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U.S. official from Old Town shares experience leading relief efforts in Ukraine

University of Maine alumni Kyle Parker described his involvement in aiding war-torn Ukraine on April 17 as the most well-traveled U.S. official. Parker is Chief of Staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and he spoke at Wells Conference Center to share captivating stories with the audience as well as footage and photos which had not yet been revealed to the public. He also displayed tangible remnants of war brought back from the battlefields. 

The initial full-scale Russian Invasion struck Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, killing tens of thousands of civilians. Since then, there have been air raid sirens sounding throughout both countries and a lack of support from the United States and the West. After reaching the two-year mark, it became more apparent than ever that there needs to be a guarantee of Ukrainian security. 

“Everybody in Ukraine woke up together at 5 a.m. that day; everybody faced pure bombardment,” Parker said. 

The U.S. Helsinki Commission is a small operation that focuses on security and cooperation in Europe, promoting human rights, military security and economic cooperation in 57 countries. The commission, made up of 25 staff members, has shifted its primary objective accordingly since the start of the war.

“We have since converted our efforts to focus on one goal: a timely and total victory for Ukraine, including border recognition,” Parker said. 

Between March 2022 and February 2023, Parker traveled to and from Ukraine numerous times, with three purposes in mind, the first being to carry supplies, such as tourniquets, electronics, and other materials that there was a shortage of. Not only did he bring over items, but he also returned to the U.S. with objects of war. He would then present said objects to senators and Congress to serve as a reminder of what is happening overseas and, most ideally, compel the government to give further assistance. 

Secondly, Parker travels with the intention to provide moral support to those fighting and remain amongst them in solidarity. By sharing the same trench and assuming the same risks, he is showing that our country supports their efforts and has individuals willing to join them in the cause. 

The last objective is fact-finding. Parker will compose a list of needed supplies to collect once he returns to the U.S. before going back again. 

Russian Opposition Leader in 1999 and friend of Parker, Vladimir Karmur had been poisoned by the Russian government twice for speaking out against Putin. Parker described the man, who has since passed, as a true Russian patriot of the highest order.

“How can I expect my countrymen to rise up if I am doing so from the comfort of suburban Washington?” Karmur said before returning to Kharkiv. 

Parker had been given $30,000 to bring to the U.S. to secure 20 weather stations and 10 rangefinders for the Ukrainian sniper team. Upon ordering these machines, it became clear that such an abundance of them would take time, which in this case was of the essence. 

He called the company making the stations and finders, explaining to them the direness of the situation and the fact that they were going to aid Ukraine. In response, the factory stayed open all night long in order to produce all of them in a timely manner. 

Parker is a prime example of taking necessary action toward justice as an individual. Though it is the responsibility of our government and that of European countries to provide nations in imminent distress, such as Ukraine, with support, it does not always happen in an impactful or prompt enough manner. 

There are steps that can be taken to show we stand united and are willing to help put an end to worldwide conflict, even on a small scale. If not for the betterment of neighboring nations, do so for the betterment of our own.

“My friend Vladimir was right and so were the other Russian opposition leaders who said that how they are treated inside affects the outside world,” Parker said. 

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