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Ukraine is facing a shortage of defensive and tactical supplies and scrambling to scrape together gear to sustain its defense, with some charities helping to pick up the slack.
Ihor Koval, 58, was born in Ukraine and served in the Soviet Army prior to its dissolution in 1992. He later moved to America and raised a family, but he returned to help supply troops on the front lines of the 2014 conflict that erupted in the Donetsk region and continued to do so in the following years.
Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 prompted him to return again, but he now helps organize the collection and transportation of supplies to the front lines through his charity, Evil Cannot Enter Heaven. His family established an American extension of the charity, which can accept donations through its website or via texts to 56512 or at 1-866-447-6645.
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“It’s a very big shortage of military supply for new recruits,” Koval told Fox News Digital. “We spent all our money, we ordered all the weapons, and prices – I haven’t been to stores, but I hear that prices have gone through the roof.”
The cost of military equipment is exorbitant: Koval found 350 helmets and bulletproof vests in Turkey, but they cost $500,000 collectively. Even when he gets equipment, he finds it at times difficult to move it to where it needs to go.
“It’s not that easy to get to the front lines right now: you have permits, curfew everywhere,” he added. His family helped him set up an American website for his charity in order to help speed up the process and acquire the equipment needed.
Pentagon and EUCOM spokespeople redirected any question about a supply shortage to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby’s public statements, which stressed the Pentagon’s ability to compress a timeline of “weeks or months” to deliver assistance to “hours and days.”
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“We’re not going out on the market and purchasing new items, so we have to actually have it in hand to be able to deliver it,” Kirby explained as a way of hedging against questions of potential delays, noting that providing assistance is an “ongoing process.”
But former and current officials in Ukraine told Fox News Digital that the supply of defensive or tactical equipment remains low at roughly 30% to 40% of what they need.
Volodymyr Omelyan, former minister of infrastructure of Ukraine, explained that offensive weapons remain a priority, and other types of equipment – helmets, vests, night vision goggles – remain in short supply partially due to the need to take non-traditional and multiple routes across the border, leading to bureaucratic holdups.
“It makes sometimes a complication because … you should present some papers on the origins of those goods or special certificates, and definitely creates problems on both sides,” said Omelyan, who joined the Territorial Defense Force on the first day of the invasion. “Customs knows about the situation and they try to facilitate as much as possible.”
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“It’s a war, sometimes some procedures are not very clear or easy to follow, especially if you have different kinds of goods … and different approaches in such cases,” he added.
A U.S. official also noted to Fox News that some supplies have faced roadblocks at the border, likely bureaucratic issues relating to special waivers and other requirements.
Kira Rudik, a Ukrainian parliamentary member, said the issue has grown beyond tactical and defensive equipment to include such items as first aid kits, walkie-talkies and warm clothing, most of which currently go to the soldiers walking the streets.
“The defensive equipment is what we are lacking as a defensive team,” Rudik said, calling the shortage a “frustration.” “Of course, during the war there is no excess of anything … but right now the defensive equipment is what we are lacking urgently.”
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“Donations are faster because you are getting the equipment and controlling how it goes through the borders, and then you control the logistics inside,” she added. “When they send the delivery from the U.N. or some countries, you have no control over it, you don’t know what’s happening there.”
Koval’s charity, then, plays an important role in helping address these shortages: He established his charity in 2014 to help deliver ambulances to Ukraine to transport fighters during the “golden hour” – the first hour after receiving a traumatic injury.
“I have at least two phone calls from soldiers that found out I was involved in this movement, and they told me that I saved two lives with this,” Koval said. “So that kind of stuff – military vests, other equipment, I’m just delivering it.”
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Fox News correspondent Nate Foy last week highlighted another charity run by a Ukrainian couple in Chicago with a similar goal of addressing the non-lethal aid shortage in the country.
The shortage will create significant problems in the next few weeks if not addressed immediately.
Fox News correspondents Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.