Seventy-two hours | Washington Examiner

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AAs true heroes will tell you, if you can get them to talk about themselves, they are drawn to the race towards the fire rather than the distance – not because they possess extraordinary courage or strength. remarkable, but because of a deep sense of purpose.

A week ago, a handful of foreigners, including Vlad Fick, Tyler Merritt and a small group of American veterans volunteering with the Air Recovery Group, crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine at the exact moment the sirens rang out for the night curfew.

They had 72 hours to complete their mission to rescue as many of the country’s orphans as possible from the attacked areas and bring them to safety.

“Over 400 orphans have been rescued so far,” said Merritt, a retired member of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who works with ARG, a team of combat-tested American veterans. . The United Nations Children’s Fund has reported that more than a million children have escaped from Ukraine since Russia started the war a month ago. The biggest concern was that these children would be abducted, leading to child trafficking, exploitation or death.

Merritt is the type of guy who is always driven by a goal. He founded his company, Nine Line, which manufactures patriotic and military support clothing and gear in part to employ local veterans in Savannah, Georgia. When his friend Scooter Brown said he was adopting a child in Ukraine when the war started, and as a result discovered that there were many children in danger there, Merritt got involved.

Josh Brock, Vlad Finn, Tyler Merritt and James Zumwalt at the Polish-Ukrainian border just before entering on their 72-hour mission to rescue and relocate 400 orphans.

(Courtesy picture)

Merritt arrived in Poland where he met several veteran ARG volunteers, as well as Finn, who is also driven by a higher purpose, though different from Merritt’s. While Merritt is a tactical warrior, Finn said he has a personal connection to the orphans of Ukraine – as not too long ago he was one of them.

“I was born and raised in Kharkiv, Ukraine until I was 15 with my younger brother Denis,” he explained from his home in California. “My father died when I was 6 and my mother started drinking heavily.

“I ended up on the streets and stayed there for a few years, sleeping wherever I could find warmth and depending on the kindness of strangers,” he said.

At 11, he ended up in an orphanage. His brother was in another about 30 miles from him.

“I was able to visit her a few times with my carer from the orphanage,” he said.

Finn’s brother visited America in 2005 with a small group from his orphanage, and an American couple put him up for two weeks. “They fell in love with him and decided to adopt him, but the process took two years,” Finn said. “Towards the end of the process they found out that Denis had a brother and they also had to adopt him. At that time I was 15 and at first they said no, but after a while , they changed their minds and decided to adopt us both.

The family immediately bonded. Although he didn’t know a bit of English when he arrived, he immediately joined the local high school football team, earned a degree in finance, and moved to California.

“When the news of the invasion of Ukraine broke, I knew I had to go there and help there,” he said. .”

Instead, he decided to go help in any way he could. “I partnered with Aerial Recovery, which rescues orphans from dangerous areas in Ukraine and settles them in the east of the country. It couldn’t be more perfect since I was one of those orphans before, except they got much worse because of the war. Helping them and spending time with them has been an honor and an incredible opportunity to have a positive impact, just like so many people throughout my life have done for me.

As soon as Merritt, Finn and the ARG team were in Ukraine they quickly got to work, Finn knew the language and where to go and Merritt knew how to properly set up shelters, and they all distributed the supplies they had acquired . More importantly, they set up a volunteer relay system not only to rescue the orphans but also to keep them in their home country.

And out of the hands of the Russians.

“When I was there, there were two Ukrainian caregivers for the orphans we were transporting out of town, and [the Russians] pulled them out of the 30-passenger van full of orphans and, in front of the orphans, executed them,” Merritt said.

“The van driver said he had to run through the barricade, and he finally joined us,” he added. And that’s where we look back, to Schindler-esque tactics. And it’s not that Russians are bad, it’s that Putin is bad. And everyone should know that leadership has important consequences.

Merritt and Finn said they would be back at work with the ARG for an additional 72 hours in less than a week. The Savannah veteran and entrepreneur said he was blown away by the work ARG does and the people who step up to help them.

“It’s an amazing organization that’s completely out of their element,” Merritt said. “They are doing God’s work, risking their lives on a shoestring budget and saving and protecting Ukraine’s treasure, their children.”

The aid organization has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ukrainian government with a policy of keeping the children in Ukraine but removing them from dangerous areas where there are many orphanages.

It costs about $500 to move each child, plus more to make it happen as well as pay the drivers who risk their lives to save those children.

Along with putting it all on the line personally, Merritt has also raised over $100,000 through Nine Line: “If we could get other organizations to help out with the Air Recovery Group, that would be great.”

Merritt said his interactions with Ukrainians were inspiring: “People say they’re in it for the long haul. They throw away their wives, they throw away their children, and many of them die, and yet they won’t stop defending their country.

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