Breaking News
More () »

'I'm following my heart' | Georgia veteran to bring humanitarian relief to Ukraine, again

This is Ken Ward's second trip to the war-torn nation.
Credit: Provided

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — Ken Ward started his Wednesday by packing last-minute items in his suitcase and making plans to have lunch with some old friends and some new ones. It was part of his preparation to head back into a warzone. 

Ward, a U.S. Air Force veteran and father of six, arrived at the Friends of Disabled Adults and Children headquarters in Stone Mountain Wednesday morning. He was greeted by the yellow and blue Ukrainian flag and a group of 15 people grateful for his arrival -- and who would become even more appreciative of his exit.

"I'll be getting on a plane to go over there and I'll be in Ukraine, well, next week," Ward said. 

The retired veteran would be traveling back to Ukraine and would likely be there as the nation marks a year since Russian tanks invaded its borders.

For the veteran, the mission is simple: help people.

Ward's strategy includes distributing resources like blankets, generators and medical supplies. He said it's similar to what he's been doing since 1994 when he first started visiting the country on humanitarian trips.

"You can say it any way you want," he said, alluding to people poking at his travel plans. "Am I scared?"

In short, no.

Ward says he's more concerned about dying with regrets. Doing this second mission trip is a way to fight that fear.

"I'm at peace. I'm at peace with God, with myself, with my family," he said. "By going there -- no regrets."

Originally from Rome, Georgia, Ward said he's always been called to serve and acknowledged it hasn't always been easy.

He joined 15 Ukrainians Wednesday for a cultural meal as a sort of going away celebration for his trek to the east. In getting to know the people who with roots in the country, he sees how important it is to help when needed. 

"It's what I need to do," he said.

The U.S. has showcased its allyship with the NATO-friendly nation, even pledging $4.5 billion to support Ukraine's government in international relief. Congress and the Biden administration have directed nearly $50 billion in assistance, according to reports.

Ukraine has been able to fend off some Russian forces since the invasion started in February 2022. It's an invasion that's sparked Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II.

Dozens of Russian troops were killed in a Ukrainian strike that used U.S.-supplied artillery in Moscow on New Year's Eve, according to NBC News. It was a notable win for Ukraine as it was inundated by missile and drone attacks across its cities as the war moved into a new year. 

Ward has commented that this is why help can't always take the form of a check.

"I'm following my heart," Ward said. "If I followed it with my eyes and my head -- I would not go, I would stay home." 

His children have followed his lead, he says, as five of them have volunteered in relief efforts for Ukraine. Ward says he's warned his children that it's dangerous.

"They said, 'well dad, you're there,'" he said.

And he will be, and we're not quite sure for how long.

In the dreary metro Atlanta weather, he left the Stone Mountain post with a full belly and suitcase. As he loaded up an SUV preparing to take him to the airport, the group of Ukrainians that thanked him for his service over lunch watched him depart, singing songs from their nation.

Ward said that's what the mission is all about.

"Please don't get caught up on the politics and the war," he said, "versus the people who need help."

Before You Leave, Check This Out