Colorado mechanic Shaughn Varnell update from Ukraine

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It’s been more than 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. A Colorado man who traveled to Ukraine to help has an update on those efforts.

COLORADO, USA — Prior to the war in Ukraine, Shaughn Varnell was working as a mechanic at Mercedes-Benz of Denver. In late March, he decided he wanted to help in some way, so he traveled to Ukraine to offer his skills as a volunteer.

> The video above is from April

It’s now been more than 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. Varnell remains in the country, and offered an update on his efforts and what’s happening during the war.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.) 

9NEWS: Where are you working in Ukraine currently, and what kind of work are you doing?

Varnell: I am currently in Kharkiv, a frontline city in the northeastern part of Ukraine. It was hit hard by rocket and artillery attacks early in the war and was the sight of some intense fighting. For the safety of myself and my colleagues, I won’t say exactly where in Kharkiv we are staying right now. I’m working with Rescue Now UA, an organization that evacuates civilians and provides humanitarian assistance to those left behind. I help in any aspect I can. As an evacuation driver, mechanic and sometimes just sorting things in our warehouse. Whatever is needed at the moment.

What is happening with the war in your current location? Is it safe?

Varnell: The Ukrainian Armed Forces have pushed the Russian forces largely out of the Kharkiv region. There are still sporadic artillery and rocket attacks. “Safe” is a relative term right now in Ukraine. Russian forces constantly attack civilian targets with missiles and artillery with impunity. It is often intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses, but not always. That being said, I take all available precautions, and feel relatively safe in general. I wear a bulletproof vest when outside and sleep in an underground shelter at night.

Day to day, what can you see and hear?

Varnell: All around Kharkiv I can see the damage of Russian shelling and missile attacks. I have seen damage to all manner of buildings, schools, apartments and shopping malls. Kharkiv was a densely populated city, and almost every destroyed building I have seen has been within 100 feet or so of a park or playground. The Russian army has left a swath of destruction in their wake, and even when they have retreated, the damage they have caused remains. I can hear sporadic artillery throughout the day, and the air raid sirens sound often enough it has become background noise to most people.

How are the Ukrainians that you have met feeling right now?

Varnell: Most Ukrainians I have met are resilient and defiant. Those who have stayed are intent on living their lives. Flowers are a special part of life in Kharkiv, and just the other day I saw city workers out planting flowers in the park, amidst the air raid sirens and distant explosions. Those who have evacuated are eager to return. Kharkiv is already beginning to show signs of normal life again. Although the Russian positions are only a few dozen kilometers outside of town, people are returning and getting back to their lives as best they can.

What do Ukrainians need right now? How would you like Americans to help?

Varnell: Ukrainians need aid now more than ever. As the war drags on, reserves of all supplies are beginning to dwindle. Our organization, Rescue Now UA, is in desperate need of canned and non-perishable food, quality medical supplies — especially tourniquets — and vehicles. The last one I must stress. The terrain here is hard, and even just in the suburbs, 4×4 vehicles are often needed for evacuations. We are looking for donations of any used vehicles, especially vans and 4x4s. Even if they need a little work, we can get them going. I am a mechanic, after all. We can get them here and fix them. We just need some generous people to step up and donate them, and I know the people of Colorado, and their generosity won’t let us down. 

Ukrainians are so grateful for the assistance our government has provided, and I know they will be just as grateful for the assistance our people provide. I have attached the link for Rescue Now UA’s English language website, where you can find out more and contribute financially, and I can be reached at AidforKhark[email protected] for other inquiries, including material donations, as well as my Fundrazr site, raising funds to buy vehicles and supplies locally.

What motivates you to stay and help? How long do you plan to stay?

Varnell: Oh boy, that’s a tough one. Not all of it is up to me. Some of it may come down to Ukrainian visa requirements, but I intend to stay for a while longer. As long as I can be of use. As for why, nearly every Ukrainian I meet gives me new inspiration and a will to stay and help. Their kindness, toughness and willingness to help each other and to share what they have are truly amazing. They are a proud and strong people, and I look forward to watching what they will accomplish in the future as a unified and sovereign nation.

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