A shipment on it’s way out of L’viv towards eastern Ukraine. | Photo Courtesy of Thomas Gallagher

Features Editor | CJ Kar

An Introduction

Most of us are aware of the current situation unfolding in Ukraine. During the process of writing this article, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been continuously occurring for 54 days and counting, and more atrocities against Ukrainians are likely on their way. According to NPR, now having control over Kremlin, as Russia continues in tearing its way through Ukraine, [still trying to displace Ukrainian troops in Mariupol in order to take control over the area].

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a humanitarian crisis, there is little room for argument. Russian soldiers’ war crimes are being broadcasted around the world, with Forbes reporting that Russian forces have been using Thermobaric warheads. These warheads suck oxygen from the air, creating high-temperature powerful explosions which cause damage to infrastructure as well as internal organs usually resulting in death.

It is clear that this war is senseless, causing countless deaths among Ukrainian and Russian soldiers. It is also causing horror and death among the civilian populous; at the beginning of April, BBC reported that about 12 million people have been displaced or have been unable to leave Ukraine, and those numbers will only continue to rise as the attack on Ukraine continues forward. I think it is clear that we should band together, looking beyond our differences to help the Ukrainians in need.

Remnants of a car after a missile strike. | Photo Courtesy of Thomas Gallagher / City Council Telegram Stream

Experiencing Ukraine first hand

For a clear view on this horrible war, I interviewed Thomas Gallagher, a man who lived in L’viv before and during the initial invasion, and has since started a fundraiser, L’viv Alliance, to provide shelter, food, and medicine to Ukrainian citizens who are currently fighting for their lives. Gallagher’s fundraiser focuses on L’viv because it is the largest city in Ukraine, and has one of the largest populations of displaced people, with the number estimated to be about 200,000 people. Gallagher was happy to discuss his cause, and later tells us a lot about his experiences before and during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

L’viv Alliance’s mission is to aid those in Ukraine, teaming up with Kharkov-based manufacturer of body armor, with the goal of saving lives through aiding Ukrainians with supplies: whether it be soldiers, paramedics, or volunteers.

If you feel a need to lend a helping hand, Gallagher and those at The Snapper would appreciate any contribution you can make towards those in Ukraine that are in need. The screenshot below will redirect you towards the L’viv Alliance fundraiser on Fundly. disclaimer: L’viv Alliance is not a 501C3 Charitable Organization.

The L’viv Alliance fundraiser page, powered by Fundly. | CJ Kar / The Snapper

The slippery slope that led to an invasion

The tension between Ukraine and Russia did not develop overnight; the two have been at odds for decades.

Ukraine was once considered a republic under Soviet control up until 1991, when Ukraine declared its independence from the United Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR), eventually leading Ukraine to being its own sovereign nation. The Soviet Union fell soon after in 1992.

As time passed, there were three pivotal events in recent years that led to the invasion of Ukraine. Firstly, in February of 2014, President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in protests among pro-western riots in Lviv, and because of his displacement as a president who favored Russian interest, Putin annexed Crimea the following month. 

Secondly, in April of 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president, running on the promise of getting Donbas–a region in southern Ukraine controlled by separatists–to be a part of the country again. With the events of the last few decades, a combination of both the historical and cultural context of Ukraine and Russia contributed towards the increase in tensions. The last straw was Ukraine’s recent attempt to join NATO; with this, Putin decided upon a full-scale invasion of the region at the cost of his troops, many innocent lives, and his country’s economy.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the news and social media; with so much information being dispensed at such a fast pace, many can string together stories that don’t leave an accurate depiction of the events in Ukraine. Gallagher states that there are many common beliefs and talking points held by people across the US and around the world, many of which aren’t accurate. Some of the common things that Gallagher says aren’t true include ideas like “NATO is encroaching upon Russia” or “Putin isn’t deploying propaganda to get Russians to support this war.” Gallagher, as someone with intimate knowledge of the situation, says that these are simply untrue.

L’viv around the time when the invasion first began. | Photo Courtesy of Thomas Gallagher

Moments after the invasion

Disclaimer: the interview with Thomas Gallagher has been condensed and some parts have been paraphrased for readability and clarity

Living in L’viv [the firth largest city in Ukraine] for several years, our contact, Thomas Gallagher experienced first-hand the culture, atmosphere, and politics of Ukraine. He was present in the time before the invasion, as well as during the chaos and panic that resulted when the invasion actually happened.

The kind of ambiance that surrounded Ukrainians in the months before the invasion was one of underlying fear, but not of the fear that causes constant worry. People had the idea that an invasion was possible, but Gallagher admits to not realizing the full potential of Putin’s plans, as most citizens of Ukraine thought of Putin’s words as just talk, with little action behind them.

The morning of the invasion was another story, though. Gallagher woke to news of the invasion first-hand. Though most people were able to remain calm, there were a lot of things that got in the way of Ukrainians living their lives as they had before. Flights were canceled and put on hold, Uber was apparently down during this time, and many online systems were in a frenzy; the online credit card system seemingly froze, with many unable to access their money. Gallagher, having no access to his capital, waited, meanwhile continuing his search for transportation.

Eventually, Gallagher did manage to secure a train ticket, traveling towards the southwest border of Ukraine. Gallagher said that throughout the day, many people began to appear outside in large numbers waiting outside for various reasons. Some may have been trying to leave Ukraine, others trying to get to their families, but they largely remained calm, together.

As Gallagher reflected on his memories of the invasion, he spoke of the day as being quite beautiful; the weather was perfect for a walk. Traffic wasn’t as busy as it usually was, but it felt relaxing in a way, as people went about their day, with cafés and restaurants remaining open. Though the invasion had only just started, I don’t think many had fully yet realized the severity of the situation and what was to come and tried to continue the day as if it was just a normal one.

People crowding in a large group outside of a building in L’viv. | Photo Courtesy of Thomas Gallagher

Uncertainty in a time of war

After the invasion began, life continued on, and many were going about their day as citizens of Ukraine. But, this experience isn’t universal; many are lost and under the stress of having their families, livelihood, and future to worry about. Living in Ukraine and having your whole life turned upside down has a lasting impact on a person’s overall wellbeing.

As mentioned previously, the current estimated number of people either unable to leave or displaced within Ukraine is about 12 million people. During my interview with Gallagher, he spoke of a friend from L’viv who at the time was struggling to find a place to stay, saying that many of these people don’t have savings, and many don’t have family nearby. With life going from normal to chaotic within what seems like the blink of an eye to us, thousands if not millions are struggling to survive, fighting to maintain the life they once lived. A world of uncertainty has been created for these people. Through this uncertainty, many in Ukraine are living their daily lives riddled with the fear of tomorrow, not knowing what may end up happening in their life and the lives of others.

Gallagher has numerous stories to tell, all provocative and truthful about times when tragedy pellets us with bullets. A story that really hit me was about Gallagher’s ex-girlfriend, who was stuck within a basement for approximately three days without electricity or water because of fears of bombings nearby and other chaotic events. It’s situations like this that show the struggle that Ukrainians have had to go through. Eventually though, his ex-girlfriend moved into an apartment in the city that had better conditions; Her story ended up on a more positive note, while others were not so lucky. With this thought, the message that Thomas Gallagher is trying to send to people is this: we need to be there for people in their time of need.

With so many thoughts and ideas buzzing through his head, Gallagher knew he needed to support those around him. With other operations going on in bordering countries, and his business drying up in Ukraine, Gallagher decided he was going to do everything he could to help. Contacting friends and associates, locating grocery stores, and communicating with warehouses and wholesalers, he reached out his hand within this developing humanitarian crisis.

Gallagher is looking towards many possible routes towards helping people, other than just through his L’viv Alliance fundraiser. Whether it be a mother trying to feed her children, or a grocery store worker trying to find a place to rest his head, the message is clear: people in all sorts of peril and from different backgrounds need help, whether that help be from the alliance, from local Ukrainians, or from people like us abroad, it’s our duty to help in what ways we can.

What’s war worth?

Gallagher holds strongly to the idea that this isn’t a war that can be rationalized. That is, this isn’t a war being fought in order to liberate those in chains (Russian forces aren’t liberating Ukraine’s), instead it’s a war being fought purely with the focus of power.

In Gallagher’s words, “This is a war of conquest, one’s man ego and legacy that is driving this war.” It’s a war that involves us all, regardless of social status and our personal politics, because if we value our freedom and individual liberty as people of a free world, then we should care about Ukraine, because it’s a war infringing upon those values [that the majority holds within their hearts.] The values that Ukrainians are fighting for are the values we all share as people living within the free world day-in and day-out.

“This isn’t a war of survival; this is a war in which we must win,” Gallagher says, reiterating that we must hold these autocratic regimes accountable for the crimes they are committing.

Concluding Thoughts: What can we do for Ukraine?

The key for the future of our world, for those of us in the United States and for those living in Ukraine and around the world, is maintaining personal liberty and freedom. Out of necessity, then, we should lend our hands in helping Ukrainians in their time of need. Not purely out of just maintaining our values, but to help those single mothers trying to find shelter for their children, aiding those displaced by the war, and relieving individuals who don’t know when their next meal will be. That is the reason we must help those in Ukraine.

Without us being able to help those in need, who then, will give us help when our time of need strikes? It is clear, then, that helping Ukrainians in their time of need [not out of guilt or generosity] is essential, and those in Ukraine need our help now more than ever.