Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKs), which contain tourniquets, trauma bandages and other essentials, are among the most crucial things in short supply. McLeod collected 100 before leaving, along with medical bags for paramedics. Donations came from Allaquix, friends, relatives, and from McLeod herself. She sent seven boxes via UPS to AEC Parcel Services, which ships goods to Ukraine at a discount, and carried six more bags of supplies on her person.
Before leaving, she also bought a mobile phone with a global system and a VPN, and only switched communications to Signal once she arrived in Europe. We communicated via Signal as she made her way from Poland to Ukraine. She allowed us to quote from these conversations, as well as from a diary she wrote while leaving the country.
On April 30, she left Rochester, bound for a war zone. She would land in Krakow, then take a train to the border.
“You have to be very flexible in your travels. And sometimes the integration can take several days. You’re not just going to take a train to leave and say, ‘Hey, I’m here,’” she told us.
On May 3, McLeod was in Poland, at the border. It was there that she had her first contact with the chaotic mix of wary locals, mostly well-meaning NGO volunteers and wartime thieves.
“A man who arrived a few hours after me was drugged and robbed from his hotel room by the owners,” she said. Another man, an American military veterinarian and forest firefighter, had collected $250,000 in medical supplies and transported them from Montana to New York. An organization there promised to ship the goods to Poland and pay for his transportation so that he could deliver the goods. None of this happened. When he arrived in Poland (at his expense), he discovered that his supplies had been put up for sale on the Internet.
On May 4, McLeod crossed the border. The crossing, scheduled for noon, did not take place until 6 p.m.