© Mark Kitchell
Mark Kitchell currently accompanies the NGO LUKraine on a two-week humanitarian trip to Ukraine, sharing observations from his journey on RTL Today.
I am Mark Kitchell, an American living in Luxembourg for 10 years, and an active supporter of Ukraine since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
On 12 August I set off on a two-week-long trip to Ukraine with the Luxembourg NGO LUkraine where I have been a volunteer since 2022. Our mission is to launch the LUkraine Humanitarian Mission, which provides medical and evacuation services to territories that border the front line in Ukraine.
We are driving a medical bus, three ambulances, and a substantial quantity of medicines from Luxembourg to Dnipro, where we will join an ongoing mission the Donetsk Oblast.
While I support Ukraine unequivocally, I cannot truly understand what Ukraine is, who its people are, and what they face daily during this war. From this mission, I finally have a chance to see it with my own eyes and I would like to share this experience with you. This will be my first time in Ukraine and my first time in an active war zone. Am I afraid? Not yet, but that might change as the distance to the Polish-Ukrainian border decreases to zero.
I don't hide my support for Ukraine, as many can attest. For me, the desire to help Ukraine comes from my family's history of service. The men in my family came to Europe to fight fascism during WWII. My uncle Rocky was a tail gunner in a B-24 bomber. Uncle Wally and my father, Raymond, were both in the infantry, seeing action in and around Luxembourg.
© Mark Kitchell
My father instilled in me a deep understanding of "man's inhumanity to man," which was drilled into him in April 1945 when his unit, the 89th Infantry Division, was the first to liberate a concentration camp on the western front (Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald). The barbarity of what he saw in the camps never left him. At some level, my support for Ukraine comes from his stories and his admonition to 'never let this happen again'.
Beyond this, as a dual US and European citizen, the victory of Ukraine over Russia is clearly in our self-interest. A world where totalitarian regimes can simply murder civilians and steal territory is not a stable one, and the war (if not won by Ukraine) will eventually come to NATO, and come to Luxembourg.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I support Ukraine because I love the Ukrainian people. They are beyond brave, intelligent, resourceful, and dedicated. Ukrainians have been fighting for their homeland, language, and culture. To stand by them is the greatest honor I could imagine.
So, back to the Mission. On Friday, 11 August we had a send-off from the Luxembourg Minister of Economy and Minister for Development, Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Franz Fayot. Then, in the classic army adage of 'hurry up and wait,' we all went home to prepare for our sunrise departure. ‘
Our team of volunteers is a normal cross-section of Luxembourg society, a combination of Ukrainians and Luxembourg residents. Sitting next to me is Anders Lilieholm, a Swede who has lived in Luxembourg for 15 years. From the first 10 days of the war, he took action, since then making 20 trips to the Polish-Ukrainian border to evacuate refugees, and 5 to Ukraine to bring supplies and vehicles.
According to Anders: “As the full scale invasion unfolded, I realized I could help. I am retired, have a reliable car, and my children are grown up. My wife is Lithuanian and grew up during the Soviet occupation of her country. My grandfather and uncle’s fought for Finland during the Soviet invasion of 1939 (the Winter). If not someone like me, than who should help?”
So a theme is becoming clear for the early part of this trip. A group of volunteers, some not Ukrainian, who realize that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an existential threat to our way of life, and the the survival of our Ukrainian friends. So we have to act, to do something. Rest assured, I will share with you the voices of our Ukrainian volunteers in my next dispatch.
Last night, at our hotel in Boleslawiec, Poland, we encountered a group of young American servicemen, part of the NATO forces in Eastern Europe. I would be lying if I didn't find their presence more than a little comforting.
We have already covered about 1,350 km, and the Polish-Ukrainian border is within an hour or so.
Uncharted territory lies ahead.