Army veteran from NJ starts organization to help send volunteers to Ukraine
There is a New Jersey native and Army veteran who has made it his mission to help those who want to help Ukraine.
“Whether it’s military service or otherwise, people who are able to thrive in chaotic, uncertain and austere environments are the right fit for this,” says David Ribardo.
Ribardo describes the few good people who he is looking for to send to Ukraine to assist with the humanitarian efforts or in some cases, even help assist the Ukrainian military in its fight against the Russian invasion.
Ribardo is a Plainsboro native, Rutgers graduate and Afghan War veteran. A few weeks ago, he founded the organization VolunteerForUkraine.org, which is sending U.S. veterans and other volunteers to the warzone and surrounding areas in Eastern Europe facing a refugee crisis. Three thousand people have applied, and dozens are leaving every day.
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“Some people just needed a little bit of a nudge to be able to help out,” Ribardo says.
The organization has had to weed out some right-wing militia members trying to sign up, and a group of friends with misguided video game-inspired plans to hijack a Russian tank. To do this, the group has 15 volunteers to perform background checks and vet applicants to make sure they are getting people with the right experience. Those people are then paired with the correct organizations on the ground in Europe who can use their help.
“We've had a lot of these quiet professionals - people with special operations background… and I'm looking at this resume that's just a who's who of every major conflict of the past 15-20 years,” Ribardo says. “They've been there, done that, so we've been able to get them linked up with the right people.”
Ribardo says he was inspired by his experience in the Army while in Afghanistan, where he saw volunteers - including war veterans - who helped with extraction and other non-combat missions in the warzone.
“I watched and said, ‘Hey, those guys in Afghanistan made a big impact. What can we do?’” Ribardo says.
VolunteersForUkraine.org also pairs donors willing to put up funds or even donate frequent flyer miles for a volunteer to travel to Poland or Ukraine, so even people who might not have the specific skillset needed can still help put boots on the ground.
Ribardo says that as the humanitarian crisis grows, there is an urgent need not only for people with military experience, but even more so with medical expertise.