Ripley’s Heroes, an American charity created to assist troops in Ukraine, recently got caught-up in a media circus that turned into a social media storm. Here is an exclusive interview with Hunter Ripley "Rip" Rawlings IV.
How did you get into helping Ukraine?
When the war began, my wife and I saw the destruction Russia was wreaking on the civilian populace of Ukraine and felt compelled to do something. We canceled a planned vacation and instead flew to Poland to help where we could.
My wife is a surgeon (and Navy combat veteran) and I am a retired combat Marine infantry and reconnaissance officer who now writes. For a few weeks in the refugee camps at the Hrebenne-Rawa Ruska border crossing, my wife ran a medical tent and I tried to take stories from refugees so that I could share the raw pain of the war. After my wife had to go back to the States to perform pre-scheduled cancer surgeries, I crossed into Ukraine to see where else I could help.
You founded a charity, Ripley’s Heroes: How much salary do you take from it?
None. In fact, everyone except our Kyiv branch chief are all volunteers and receive no salaries, so Ripley’s Heroes represents our passion to fight a great evil against innocent people who continue to suffer every day. We are proud of our efforts, and everyone has worked very hard to help Ukraine. Suggestions to the opposite are odious and false.
How do you see the attacks on social media?
One of my greatest concerns from all this bickering among supposed supporters of Ukraine is that it greatly detracts from the humanitarian effort and causes rifts between nations. Twitter smears and lies, accusations, and the like – none of which we have engaged in – greatly diminish American and Western interest in continuing to help Ukraine and instead directly help Russia.
Are you able to show receipts for all your charity’s purchases or expenses?
Yes, we have saved our receipts. Over the past year, Ripley’s Heroes has collectively raised and directed more than $1 million. Since inception, 93.8% of Ripley’s Heroes’ donations have been used directly to provide aid, tools, and resources – including body armor, helmets, vehicles (SUVs, vans, a mobile command center and a laundry truck), GPS units, cold weather clothing, boots, radios, small drones, satellite communications, etc.
3.1%, which is $37,372, has been used to cover operating expenses. The other 3.1% is held as cash on the organization’s balance sheet.
Truck delivery to a Javelin team.
How do you account for PayPal, GoFundMe, or other donations?
Our financial statements reflect donations from all sources. We have absolutely nothing to hide and even before this NYT business began, we retained an independent accounting firm in Northern Virginia to conduct a comprehensive audit of our financials and it is expected to be done by the end of this month or at the start of May.
You said you contracted an outside auditor - why?
Yes, this past January, months before the Times reached out, we engaged an accounting firm to conduct an independent financial audit because we are confident it will put an end to this unnecessary distraction and will validate our record keeping and credibility, which has been baselessly challenged, and so we can continue to focus on the important mission of helping Ukrainian forces and volunteers.
Why is your 501c3 taking so long? Can you prove that you even applied?
Yes, we applied for 501c3 status. There is a backlog in processing 501c3s. In an attempt to accelerate this process, we created a sister organization, RH Ukraine Aid, that would qualify for the expedited process for securing 501c3 status without disrupting our long-form application for Ripley’s Heroes. Upon approval our plan was to move forward with the charity that achieved charity status and dissolve or merge the entities. Sent to you are copies of our non-profit applications and also proof of application in Poland, and full charity status in Ukraine.
Why was RH Ukraine Aid’s 501c3 application submitted under a different name?
Again, we were trying to expedite our non-profit status in the U.S. Because I was already named as the CEO on Ripley's Heroes 501c3 long-form application, we assumed that designating me as the CEO on the second, expedited application might disrupt the long-form approval process. We were working under the Marine Corps mantra: if one avenue of advance isn't working, try another approach.
So, you are not legally a charitable organization?
We are. Ukraine-based Ripley’s Heroes is and has operated as a fully recognized charity since August of 2022. In addition we applied in February, 2023 for Ripley’s Heroes Poland non-profit status which we expect to receive in a few weeks.
Critics refuse to acknowledge these facts and seem determined only to suggest the delay of U.S. 501c3 equates to malfeasance, which it certainly does not. We remain absolutely committed to achieving charity status in all three countries. Though we haven’t yet received that status does not remove the fact that we have and will continue to operate as a charity until that status is granted and that is why our founders and volunteers receive no salaries.
Some say that you raised $3 Million: Is that true?
No. Ripley’s Heroes has raised $1.187 million to date. This is across all our charity and aid organizations collectively: Ripley’s Heroes U.S., Ripley’s Heroes Ukraine, RH Ukraine Aid, and Ripley’s Heroes Poland.
Why did you register the charity in Poland?
Registering in Poland is a necessary step to ensure we can ship our aid through Poland easily and mitigate related obstacles, as EU laws and VAT provide little support to LLCs or charities that aren’t registered within the EU. We are also expecting this status to help us purchase supplies in Poland and work more efficiently with partner charities that are Poland or EU based.
A recent article said that you established a different LLC to which you sought to charge shipping expenses and implying that you intended to obtain personal financial gain from your charity: Is that accurate?
That is false. This insinuation made by The New York Times is entirely inaccurate and irresponsible. The New York Times also grossly misrepresented the relationship between Ripley’s Heroes and Iron Forge, an entity I formed in November 2022 intending to be a logistics company and to bid on open contracts to transport goods between the U.S. and Ukraine/Poland. Anyone can bid on shipping contracts; they are open to the public. Many companies need shipping, Iron Forge would compete along with any other logistics company in the common marketplace to ship materials into Ukraine.
However, the fact remains the two organizations are entirely separate, and there exists absolutely no commingling of funds or conflict of interest; any suggestion to the contrary is false.
What else do you reject in the recent New York Times article?
The New York Times made several false allegations about both Ripley’s Heroes and me that I can prove are false. Because I wanted to ensure that what I told the Times was accurately reprinted, I recorded my conversation with the two reporters (which is entirely legal in my state). I am extremely glad that I did because while I had suspicions that I would not be reported on fairly, I could have never imagined that the Times would have published literally the exact opposite of what I stated on tape. Particularly galling is suggesting we've stolen donated funds and characterizing me under a headline "Stolen Valor..." which is ugly and shameful considering I gave 22.5 years of honorable service to the U.S. Marine Corps. We have stolen nothing and we’ve acted only honorably.
Would you provide us with the tape so that we can verify your claims?
Yes, if it is helpful to you, I can share the recording so you can compare side-by-side what the Times wrote with what I said – I know you will agree that it is a very shocking misrepresentation. I also am happy to share examples here of how the Times falsely reported what I said.
What is an example of how you felt that you were misrepresented?
Virtually the entire New York Times article, as it relates to me, is provably false, but because of space constraints I’ll pick only the most egregious example. The Times grossly misrepresented the relationship between Ripley’s Heroes and Iron Forge, which again is an entity I formed in November 2022 that seeks to bid on publicly available shipping contracts to transport goods between the U.S., Poland and Ukraine. The two organizations are entirely separate, and there exists absolutely no commingling of funds or conflict of interest; any suggestion to the contrary is false.
Does your recording of the interview attest to that?
In the recorded conversations with the Times reporters, I stated repeatedly and unequivocally that under no circumstances would Iron Forge benefit from Ripley’s donations or assets. I stated, “No way, no way. We wouldn’t ever use anything from the charity [Ripley’s Heroes],” and “Iron Forge would not use anything that belonged to the charity.”
In fact, I stated that I hoped the charity could benefit from Iron Forge in the form of being able to “inject money from the for-profit [Iron Forge] to the non-profit [Ripley’s Heroes],” and that I wanted Iron Forge to become a “corporate donor” to the charity.
There was an accusation in the article that you do not know where all the money is.
The Times article falsely alleged that I diverted donor funds by stating “it’s not clear where the money is going,” strongly insinuating that I am diverting donor funds to personally enrich myself. This could not be further from the truth, and financial statements clearly demonstrate the responsible use of donations.
Are you willing to allow us to publish some of the receipts and documentation with this interview?
Yes, we are transparent and have nothing to hide.
Anything else you would like to say?
Listen, I do not want false and inflammatory reporting to divert us from our important mission; we are as committed as ever to supporting the people of Ukraine and the heroes who are protecting the innocent against Russia’s naked aggression. We remain undeterred from our original purpose despite the noise created by trolls and Russian bots who continue to try to create a rift between the West and Ukraine.
The Kyiv Post reached out to The New York Times for comment about the allegations regarding its reporting. A spokesperson for the newspaper responded, “The reporting for this story was thorough, responsible and accurate, and The New York Times stands behind it unreservedly.”
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