120 people out through humanitarian aid. They’ve worked with a number of different groups, everything from the Red Cross to smaller organizations and churches to actually help support these folks. And so they’re currently in the process of starting up a formal GoFundMe and 501(c)(3) to aid this effort. So we’ll be a formal organization. The initial response was very much crisis management and very much reactionary. And now that they’re actually getting a good amount of support, they’re starting up the formal organization to make sure that people understand that it is a trusted effort and one that they can feel confident in getting those supplies to.

Jared Serbu: How are Ukrainians communicating those sorts of demand signals back to you, and what are some of the most acute needs right now?

Lynndy Smith: So a lot of what we’re seeing is medical equipment needs. And so we’re hearing it through actual family members and folks that are actually on the ground in Ukraine and have either are there themselves or family members of those that are now in the United States. A lot of what is needed, as I mentioned, is medical equipment. So whether it’s gauze, or gas masks, even search and rescue equipment, satellite drones, body armor and protective gear, anything that can essentially ensure that they’re getting out of Ukraine safely, right is what is needed. They’re not looking for tactical equipment, or anything that could be used to fight. They’re just looking for protective equipment. And so we’re hearing that from the ground up, you know, we’ve heard everything at this point to just tires. Tires have become an increasingly big demand, because of the rough terrain, when hazards that they’re having to face, they’re not able to actually fix those on the road to support their transportation vehicles. And so, you know, it’s across the board that these demands. And, you know, very just core to transportation and health.

Jared Serbu: Speaking of transportation, can you talk about the logistics of getting this material into Ukraine? Do you have mechanisms set up for that to just actually airlift or I don’t know how you’re doing it, but actually get it to the people on the ground?

Lynndy Smith: I would say it varies across the area, right. So in eastern Ukraine on much of the territories are Russian controlled. And so right now, we’re actually having a really hard time getting any amount of resources into Russian controlled territories. They are, you know, taking that materials and preventing it from getting to civilians on the ground there. And at that point, they’ve actually resorted to foot traffic to get in different materials and help evacuate people out of eastern Ukraine. Otherwise, with regards to getting things primarily into Odessa, which is where my colleague is closely connected, they’re not seeing a lot of conflict getting resources into that area. So basically, we get into those areas of Ukraine that are still Ukrainian controlled, and relatively safe and free of conflict. And then it’s a lot of smaller transportation vehicles, sometimes even to the point of foot that are then getting it further into eastern Ukraine.

Jared Serbu: So anyone within the sound of our voices who does feel like they’re in a position to help, how can they get in touch with you?

Lynndy Smith: So I would recommend you to reach out to myself as part of the West Valley Defense Alliance. We’re on LinkedIn and posting regularly about the efforts that we’re doing. So I encourage you to take a look at us there, my contact information, I’m happy to share and have posted via this podcast, or radio. And so I just encourage you to get in touch with me, I will put you directly in contact with the organizations that are doing the work in Ukraine so that you can see they are trusted and secure. We are merely a vocal podium, right to get people in contact with those that are doing the real work. So I encourage you to get in contact with me. And then I can make sure you’re getting in touch with the right people in Ukraine.

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