“At the beginning of the invasion, there were times when only 1 out of 30 Ukrainian soldiers had bullet-proof vests. We have raised money and are buying them wherever we can,” says activist Jacek Wiśniewski.
Jacek Wiśniewski is an activist who has been involved in helping Ukraine for the past month. He sends protective equipment to the Ukrainian army and Territorial Defence Forces. The findings of “Wyborcza” reports on who needs immediate help and how some people are trying to profit from the war.
Marcin Rybak: What are you sending to Ukraine?
Jacek Wiśniewski: “Among other things: first aid kits, bulletproof vests and helmets. I am active in the Warsaw based Committee for the Defence of Democracy, but, just to be clear, sending protective equipment to Ukraine is not our statutory activity. When Russia started the invasion, I contacted Bartek Kramek from the Open Dialogue Foundation. They have experience in sending protective equipment since the Euromaidan in 2014. First, with a group of people of goodwill, we started collecting money to buy equipment for the Ukrainian army and Territorial Defence Forces. Then, we started buying and sending equipment ourselves. In addition to Open Dialogue, various other organisations and volunteers take part in the campaign.”
Where do your bulletproof vests and helmets go?
“The first transport left at the beginning of the war. It was sent to Kharkiv. Later, we got thanks: pictures. I’ll show them after the war.
At the beginning of the invasion, there was a big shortage of such equipment. There were times when there was one bulletproof vest for every 30 Ukrainian soldiers. So, we didn’t wait. When we collected a few dozen bulletproof vests and helmets, we sent them out immediately.”
Do you have contacts with the Ukrainian army?
“All transports are sent to recipients verified by the Ukrainian embassy. Equipment is ordered by commanders of specific areas at the front or mayors of cities for Territorial Defence Forces. First of all, we try to send defence equipment to places where the fighting is taking place. Although, one of the last transports went to Lviv because everything they had there was sent to the the troops fighting at the front. We had a situation where a transport with 50 bulletproof vests was on its way to Kyiv, but only 20 vests arrived. On the way, the drivers who were transporting these bulletproof vests were checked at roadblocks set up on the roads. At each of them, soldiers from the Territorial Defence Force asked for such bulletproof vests.
Where do you buy your equipment?
“All over the world, wherever we can. Often when manufacturers hear that equipment is going to Ukraine, they even offer discounts. A bulletproof vest that costs from PLN 1,200 to PLN 1,500 we sometimes get for PLN 800. The best ones are Israeli. But, we also bought some from a company that supplies this type of equipment to the German police. Sometimes we would visit shops in Poland and buy several pieces in each.
We also brought special steel to Poland, cut it, and inserted it into the vests. This is how our bulletproof vests are made. They may not be perfect, but when everything else is out of stock, even such one will protect, at least from shrapnel. However, it is important to remember that a bulletproof vest that is made from the wrong material will not protect against anything, it will only hurt.
What is it like to work with officials? Initially, they turned a blind eye to formal shortcomings and let all transports into Ukraine. Then, although the formal requirements for the export of bulletproof vests, for example, were relaxed, the rules began to be enforced.
“This is exactly what happened. In the first days of the invasion, our transports were immediately picked up by the Ukrainians on the other side of the border, and our car was immediately returned. Nobody asked us for concessions or export permits. Now, we need a document from the final recipient of the transport certified by the Ukrainian embassy. We have already organised everything so that we obtain the necessary documents without delay.”
I have heard that ‘szmalcowniks’ have also appeared at the border. They are trying to sell protective equipment at a massive profit, and military expert Jaroslaw Wolski warns about bulletproof vests for PLN 5,500.
“Indeed, the term ‘szmalcowniks’ is most legitimate. I have not personally encountered such ‘businessmen’, but we have heard a lot about them.
Our Ukrainian partners have told us that they are receiving offers to buy bulletproof vests at EUR 1,500 per piece. This is extremely outrageous. In every war there are those who just want to make a profit. Let me remind you that we are buying bulletproof vests for PLN 1 500 per piece. We only receive significant discounts because we buy equipment for the Ukrainian army fighting the enemy.