AUSTIN (KXAN) — When tragedy strikes people far from us, it can be hard to help. Austin resident David Gatchell found himself in Romania 10 days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began and soon began delivering supplies across the Romania-Ukraine border.
Gatchell is now back in Austin but is still working to bring aid to civilians in Ukraine through the organization he founded, Direct Action Aid-Ukraine (DAA).
“I was initially going out, buying stuff and delivering it myself, while I was there for three weeks, and then organizing deliveries once I got back,” Gatchell said.
DAA fundraises online and spends those funds on supplies in Romania. DAA volunteers in Romania take the supplies to a warehouse near the Romania-Ukraine border, where Ukrainian volunteers can load up cargo vans and personal vehicles. The warehouse is a two-day drive from Kyiv — a drive happily made by a Ukrainian Rotarian.
“This lady drives from Kyiv, about 400 miles to get to this border. She loads up everything into her two vans and drives it back into Kyiv,” Gatchell said.
Gatchell said DAA has already raised nearly $50,000 in donations and spent $40,000 of that on deliveries. The remaining funds will be used for two more cargo trucks of supplies.
“I’m sitting in Austin, and I spearhead the fundraising from here,” Gatchell said. “I’m not there right now. So I can’t deliver food myself. But there’s a whole network of people in Romania and Ukraine.”
The group’s Ukrainian counterparts takes precautions on using certain vehicles. According to Gatchell, larger vehicles have been targeted or confiscated by Russian soldiers. DAA posts regular updates on Facebook about its supply runs, showing photos of its organizers, the people receiving aid and vans loaded with supplies.
DAA’s works go beyond bringing aid into Ukraine. The group also brings supplies to refugee centers, where the demands differ — less need for food and water, greater need for sanitary and hygienic products. The group also used funds to purchase heaters for the reception tents.
“We were frequently asked to buy toothbrushes, toothpaste, coffee, women’s deodorant and tampons. It’s mostly elderly men, women and kids coming, since the men under 60 had to stay. They left everything for a harrowing journey, and they don’t have certain things that they need,” Gatchell said.
As the conflict develops, Gatchell hopes Austinites continue to pay attention and support. However, he said local collection drives can only go so far, due to the shipping costs involved with sending donated food, medicine and clothes internationally.
“I think [local drives] make people feel good, because they’re doing something. But without understanding all the steps necessary and the costs associated, it might not be the most efficient. In my opinion, it’s not,” Gatchell said. “In my opinion, the most efficient would be to send money to buy food in Ukraine; however, the supply chains, local management and the local infrastructure are in bad shape.”