It was a landmark meeting. I was driving to the outskirts of Kyiv to get to a car service where a mobile hospital for the Ukrainian Armed Forces was being prepared to be sent to the front. With a super operating room, in which everything was done according to the last word of combat medicine, which allowed operations to be performed near the battlefield.
I knew that this hospital was a project of the Romanian community, and I even thought that we needed to create portraits of the brightest representatives of social, not political, circles.
I was met there by Radu Hossu, a Romanian blogger and political consultant, a friend of the Ukrainian military, who is currently completely immersed in providing assistance to Ukraine. Radu's mutli-million audience on Facebook, Twitter/X, and Telegram constantly read his posts, reports on the Ukrainian war and financially support projects to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Then Radu took me around the mobile operating room that was supposed to go to the East. He knew every detail there and he said that the cost of this operating room included a monthly donation of 10 euros from a Romanian retiree, and sometimes EUR 2,000-3,000 worth of investments from a Romanian entrepreneur.
We agreed to meet again with Radu. I have recently learned that he was awarded the Order of Merit by the President of Ukraine. But he was at the front almost all the time and this interview continued in the mode of voice messages to the sounds of explosions and shelling and answers given in written form. Nevertheless, it is another puzzle of this war.
- Did you have any relations with Ukraine and Ukrainians before the war?
- When I was a child in the 90s, I had a friend, Sasha, in our hometown Brașov, in the heart of Romania, who was Ukrainian. His parents were separated and he lived with his mother if I remember correctly, who was a dentist. He spoke Romanian well and quickly integrated into the community and we children did not differentiate between him from the rest of the children.
Apart from him, we never had any connection with Ukraine or Ukrainians.
- How did you decide to start helping us?
- In Romania, I am a political consultant in a young, pro-EU, pro-NATO party, pro a society where the rules are equal for everyone. First of all, in order to have equality of opportunity, which I sincerely believe in, you have to have a chance to have that equality. Russia violated this equality of opportunity for the Ukrainian people, with the invasion in 2014, and then with the full-scale invasion on February 24 last year.
This means that the Russian Federation, a state sponsor of terrorism, as has also been declared by Romania in the European Union Parliament, has violated international law and itself the treaties that it, the Russian Federation, has signed. This is unacceptable to me. I want to live, and if I have children, I want them to live in a just world, where there is equality of opportunity. I want to live in a world where I have the right to choose my future. I want to live in a world where the law is equal for all, not 'more equal' for those with more muscle.
For me, the invasion of Russia was the purest example of Good versus Evil. Even Hollywood, if they had thought of a script, would not have come up with such a horror, with scenes like Bucha, Irpin, Izium, etc. Thus, I started writing about the war in Romania and became one of the most read Romanians on Facebook, on this topic.
One day I was contacted by a Ukrainian soldier of Romanian origin, named Misha, who volunteered in TRO (Territorial Defense Forces) and so I decided to help not only by fighting Russian propaganda, but also by acting in a different manner.
- What is the history of your help, tell us by dates, activities?
- I started fundraising in August 2022 and until June 2023, when I decided to stop, I collected on my Facebook page in my personal account more than 600,000 euros which turned into various aids for the Ukrainian Army and civilians in the localities liberated by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The Romanian press says it is probably the largest fundraising by an individual for the war and humanitarian effort in Ukraine. I don't know how to count that. What is certain, however, is that I am the only Romanian civilian citizen (i.e. without an official position) who was decorated by Decree 556/2023 of September 4, 2023 by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky with the Order of Merit, third degree (https://www.president.gov.ua/documents/5562023-48201).
In September 2023, I came to Ukraine and spent about three months on the eastern front line in Kharkiv region together with the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Team, called "Uzhgorod Boys." They were the first to receive non-lethal help from the Romanians through me: ballistic helmets and NATO standard bulletproof vests. Then, of course, I helped from the team level to the Brigade level, which is why the Brigade's Vice-Commander awarded me last year with a decoration called "Big Heart" for my volunteer work in support of the 101st TRO Transcarpathian Brigade.
I bought and exported for the army through an NGO in Ukraine over 20 4x4 pickup trucks, 4 DAC Military Trucks, over 30 medium and high power generators for winter, DJI Matrice 30T drones, Autel and other models, dozens and dozens of tonnes of humanitarian aid, I invested over 150,000 euros in what is now called "Oleg Gubal Medical Complex," 100,000 euros in 5 ambulances that I brought and donated to hospitals and military units in Ukraine, a fire truck worth almost 30,000 euros that I personally drove on January 20, 2023 to the middle of Bakhmut that I funded in honor of one of the heroes of Uzhgorod, Oleg Gubal, the one who was like a Guardian to me when I was at the front and who died a year ago, on November 10, 2022. Another project I am still working on is the repair of the Kherson sewage and water treatment plant, a project in which I have invested more than 85,000 euros, which is why I am also in Ukraine now.
Since September 2022 I have been in several cities in Ukraine where I have distributed aid: Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Izium - where I was exactly the week when it was liberated, Kharkiv, Velykyi Burluk and especially Bakhmut, where I was 3 times during the siege: October 2022, November 2022 and January 20, 2023, when Bakhmut was in close tactical encirclement, and the route I had to choose was Kostiantynivka-Chasiv Yar - "Death Road" - Khoromove - Bakhmut.
I am proud because from Bakhmut I extracted and practically saved civilians, together with Misha. Probably this project, together with humanitarian aid, ambulances and the Oleg Gubal Mobile Medical Complex are among the activities I am most proud of.
- What are the most emotional moments of the war and your participation in it for you?
- Emotions come in many forms, I have experienced all kinds of emotions in this war. One emotion I didn't experience was that this war is like in the movies. Unfortunately, there are far too many people commenting from the sidelines, from Western countries, who if they slept even one night on the front line where I was, would realize that war is the cruelest, most ruthless and destructive thing humanity has ever invented.
The most painful emotion was learning about the death of Oleg Gubal. To have someone you consider a comrade die, even though I am only a War Correspondent, Accredited by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, is unimaginable. It's like losing family. After months of standing shoulder to shoulder, with death dancing around us, a bond is created between people that cannot be broken very easily. This is one of the things the Russians don't understand: the strength of Ukrainian morale is far beyond theirs, because they fight for money, and Ukrainians fight for their freedom, their family and their nation.
The most beautiful emotion was when I managed to take the fire truck to Bakhmut and saw those rescuers who every day put their lives in danger, extremely emotional. They didn't believe that a fire truck with Romanian numbers would ever reach them in Bakhmut. Another touching moment was when the commander of the team I was on the zero line with, codenamed "Kherson", gave me a gift from him for an action that will remain only in my memory and in the memories of those there. He gave me a talisman necklace received from his wife and said: "This was given to me by my wife to protect me. From now on it is yours and you will see that nothing bad will happen to you in this war." Which was true.
Even though I was under dozens of artillery barrages, heard the roar of bombs, slept in the bitter cold, under the open sky, in the dark, endured all the weather vicissitudes, had the misfortune of cars breaking down, had my personal press car pierced by shrapnel from a Russian bomb, and had another car explode in Romania, (I have not much love from the Russians), it is true what the commander "Kherson" told me: I will be protected. And I was.
- I saw a photo that your wife also helps refugees.
- She is my future wife, we are not officially married yet, precisely because I promised the "Uzhgorod Boys" that they would be invited to the wedding, which means that we can't have the wedding until Ukraine wins! Flavia Boghiu is her name, she is the deputy mayor of Brasov, the most visited city in Romania and was the organizer of the most complex refugee center in Romania, the only Blue Dot certified center inside Romania (the rest being at the border), which became an example of best practice and was praised on CNN USA in prime-time, and received personal thanks from one of President Zelensky's advisors.
- Can you tell us about her projects?
- Flavia Boghiu is a supporter of Ukraine, she was invited alongside the Mayor of Warsaw, Poland to speak to the European Parliament's Refugee Committee and advocated for more help for families who are sadly uprooted, in pain and many of whom have members who have died or been injured in the war.
She comes from a social work background, before becoming Deputy Mayor of Brasov in 2020, having spent 10 years as CEO of the largest "Home Care" company and being President of the largest cluster of NGOs active in the social field. Thus, it was and is natural for him to extend a helping hand to those who needed it most in those first months of the war. The Ukrainian refugee center in Brasov is still recognized as one of the most complex and best-serviced in the world, and Flavia, when she can, gives me a helping hand, and apart from that she lives with her heart in her mouth every time I am in the middle of the war, she happened to come to Ukraine on holiday and be a volunteer driver. I am lucky to have her, and the Ukrainians who have arrived in Brasov are lucky that she is the one who had the idea of opening the refugee center and was its coordinator for the first few months.
- How do the people of Romania perceive Ukrainians?
- Now you force me to speak as a consultant: In the latest opinion poll, even with "war fatigue", Romanians are in a majority on Ukraine's side and believe that no concessions should be made to Russia. However, in order to maintain this majority, it is not enough for President Zelensky to come in Romania once or for me to write posts that are read by millions of people (because I also write on Facebook, Twitter/X and Telegram), but it is necessary for Ukraine, through its diplomacy, to give priority to the Ukrainian Embassy in Romania, which in turn has the capacity to develop lasting bilateral relations, cultivated on solid foundations and on trust between the two peoples.
Unfortunately, without direct action from the Ukrainian state, these things will not happen by themselves and I am sounding the alarm on this situation, knowing that your publication is widely read. In Romania there is an extremist, pro-Russian party, whose president George Simion has been declared persona non grata in Ukraine and is banned from entering Ukraine until March 2024. I hope that this ban will be continued in the first place, because in 2024 Romania will have 4 rounds of elections, and George Simion will try any political game to appear to be clean-handed, as he is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
At the same time, unfortunately, due to the inability of the Romanian central authorities to communicate, a certain hostility has been generated among Romanians towards Ukrainian male refugees who own very expensive SUVs. I know what the exceptions to martial law are and on the basis of which Ukrainian men can leave the country, and I can guarantee you that the majority of Ukrainian men have not left Ukraine legally. Here, a joint message from the Ukrainian and Romanian authorities denouncing such practices, coupled with firm action by the Ukrainian authorities against these individuals, would make not only Romanians, but also other peoples where such hostility exists, look more and more favorably on Ukrainians again.
- It seems to me that Romania's participation is underestimated. We don't know much about it. And the potential of the relationship is revealed. Tell us about what Romanians and Ukrainians have been able to build since your country opened its country to refugees.
- First of all, I think it is a human, moral obligation to open your arms to refugees. Nobody, no state, should be congratulated for that. This is normality in the 21st century, isn't it? So, yes, I am glad that Romania, like many other countries, has done it, but that does not mean that we are extraordinary in any way.
What we are extraordinary about is the fact that, despite the fact that we had a severe lack of government communication, Romanians organized themselves, civically, and helped Ukraine and Ukrainians. I am an example of how over 600,000 euros can be raised with a Facebook page.
Lana Samokhvalova, Kyiv