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'This is just the beginning' | East TN veteran who took medical supplies to Poland safely returns home

Larry Winters successfully got more than $4,000 worth of medical supplies to Ukrainian troops but said they need a lot more.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A U.S. Marine and combat veteran is helping soldiers fighting across the world in Ukraine. He flew to the Ukrainian border to get troops medical supplies, something they desperately needed. Now he's back in East Tennessee.

That mission was successful. But now, Larry Winters is saying the fight to help has just begun.

After his first visit to the Ukrainian embassy in Poland, Winters said he was welcomed by troops with open arms. He said medical supplies were being used faster than they were coming in, and it's becoming a dire situation. 

"The more we help these people now, the less we will have to do later on. Now, I value our American troops," Winters said. 

Winters said he made the journey to help Ukrainians for not only them but for his country. 

"I worry about Russia getting into Poland. That's where those who are wounded are being helped and where refugees are," Winters said. 

Thousands of soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division are stationed in Poland, about 30 miles east of Ukraine. Winters said he met one of the soldiers during his trip, who was from Kansas.

"I said, 'How goes it?' He says, 'We're in the armed count. We're ready. We know that if he comes, we're going to have to fight.' So they are there and ready to fight if they have to," Winters said.

Having been in combat during the Vietnam War, Winters feels like it is his calling to help those who have been wounded get the medical help they need.

"Having been in combat and being wounded I recognize and understand what it's like being there, and frightened, and bleeding, and concerned about what is going to happen to you," Winters said.

Winters said troops are stocked with food, blankets and most necessities. However, they do not have enough medical supplies to save lives when the clock is ticking.

"Everything is out. Just like this stuff," Winters said while he pointed to his soon-to-be-shipped stockpile of medical supplies sprawled out across his living room. "But there are no medical supplies. None!" 

The warehouse he delivered medical supplies to in Poland was completely out of medical supplies when he arrived, he said.

 "As soon as they come, they go," Winters said." They were so excited they started unpacking and packed their own box right then. I said, 'What's going with this?' 'They're going to send it tonight.' And they took those supplies straight into Ukraine that evening."

People are being killed in Ukraine and he said many are dying because they don't have supplies to stop infections.

"They don't have alcohol swabs or iodine swabs to clean the wound before they were sutured up," Winters said. "Not only soldiers but the civilians too."

The infection rate, he said, is rapid.

Winters returned home with a list of the supplies troops desperately need. He would like to keep collecting those medical supplies to ship but has to figure out another method of sending them. The cost of shipping the medical supplies from the U.S. is high, he said.

Shipping medical supplies can be very expensive and hard he said, considering customs is sifting through items during a war. This got Winters thinking about 'Plan B.'

"What if we took the money that we're raising and bought the supplies in-country instead?" Winters said while walking through his planning process.

He is working to team up with medical suppliers in Europe to cut out the middle man.

"We're going to use the money in a better way. Not wasting it on packing it up and shipping it," Winters said. "One box to send is $500."

The non-profit he started, The Vets for Ukrainian Refugees Inc, said it needs help.

"It's in our benefit to do it now instead of doing it later for our own troops. We've got to do this," Winters said.

This vet is in his 80s and said he can't do it alone. Vets for Ukrainian Refugees will be holding a fundraiser at the Chapman Highway Lowe's located at 7520 Mountain Grove Dr, Knoxville, TN 37920 on Saturday. 

Veterans with the non-profit will be collecting donations during Lowe's business hours. 

Winters said anything, big or small, would help. Anyone interested can also donate any time directly to the non-profit online. 

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