‘This is not something America can forget’

mark j. lindquist in ukraine –

Leading a group of volunteers he calls the A Team: Ukraine, Mark J. Lindquist of Moorhead has been gathering medical supplies and food, then trucking it deep into Ukraine in vans and other vehicles obtained in Poland. (Photos/courtesy Mark Lindquist.)

Three months ago, Russia launched a brutal attack on the cities and the people of the independent nation of Ukraine. Horrified people around the world watched the carnage. Glued to their TVs, they mourned, “But what can we do?”

Mark Lindquist was one of them. The charismatic young Moorheader – Air Force veteran, fabled singer of the national anthem, dynamic hyper-positive motivational speaker – asked the same question of himself. But, unlike most of us, he answered: “I told myself, this is my own ‘greatest generation’ moment. This is my chance to make a difference.”

He began the three-day flight from Hector Airport to Warsaw, Poland, March 26. His first five days were spent in Poland connecting with other volunteers, finding transportation and distributing the first of dozens of shipments of supplies specifically requested by refugees. Then he headed across the border into Ukraine.

Two months later, he is in the city of Dnipro, as close as humanitarian relief workers can get to the battlefront. “I’m an hour’s drive from the battlefront,” he says. He and the group of two dozen volunteers from around the world whom he calls “the A Team” have moved their center of operations as close as they can safely get to the embattled Donbas region at the far eastern end of the Texas-sized nation.

Mark originally felt the call to join Ukraine’s foreign legion and stand with other volunteers. He has never heard back. He says, “My DD-214 (record of military service) lacks combat experience, so I haven’t gotten a call. Now that I’ve been on the humanitarian side of things for these 56 days, I can make a much bigger impact and save more Ukrainian lives if I coordinate logistics and donations than if I pick up a rifle.”

Instead, Mark commands his A Team unit of 22 men and women, more or less, who are bringing the supplies people need to those under siege or left homeless. About 40 million remain in Ukraine, he observes. Many are living in horrible conditions, with little food, less access to medicine and doctors, and almost no fuel for the vehicles that have survived the bombs and rockets. “If you drive by 20 gas stations, only three of them are open, with lines 80 to 100 cars deep. Sometimes those three have gasoline; sometimes they don’t. Sometimes that have diesel. Sometimes, no.”

Mark and his team sleep “everywhere we can,” he says, in the apartment he’s rented, thanks to an American donor. “The couches and beds are always filled.”

He terms himself the “first sergeant” of the entirely nongovernmental unit. “I was a first sergeant in my elite military unit while serving in the U.S. Air Force. The role of the first sergeant is to take care of the troops. I look out for the team’s health, morale and welfare. I’m their advocate. Now I’m doing that for the war-fighters out here. I supply them with combat medical supplies so they can save their own lives with self-applied tourniquets, or an Israeli bandage that will stop the bleeding until we can get you to a trauma center. I deliver food and basic hygiene items, energy drinks to stay aware on a 36-hour shift, and candy to boost troop morale. I hand-deliver it to the eastern front, and I get pictures back of happy troops.”

He and his team are currently working to move hundreds and hundreds of pallets of equipment donated by medical non-profits. “We just need the deep pockets of American donors to sponsor the air and sea freight costs to get the equipment to Poland. Then my team will get it out to the Donbas. After I get the supplies to Dnipro, they go into the hands of a hospital worker or troop on the front lines within 24 hours.

“The world has enough supply. It’s just in the wrong place.” He emphasizes, “We desperately need American donors to step up and make five- and six-figure cash donations to empower my team to get those life-saving donated supplies over here and out to the places where it needs to go.”

He has received donated US hospital-grade material from warehouses in Minneapolis, Phoenix, Kansas City, Denver, Newark, Nashville and Florida … “literally hundreds of pallets, and likely over a thousand more that are just sitting there waiting for donors to help us pay for the shipping.”

Just as badly, he needs more volunteers, including someone to coordinate communications here in the U.S. Last week he advertised in the daily newspapers of Fargo and Grand Forks. “But not one person replied,” he reports.

Has Fargo-Moorhead been coming through? “Individuals in my friend network have come through. Media outlets have come through. The big players we need to step up have not.” Despite reaching out to all the medical centers in the region, the only one that has come through is Allina Health in Minneapolis. To the others, he says, “My cell number is 808-777-0338 if any hospital or health-care system wants to ship supplies. I have a 501-c-3 set up (Ukrainian Children), so you can get a write-off for the cost of shipping.”

The scope of devastation stunned Mark when he arrived, and continues to horrify him almost beyond words. “I was on a supply run near Kyiv, and we passed through Irpin, which had been in direct combat during the siege,” he recalls. “I stood on a playground that had been bombed by these Russian bastards. I saw supermarkets hit by missiles, apartment complexes targeted by heavy artillery, gas stations burned to the ground, homes reduced to rubble.

“These are not military targets. The Geneva Conventions, the law of armed conflict, the rules of engagement – none of them are being followed. Yet the unity of the Ukrainian people is something I wish I could duplicate in America. These people are all-hands-on-deck for their homeland, and we’re allowing them to fend for themselves.

“This is not something that America can forget. It pisses me off to see the country distracted by stupid things like Johnny Depp and Will Smith. Come to Ukraine. See the things I am seeing. Talk to the Ukrainians I’m talking to, both military and civilian. And then maybe you’ll do what I’m doing – give absolutely everything you have to help the Ukrainians.

“We have left them to fight World War III alone.”

For more information on Mark’s work in Ukraine, search for “Positivity Lives Here” on Facebook.com. A GoFundMe link is also on the site.

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