Moorhead man in Ukraine focuses on getting supplies to cut-off Donbas region
Mark J. Lindquist is now in a corner of the world where air raid sirens go off every day, panic-stricken citizens are lined 20 to 30 people deep at ATMs and an Easter Monday missile strike killed seven people. Even so, he's finding ways to get essential supplies to the Ukrainians who need them most.
LVIV, Ukraine — Mark J. Lindquist is living in the middle of a war zone.
Lindquist, an entertainer and motivational speaker who lives in Moorhead, felt called to drop everything — including a political campaign — and travel to war-ravaged Ukraine three weeks ago after watching hours of news coverage about Russian attacks on the former Soviet republic.
Nowadays, he describes life in a lodging in Lviv where he and seven other humanitarian workers “are stacked everywhere we could possibly sleep.”
He is in a corner of the world where air raid sirens go off every day, panic-stricken citizens are lined 20 to 30 people deep at ATMs and an Easter Monday missile strike killed seven people.
Lindquist said it initially was difficult to enter such unfamiliar and chaotic territory and try to figure out how to help. However, he has made progress. Through his network of contacts, he was able to connect with a Ukrainian translator who made it possible to communicate with officials who can help him expand his network of contacts and find the most effective ways to help.
Lindquist also pivoted from his original plan to buy a vehicle with the $50,000 in donations he raised via GoFundMe and Venmo.
“We decided (to) source it (transportation) locally with Ukrainian drivers who need a day's income (as low as $10 USD/day), borrow it, get it for free (as we are arranging for tomorrow), or use our network of transporters who are already making those runs and are looking for things to deliver,” he says. “We're trying to be as careful as we can to not spend donor money on things that we don't need. … You change plans and tactics based on what you see on the ground.”
Instead, Lindquist said, the $50,000 will go toward desperately needed essentials for the Ukrainian people, like diapers, medical supplies and food. “The dollar is so strong over here, I can get three to four times what I could get in Walmart in Fargo over here,” he says.
Lindquist’s recently formed nonprofit, “Ukrainian Children,” is not only sourcing supplies from eastern Poland and western Ukraine but has also become a contact point for American corporations like Target.
“They had said they wanted to donate but weren’t sending donations to the Ukraine because there was no one here to receive it,” Lindquist said, sounding a bit baffled. “I’m that guy now."
Even then, Lindquist said the next challenge was getting the supplies to the eastern part of Ukraine, especially the Donbas region, where Ukrainians are cut off with little to no clean water or food.
"Fifty days in, their worry isn’t so much death by missile but death by starvation,” Lindquist said.
The problem, he said, is that travel across the Texas-sized country is extremely difficult, with motorists encountering one military checkpoint after another.
Enter Harrison Jozefowicz, a former police officer from Chicago. Josefowicz set up a volunteer unit called “Task Force Yankee: Ukraine,” consisting of civilians and military veterans with the skills and training to deliver humanitarian aid to parts of Ukraine too volatile for most non-governmental organizations.
Lindquist and Jozefowicz met last week and quickly discovered they had a few things in common: They were Midwesterners and veterans of the Afghanistan war who felt compelled to do something for the people of Ukraine.
In fact, both left behind important commitments to do so. Lindquist suspended his congressional campaign; Josefowicz quit his job with the police force.
Lindquist knew Josefowicz, a member of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan from 2017-18, was more than qualified to take on the difficult assignment to get supplies into one of Ukraine's most beleaguered areas.
"His team is the missing link that we needed," Lindquist said.
“We have the experience, training and operational security knowledge to get people and supplies safely from point A to B, as we have run convoys through Afghanistan during wartime,” Jozefowicz said.
Lindquist is still looking to activate "packets of volunteers" in the U.S. He is inviting church groups and other organizations to book a Zoom call with him so he can update them on volunteer efforts and how they can help.