Ward in Warsaw: One Aspenite’s mission to help Ukraine

In covert mission, Ward Hauenstein makes trek to Poland to deliver surveillance drones for Ukrainian defenders

A rally in support of Ukraine was held in Warsaw, Poland, on March 25.
Ward Hauenstein/courtesy photo

Aspen City Councilman Ward Hauenstein’s covert mission to Warsaw, Poland, last week already has made an impact on the defenders in Ukraine who are in the field fighting for their country’s freedom from Russian forces.

Hauenstein’s whirlwind trip to deliver surveillance drones and medical aid supplies was personal and not official city of Aspen business.

“To see what is going on, it chills me,” Hauenstein said of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine and its people. “I really deeply felt I had to do something.”

Through personal connections in Aspen, Hauenstein was able to work with two relief organizations, Uniters Foundation and Assist Ukraine, to deliver six boxes containing three drones, mechanical parts and medical supplies.

A day after he expressed interest in helping and was asked to make the personal delivery, Hauenstein booked and paid for the roundtrip airfare to Warsaw, traveled 21 hours to Poland and left less than 72 hours later, returning to Aspen on Monday night.

Delivering the drones directly saved time and money, even though it was a bit nerve-wracking, Hauenstein reflected.

(Left to right) Outside of the Ukrainian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, Oleh Kuc, the deputy ambassador of Ukraine to Poland, an embassy official, Ward Hauenstein, Uniters Foundation volunteers and Joe Davidson.
Ward Hauenstein / courtesy photo

“It was something that raised some safety concerns about what I was taking and doing,” he said. “They said to me ‘Do not go out of a NATO country, you will have a target on your back.'”

The first night in Warsaw, Hauenstein was taken to an undisclosed location via taxi where the drones were dropped.

“I felt relieved when I got rid of the drones,” he said, adding that earlier in the day at the hotel he was staying at, a Russian-looking man wearing a gold chain and donning a crewcut was asking him questions about his travels and whether he was going to the Ukrainian border. “He made me suspicious and I was paranoid. … I didn’t sleep at all that night,” Hauenstein said.

Hauenstein was told via email this week by Uniters Foundation representatives that the “gifts” he brought had already been allocated.

If those drones had been shipped, they’d likely still be in a warehouse waiting for distribution, said Art Davidson, one of the organizers of Hauenstein’s trip and co-founder of Assist Ukraine.

Gallery caption: Images of Aspen residents in Chicago and Warsaw, Poland, in their efforts to support Ukraine.

“It’s best to courier the supplies,” he said Wednesday. “In some ways it’s extra work, but we feel we need to do it.”

The mission of Carbondale-based Assist Ukraine is to deliver medical supplies directly to the people who are still in Ukraine defending their country.

“There’s no middlemen,” Davidson said. “What we are doing is very nimble and changes as the situation changes every day.”

Davidson’s son, Joe, is already in the region and was there to receive the supplies brought by Hauenstein and his guide, Kateryna Pryshchepa.

Joe Davidson had previously delivered 13 boxes as part of Assist Ukraine’s mission. His father and sister plan to leave soon to deliver 25 boxes of medical supplies to the western region of the country.

How to Help

Here are a few ways to donate locally toward the Ukrainian crisis:

Mail a check payable to Assist Ukraine to Assist Ukraine, P.O Box 1740 Carbondale, CO 81623; or deposit a check made out to Assist Ukraine into Wells Fargo account ending … 0469.

Uniters Foundation:

The supplies include tourniquets, Israeli bandages, quick-clot gauze and decompression needles that go into trauma medical kits and are brought by volunteers onto the front lines for defenders.

“When a bomb goes off and someone’s arm is dangling … we can help them,” Davidson said.

While Assist Ukraine focuses on medical supplies, and now is setting up an orphanage to accept as many as 140 children, it had an opportunity to purchase the drones for Hauenstein to deliver.

Hauenstein said after meeting with government officials and others involved in the war effort in Warsaw, he realized those who are fighting need a lot more than what they are provided by the Ukrainian government.

“When you join the Ukraine army you get a rifle,” he said. “There is no helmet, no tactical equipment. They need this stuff now, and the longer these people go without protection the more people are going to die.”

Hauenstein had helped organize a stand in solidarity with Ukraine rally at Paepcke Park last month where he connected with Davidson, along with Assist Ukraine organizer and former Aspen lodge owner Heinz Coordes, as well as Anne Garrels, a correspondent for National Public Radio.

Dr. John Prunskis, the honorable consul of Lithuania, who represents the Lithuanian consulate in Aspen and was an organizer of last month’s rally, said he assisted Hauenstein in meeting with Eduardas Borisovas, the Lithuanian Ambassador to Poland.

Prunskis met with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) earlier week in Chicago at support Ukraine rally and is working with him to get necessary pain medication to Ukraine for those who are injured and need surgery.

Assist Ukraine is accepting donations for medical supplies and its latest effort to transform an abandoned summer camp in the region to an orphanage in the next 30 days.

Oleh Kuc, the deputy ambassador of Ukraine to Poland (right), and Ward Hauenstein outside of the Ukrainian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland.

“This is an ongoing, continual project coming out of this war,” Davidson said. “There’s a chance to make a difference in saving people’s lives.”

Assist Ukraine published a full-page ad in The Aspen Times earlier this week asking people to donate to the cause, and Davidson said the response has been positive thus far.

“So many people want to find a way to help,” he said. “It’s bringing out a lot of humanitarian heart … and we really appreciate Ward rolling up his sleeves.”

Hauenstein said he was inspired by the Polish people who stand behind Ukraine and hopes that the Aspen community will continue to step up to help assist in the humanitarian crisis.

“There is (a lot) of money in this town,” he said. “If we have the money, we’ll find a way to get it to them.”

Hauenstein said he plans to speak Sunday about his humanitarian adventure at the Aspen Chapel. The service begins at 9:30 a.m. and fellowship in the gallery downstairs is at 10:30 a.m.