Seán Horgan, a former US Marine, purchased 2,000 ziploc bags from his local Ocean State Job Lot and left his Somerville home on April 7 to go to Poland, where he, along with other volunteers, assembled first-aid kits for the Ukrainian military.
Horgan is part of a small group of volunteers, called Operation White Stork, that has been in Poland for about two months. In addition to providing the medical supplies for soldiers, the group is helping evacuate Ukrainian citizens to Poland.
Horgan, a 47-year-old product manager at Verily Life Sciences, a sister company to Google that specializes in health data, heard about Operation White Stork from the veteran community. He went to Poland and Ukraine for two days each. The father of 7-year-old twins, Horgan sympathized with Ukrainian families that were separated.
“Seeing all the young families having to be separated from their fathers because they were staying to fight while the mothers and the kids were being separated really hit home in a way I didn’t expect,” Horgan said.
The volunteers have been in Poland since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Horgan was among many US service veterans and others who flew over to help. The intent wasn’t to establish a long-term organization, but in just two months the group has grown into a global effort.
“It’s an amazing, real-time collaboration that is very dynamic and being put together by a lot of volunteers,” Horgan said from Poland after putting together first-aid kits in an assembly line with other volunteers. “We have a responsibility to help others in need.”
William McNulty of Chicago, also a former US Marine and a co-founder of Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization made up of primarily military veterans, founded Operation White Stork by bringing together service-oriented people from all over the world to help those affected by the war in Ukraine. .
“When a crisis of this magnitude happens, it doesn’t take much to convince these men and women to serve, they naturally are looking for those opportunities,’' McNulty said. “We all know that we are doing the right thing supporting people who have been invaded unjustly.”
As of April 28, Operation White Stork had evacuated 9,396 people from Ukraine. Each day, they evacuate approximately 350-450 people, primarily women and children.
Currently, Operation White Stork is using trains and tour buses in Poland to transport evacuees. However, the trips are dangerous because Russia targets Ukraine’s railway system.
“This is mainly affecting ordinary middle-class people,” McNulty said. “These are shop owners, lawyers, doctors, stay at home mothers, school teachers. … Their lives have been turned upside-down.’'
Once the evacuees reach Poland, the Polish government takes over responsibility for helping them. In partnership with Airbnb, Operation White Stork grants each person they assist with a voucher for 30 days of free accommodations anywhere in the world except Ukraine. Airbnb has donated $11 million and over 1,500 housing vouchers have been issued, housing almost 5,000 people.
Volunteers have delivered over 6,000 first aid kits to front line Ukrainian soldiers. The group said it has received confirmations that donated tourniquets saved the lives of two soldiers.
To contribute, go to operationwhitestork.org.
Rose Pecci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.