Home » Michigan business leaders, retired military join to offer humanitarian aid to Ukrainians – Detroit Free Press

Michigan business leaders, retired military join to offer humanitarian aid to Ukrainians – Detroit Free Press

by Arifa Rana

As soon as shots were fired by Russian troops at innocent Ukrainians a few weeks ago, retired Maj. Gen.  Gregory Vadnais, a former adjutant general for the state of Michigan, swung into action to help those on the front lines.
Having spent time in the past working with the Latvian military, he knows the region and military issues well. He still has contacts there and is working with them, as well as businesses and organizations here, to raise money for humanitarian efforts to purchase and deliver desperately needed supplies like helmets, body armor and medical kits to help the civilian volunteer Territorial Defense Forces, which formed in Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s takeover of nearby Crimea some years ago.  
The Free Ukraine campaign was launched in Michigan with a goal of raising $1.5 million to buy needed supplies and just passed the $108,000 mark. Everyone is donating their time and 100% of funds donated go toward purchasing supplies, according to the campaign website. Contributions are tax deductible.
“Ukrainian resistance fighters are not only battling Russian troops, but facing major supply issues,” Vadnais said. “There’s a gap in what’s being supplied by the West.”
Vadnais, who spent eight years leading American and Latvian troops through training and deployments in the Baltic region and the United States, reached out to other veterans and Richard McLellan, a retired lawyer who serves as president of the East Lansing-based Oxford Foundation, to help organize a fundraiser.
That quickly grew into the Free Ukraine campaign now underway.
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Vadnais and other retired military personnel are using their contacts in the region and the Ukrainians working directly with the cause to get supplies to the front lines of the conflict. He said Ukrainians who have taken up arms lack safety gear and medical supplies.
McLellan’s is helping to raise money for the project and also donating monies for things like the new website, created to raise awareness. 
“When Maj. Gen.  Vadnais called me about his plans, I wanted to be helpful and be part of his project. It has been inspirational to see the willingness of the Ukrainian people to try and defend their own freedom,” said McLellan.
While the Free Ukraine effort will be the first of its kind for the Oxford Foundation, it has supported education and regulatory reinvention for over 30 years. It formed to raise money to make repairs at the Michigan governor’s residences in Lansing and Mackinac Island.
Vadnais is also working with Ukrainian humanitarian relief leaders Anastasiia Borodenkova and Lena Zaimis. The women work with the Territorial Defense Forces. 
“We are pleased to unify in force with Borodenkova and Zaimis,” said Vadnais, who led the Michigan National Guard for eight years under former Gov. Rick Snyder. “They are instrumental in supporting and targeting the specific needs for the Ukrainian Territorial Defense in the Ukrainian cities under heaviest attack, and distributing supplies to the front-line fighters where (it’s) needed the most.”
Borodenkova, a Ukrainian actress, is coordinating collection of medical equipment and handling the logistics of getting the goods to the spots where the need is greatestin most needed. She arrived in the U.S. only a few days before the war started, on vacation with her family, and is now living in Michigan until they can safely return to Ukraine.
Zaimis, a Ukraine-born U.S. citizen and marketing executive with a global biopharmaceutical company in New Jersey, has also been working to raise funds for supplies.
“The Ukrainians are telling us what their needs are and we are supplying them,” Vadnais said.
“Our partnership’s military expertise, experience and networks allow our overseas partners to facilitate getting these essential goods into the country quickly,” he added.
“Most importantly, large quantities of essential equipment will go directly into the hands of the citizen defense force.”
Priority Environmental Solutions Inc., a Hartland, Wisconsin-based wholesaler of medical supplies, has been assembling 1,000 medical kits and backpacks. A portion will be shipped to Poland next week. From there they will be taken to Ukraine. This will be the first of many such shipments.
“They didn’t waste any time building the medical kits,” said Vadnais. “The owner went ahead and purchased everything we requested without guarantee of payment and intends to send them overseas as soon as they are ready to go.”
Also joining the effort are Michigan residents are retired 1st Sgt. Shawn Menard and Sergey Zelenskiy, who was born in Ukraine, moved to the U.S. and served in the Russian Army as a conscript. Menard, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, has combat experience fighting alongside soldiers from Latvia. Zelenskiy moved to the U.S. in 1999 and has family in Ukraine.  
To learn more about the Free Ukraine effort: https://oxfordfoundationukraine.org/.
Susy Avery, former co-director of Michigan State University’s Michigan Political Leadership Program, is also among those working on the Free Ukraine campaign. She’s raising awareness and using her Rolodex — worth its weight in gold — to help raise money.
“After Maj. Gen. Vadnais called Richard (McLellan) about the project, Richard called me to help,” she said.  “After seeing the terrible images of what horrible things were being committed, I had to also volunteer. This is a total volunteer effort. It’s the least we can do to help those who need it.”
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Avery, who has one of the more unique resumes in Lansing, serving as former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and executive director of the Michigan Women’s Commission to name just a few of the titles she’s had, has been helping MPLP, which is dedicated to inspiring people to consider careers in civic and community causes and elected office.
She’s looking forward to April 20 when the 27th annual MPLP dinner gala is held at the Lansing Center, where hundreds will gather in person following the pandemic pause.
MPLP is one of the more unique programs, graduating 24 fellows each year in its weekend program. The class is split between fellows from the two political parties. Hundreds of elected officials across Michigan are MPLP alums.
Frank Luntz, national pundit and best-selling author, will take to the stage during the dinner to talk about midterm elections, the political climate, how businesses can best get their message out, and what’s ahead for 2024. No doubt he’ll talk about former President Donald Trump and what his endorsement of candidates means. I’ll emcee the event.
Due to the pandemic, three years of MPLP grads will also be on hand for the dinner as well as an in-person graduation ceremony held beforehand. For information on MPLP, click here.
Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or clcain@cbs.com. She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs 8 a.m. Sundays on CBS 62. See Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Penske’s Bud Denker on this Sunday’s show.


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