Saxon man back from second trip to Ukraine

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Many Americans have tried to find ways to help as the Ukrainians defend their country from a Russian invasion.

Shane Wyzlic of Saxon, Wis., wanted to help too. But he wasn’t satisfied with sending donations from afar.

"It just hit me," he said. "It hit me hard personally where I knew financial assistance for me wasn’t going to be enough, you know, that somehow, it was going to have to be boots on the ground helping."

Before the war, he didn’t really have any connection to Ukraine. His great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Poland, but that’s as close as it got.

Still, he wanted to go. He began searching on Facebook and eventually connected with a Polish citizen named Peter who had quit his job to support Ukraine.

"He said, ‘If you want to help me, come on,’" Wyzlic said.

He flew to Warsaw in March. Wyzlic, a Navy veteran, pays for his own travel, but his sister started a GoFundMe to help with other costs.

"The major purchase we were able to do when I was there was purchase a vehicle for transporting supplies and refugees back," he said.

Rented vehicles can’t be taken across the border from Poland into Ukraine. During his first trip there, he and Peter brought refugees to safety. The first group they took was a grandmother, mother, and her young son.

"That little boy, he’s probably 3 or 4 years old," Wyzlic said, "and I gave him a pack of peanut butter crackers and a stuffed animal. And just to see somebody get so excited over something so small and trivial, you know — and that’s when I knew I was going back."

He returned in early May. The second trip was more about bringing supplies: medical items from St. Luke’s and body armor from the Ironwood Public Safety Department. United Airlines allowed him to send 300 lbs. for free.

Wyzlic has mostly stayed in western Ukraine.

"Lviv’s a beautiful city. You wouldn’t think that there’s a war going on," he said. "The countryside, if you were to close your eyes and open them, you would think you were in farm country in southern Minnesota or Wisconsin farm country. It’s absolutely beautiful country."

Wyzlic said the people he’s encountered are grateful for all of the equipment and aid coming from the U.S. Some sent him home with tokens of their gratitude.

"This was signed by the police chief in Lviv," he said, holding up a framed certificate. "And it says, ‘Gratitude to Shane Wyzlic for humanitarian aid during the wartime on the territory of Ukraine.’"

But he maintains he’s not the hero.

"The people over there are the ones that deserve an award because what they’re going through and their tenacity and willpower and drive is just — it’s over the top. It’s just amazing what they’re doing," he said. "And I believe that they’ll be victorious."