How Ukrainian Freedom Fund Steers Aid to the Front Lines as Concern About Corruption Ferments in Congress

An American from Denver puts together an organization to provide equipment, training, medical aid, and clothing.

Clara Preve-Durrieu/ The New York Sun
The Ukrainian Freedom Fund team at Kyiv, September 27, 2023. Clara Preve-Durrieu/ The New York Sun

KYIV— When Washington politicians fret over the amount of money America spends in Ukraine, corruption is one of their top issues. One organization linking Kyiv and Washington was created to answer those concerns.  

The Ukrainian Freedom Fund, founded in 2014, is responding to the needs of Ukraine’s army and society by providing equipment, training, medical aid, and clothing. To date it has received more than $4 million from global donors.

That might sound like chicken feed in the context of the billions that are flowing into the war. It’s a marker, though, at a time when concern over corruption in the supply chains of the war are being raised as Congress readies the next round of official American military aid.

While many donations sent to Ukraine never make it to their final destination — due to international corruption or logistics — the UFF has created a self-sufficient system with direct contact with the front lines. The Ukrainian Freedom Fund knows many of the unit commanders in the front line who call them and ask for what they need, the fund’s founder, Andrew Bain, a Denver native, tells the Sun.

Yet UFF is also in constant communication with Kyiv’s Ministry of Defense, which provides information on current priorities. Several regions request assistance from the organization, but “we focus on where the mission is,” Mr. Bain says. 

Ukraine’s government, aware of an unflattering image, has been attempting to root out corruption in the ranks of the military. A defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, was just replaced. The new minister, Rustem Umerov, proceeded to fire six deputies. Although none were accused of wrongdoing, allegations of poor and corrupt procurement practices have been hurled at the ministry well before the current war. 

Mr. Bain founded his organization in 2014 after meeting with Ukrainian officials he knew from when he served in Iraq. Their battalion had been a victim of the pro-Russian regime of President Yanukovych, who stripped them of military equipment, including truck batteries. Mr. Bain, through his marketing and media communications agency, Atlantic Group, bought the batteries and sent them to the battalion overnight. 

“We set up the fund to be a conduit for businesses trying to get money to the units that needed it, as opposed to just giving it to the Ministry of Defence where they knew it would probably just be stolen or wasted,” Mr. Bain says. 

A battle in Congress is looming as Americans question President Biden’s request for $24 billion extra for financial aid to Ukraine. Washington has spent more than $70 billion in Kyiv since the Russian invasion in February 2022. Concerns about corruption are fermenting in Congress, which is well aware that last year Transparency International ranked Ukraine as the second most corrupt country in Europe, behind Russia. 

What differentiates Ukrainian Freedom Fund from other charities, is that it is building “friendly relationships” with the military units, the fund’s Hanna Nosikova tells the Sun. “We are not just a fund. We are friends of the units,” Ms. Nosikova says. “We support each other, and they feel a connection that they are not alone.”

Through its various campaigns, including Drones for Defenders, Train and Assist Ukraine, and Vehicle for Defence, the Ukrainian Freedom Fund has supplied more than 100 humanitarian drones and medical aid directly to wounded soldiers. They have also provided clothing such as gloves, backpacks, boots, sleeping bags, eye protection, and protective equipment to the front line. 

The operational director, Eduard Vozniy, talks directly to the military units to find out their needs. Once he receives the official request, they begin to look for the best supplies to send to the front lines. 

As Ukraine’s current counteroffensive moves forward, UFF has launched its newest campaign, Reclaim Ukraine, which helps civilians caught up in the area evacuate. It also provides humanitarian aid. UFF has also established a relationship with commands from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and is providing medical and combat equipment tied to NATO and American standards.

“We recognize Ukraine needs to integrate and presumably will be part of NATO,” Mr. Bain says. “I would guess, in 20 years, Ukrainian officials will probably be very influential in NATO because they will have the best combat experience and understand Russians better than most people in NATO now.”

The New York Sun

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