A Polish volunteer has been organizing significant aid for Ukrainian soldiers for the past two years, delivering nearly 250 off-road vehicles to Ukrainian soldiers. Kyiv Post had the opportunity to talk with him about the details of his efforts.

Michał Kujawski: You have already delivered almost 250 off-road vehicles to the front, raised over $1,385,000 for them, were visited by the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Radosław Sikorski, the current Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who accompanied you on your trips to Ukraine three times. It looks very impressive. How did it all start?

Mateusz “Exen” Wodziński: I am an ordinary Pole who decided to donate his old off-road vehicle to the Ukrainian army two years ago. In June 2022, together with my neighbor, we drove to Kyiv and gave my Suzuki Grand Vitara to Belarusian soldiers from the Kastuś Kalinoŭski Regiment. At the same time, I started an online fundraiser hoping that maybe I could buy and deliver another 2-3 vehicles. This is how it started. To date, we have delivered 241 vehicles, and several more are waiting in Kyiv. They were serviced and I will come to pick them up and deliver them along with a few others to the soldiers soon. I think reaching the number of 250 delivered cars is a matter of two weeks.

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MK: When the Russian invasion broke out over two years ago, many people from Poland and other countries helped Ukraine and Ukrainians on many grounds. In your case, this help has far exceeded your initial plans and expectations. From donating one vehicle and starting a fundraiser, it has grown to a very significant number. Where do you draw the motivation to act on such a large scale?

Exen: As you mentioned, compared to the beginning, we are talking about a completely different scale now. It was difficult for me when it started, but now it is much easier. Back in the day it was hard to raise money and few people knew about my campaign. I was buying one or two cars a month. Now, I buy several a week. I promote my project in the media to attract new donors.

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Thanks to this, I’ve been able to expand my activities to the scale we see today. For the past two years, I have spent a lot of time traveling to Ukraine. I’ve met many people who are fighting and also I’ve made friends with many soldiers. It gets into your blood. I can’t imagine suddenly stopping. After two years, I no longer feel the same curiosity and excitement – delivering off-road vehicles has become somewhat routine. I’m sure it makes sense. Vehicles are very much needed on the front lines and from the very beginning, I’ve been almost exclusively focused on delivering them.

Some of the vehicles I delivered have been running for a year and a half already, while others were destroyed after five days.

I speak with the soldiers and ask about their needs. For many months, they have mainly pointed to vehicles and drones because everything else is provided by the army and Ukrainian volunteers.

Why drones and vehicles? These two things wear out and get used up very quickly. Drones even faster than vehicles. Both are also hard to bring in Ukraine – they need to be brought in from abroad and Ukrainians can’t legally leave the country. If it were otherwise, they would probably bring them in themselves from abroad. In fact, this sometimes happens – Ukrainian women sometimes bring these vehicles. A few months ago, I spotted “women’s battalions” that drove to the UK and returned to Ukraine with off-road cars for defenders.

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MK: What is the average service life of such a vehicle?

Exen: It depends on many factors. Some of the vehicles I delivered have been running for a year and a half already, while others were destroyed after five days. There’s no rule. It’s not like vehicles are always destroyed by shell hits, shrapnel or mines. Many vehicles deteriorate due to the terrible road and terrain conditions. If a car isn’t properly maintained, it can be damaged in two weeks. These vehicles need constant servicing and if the soldiers actually do that, they will use them for a long time.

I deliver these cars to those who really take care of them. It's important for a vehicle we buy to last, for example, 10 months rather than 10 days. The return on this investment increases with the length of time the vehicle is in service. I find soldiers and crews who will take care of the equipment properly. If they don’t, the vehicle will become unfit for use, and they simply won’t have anything to drive.

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There’ve been cases where someone ran a vehicle into the ground and wanted another one after a month. That’s not how it works – in fact, it's quite the opposite. I’m willing to give vehicles to those who inform me about their maintenance and repairs. In that case, I am happy to bring them more knowing they will last a long time. Of course, being hit is another matter – there’s no control over that.

MK: Who are the people who financially support your campaign and what does it look like after two years?

Exen: After nearly two and a half years, there’s visible war fatigue among people. It doesn’t look the same as it did a year or a year and a half ago. However, the war continues, and these vehicles are increasingly needed precisely because the scale of assistance has decreased over time. There are fewer donors and fewer contributions while the Ukrainian military needs continue to grow. I visit the front about every two weeks and notice more soldiers at the service than ever before. Also, the technical condition of the delivered vehicles never improves – on the contrary, it worsens over time. There are fewer cars, they are in worse condition, and the demand for them is rising. Regarding donors – they are mainly Poles. From the very beginning, I’ve promoted my project mainly in Poland. These people trust me – the way of spending the donated money is transparent and clear. I disclose expenses for vehicle purchases, repairs, painting, tires and other parts. I also publicize information about the delivery of vehicles to soldiers – they document it with pictures and videos confirming that the vehicles go where they are supposed to go. Trust is crucial. Perhaps in this way, more vehicles have been delivered than by any specific allied state.

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MK: As you mentioned, you’ve been traveling to the front for two years now. What has changed since your first trip?

Exen: Recently, the moods haven’t been optimistic. There was a shortage of ammunition and weapons. Everyone was waiting for Western aid. You could really feel that Ukrainians didn’t have what they needed to defend themselves against the constant Russian attacks. They simply started running out of means to fight.

Fortunately, Western military support has indeed started to arrive over the past few weeks and the mood has noticeably improved. However, looking at the war as a whole, at the big picture, the number of troops is high, and the army is the largest it has ever been, perhaps even the largest since the beginning. But that doesn't mean the situation is great, though. Soldiers who I met in the beginning were a well-trained and experienced professional army. Unfortunately, after two and a half years, only a few of those who I met two years ago are still around. Most of them have sadly been killed or are unable to fight due to injuries. Few of those who fought at the beginning of the invasion are still fighting. There are new units, new soldiers but they don't have the same level of experience as those who fought in 2022.

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MK: You live in Poland very close to the border with Belarus. There’s an ongoing hybrid war carried out by the regimes of Lukashenko and Putin. What’s your perspective?

Exen: It’s a completely different situation compared to Ukraine but on the other hand it’s closely linked to it. Putin and Lukashenko are carrying out actions to destabilize the Polish border. The regimes are bringing people from Africa and the Middle East, who then storm the borders of Poland and the EU in an aggressive way. They attempt to cross and attack Polish servicemen defending the borders. Three years ago, when this began, the border wasn’t as protected as it is today. Back then there were fewer border patrols. There were no military forces or physical and infrastructural barriers. It was a very calm area. Nothing ever happened there, but that changed very quickly. Military forces, fences, and barriers appeared, and chaos began. The number of attempts at illegal crossings is huge but the migrants storming the borders don’t aim to enter Poland – they aim to reach Germany. This is not a natural migration or refugee route. If Putin didn’t want it to happen, the migrants would never have reached here. They’re brought here intentionally.

MK: What message would you like to tell Kyiv Post readers about your project?

Exen: I’d like to encourage continued support for Ukraine in this war. Without Western military support, Ukraine stands little chance and if it falls, Russia will directly threaten Poland, the EU and NATO. If Ukraine falls, which is not unlikely and may not endure for long without support, the consequences will extend far beyond what Russia has occupied so far. What Ukrainians have managed to do is to push the war 1300-1400 kilometers from the Polish border. The war is raging in the Donbas, in Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv oblasts and southern Ukraine.

If the fighting were around Lviv the situation on the Polish border would be tough. And there was such a risk at the beginning of full-scale war, as the Russians wanted to occupy all of Ukrainian territory, but luckily, they didn’t succeed.

It’s NATO territory. Imagine the problem for Poland if rockets were falling on Hrubieszów or even the city of Rzeszów. NATO might not want to enter World War III because of villages on the eastern edge of its territory. If Russian military units occasionally entered Polish territory or missiles occasionally fell, we would have a gray zone and hybrid activities on a scale entirely different from today.

It’s great that Ukraine has managed, and we must continue to support it, including by delivering off-road vehicles for its defenders. If they weren’t needed on the front lines, I wouldn’t be driving them there and would return to normal life. I see and know how much they are still needed. We need to keep helping.

Support the fundraiser run by Exen by clicking this link.

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