Adam Oake was one of millions of Canadians who watched the news from home in disbelief when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
As the largest military mobilization in Europe since World War II unfolded before his eyes, and civilian casualties began to mount, scenes of destruction, death spurred a visceral response. from Torontonians. “I couldn’t sit on the couch knowing there was something I could do to help make a difference,” says Oake.
A die-hard, lifelong fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he decided to liquidate his massive collection of Leafs memorabilia in an effort to raise money so he could go to a war zone.
“I’ve had a lot of autographed pictures from back in the day to recent autographed pictures, jerseys, you can name it. Unfortunately, I only got $2,000, which is a lot less than I spent (for collectibles), but it covered my flight.”
Oake took the rest of his savings, asked friends and family to contribute, packed his bags, and sailed across the Atlantic in March. His plan was to join the foreign corps, but when he arrived in Poland, he was assigned to volunteer with a Norwegian Crisis Response volunteer organization called Paracrew.
Over the past five months, he has risked his life driving food and aid trucks to an area where most organizations no longer operate – in the hot zone, near the front lines in eastern Ukraine. Oake believes the aid agencies were flagged as targets by Russian forces.
“We are anywhere from 20 to 30 kilometers from the front line,” the 33-year-old noted. “When you’re that close and you’re moving, you become a target.”
This week, the Torontonian and the volunteers he is working with are driving to Kharkiv and Kramatorsk. He said there was “constant shelling all around us, it was a matter of delivery, into the city and out.”
Oake said they’ve been frustrated lately that aid transfers are just as dangerous as transfers are becoming less and less frequent. Public donations have dropped dramatically since the war began. The shelves of sleeping bags, toiletries and medical supplies will be empty by the end of this week. Paracrew’s last feed was sent out earlier this week and they’re not sure when they’ll be able to get more. The food they had was enough to feed about 100 civilians.
However, Oake pointed out that they have “about 50,000 (common) communities in Kharkiv that need support and about 30,000 plus in Kramatorsk that need food and aid.”
Paracrew estimates that it experienced a 40% drop in medical aid, a 60% drop in food deliveries to civilians in need, and a 70% drop in public donations.
Oake told CTV News that he and the team he’s working with have a saying: “Empty shelves are a good sign, because that means aid is being delivered to people who need it, but now those shelves are empty because there is nothing to replenish. . ” He added, “We often like to see our shelves empty at the end of the day but full in the morning.” Suffice it to say, that didn’t happen.
To save money, Oake and other volunteers are sleeping on cots in a barn in central Ukraine. Oake personally admits he only makes enough money from friends and family to buy food for himself. Maple Leaf personal savings and memorabilia disappeared months ago.
As a commercial contractor, Oake used to work renovating homes in the Toronto area, now he’s plying his trade in rural Ukraine to help repair several damaged homes. worthy of being salvaged in the north after the Russians withdrew from there. land.
“I was helping a woman fix the entire ceiling when a tank fired two bullets and 150 rounds into her wall. We also helped a man who was driven past his house by a tank to just get in his car temporarily so he could continue living in the house. “
For months, as Oake drove across Ukraine, he sat in the cold front row in the face of the horrors of the Russian invasion. Speaking to CTV News from his makeshift bedroom in Ukraine, he shared that while on the road, he “constantly thinks about the fact that the next time you drive through a town, the places you go past will no longer be there.”
That was certainly the case with Kramatorsk. “I passed a village just outside the city, where I once saw women and children go out enjoying the day or as much as they could, and when I drove past it the next time, my They have completely disappeared.”
As the cold realities of the Russian invasion drag on and public donations become increasingly sparse, Oake is sending this plea to the people of Canada.
“There are a lot of families here in dire need and they don’t know where to turn. Put yourself in their shoes, imagine your house is destroyed and you are put into a shelter with bombs constantly going off.”
His plan is to spend at least 3 years in Ukraine, in the hope that the war will end and he can help rebuild the families’ homes, rather than simply patching things up. what he can find.
But he feels global attention to the invasion is waning, as does support for those on the ground who are desperately trying to help.
“There are concerns that Paracrew and other NGOs will not be able to survive in Ukraine,” admits Oake, unsure of what tomorrow will bring. “There’s a huge cost to having a warehouse, to have vehicles on the road, without supplies coming in, it’s almost a waste of time sometimes. You don’t want to sit in one place for too long, because you know what the situation is in the east and south. If I had enough supply trucks, I would take them to those in need. “