Grady Williams, a 64-year-old Santa Barbara resident, flew to Ukraine earlier this year where he spent two months doing freelance volunteering. He was recently interviewed at a Wendy P. McCaw Roundtable, a Young America’s Foundation event in Santa Barbara.
Mr Williams decided to volunteer in Ukraine after hearing President Zelensky’s speech to the European Parliament on March 1.
“I had been watching the build-up of the Soviet army on the border with Ukraine since March 2020. It worried me that nothing was being done to stop it. President Zelensky asked everyone who could from anywhere to help. And I said “I have to go”, knowing what was happening and what kind of people Ukrainians are and who have been building democracy for so long. I was retired with no excuse not to go. I was on the plane thinking there was a good chance I wouldn’t come back and I was okay with that,’ Mr Williams told The News-Press in an interview.
“Throughout Russia’s preparation for invasion, a quote from Ronald Reagan stuck in my mind. In 1982 he spoke about freedom and the threat to freedom from world wars involving Russia. He said it would take a march of freedom and democracy to defeat him. And then he asked his audience, “What kind of people do we think we are?” And let’s answer; free people. Worthy of freedom. And determined not only to stay that way, but also to help others regain their freedom. It was stuck in my head when I made my decision,’ Mr Williams told the News-Press.
“I flew to Krakow, Poland and was driven to the border. From there I hitchhiked to Lviv. I spent a few days helping refugees from train to bus; refugees took buses to cities in Europe,” Mr. Williams said. “Their luggage was mostly plastic grocery bags with very few belongings in them. After just a few days, the number of volunteers tripled, so I felt the need to go further to be more useful. I took a train to Kyiv, which was quite dangerous, it was quite interesting in itself. After when I arrived I started asking all the military if anyone knew where I could administer humanitarian aid.There was a guy guarding a checkpoint and I told him I wanted to volunteer on a military base,” Mr. Williams said. The man told Mr. Williams to wait there. When the man returned, “a car came and I was told ‘Get in the car and go with him.’ During the drive, I started to see bombed Russian military vehicles. Outside Kyiv, we passed through an industrial area and they told me to get out. When I got out, I was standing in front of a fence, a door opened and an officer came in. He said “come in”. They checked my background and took me to see the base commander, Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of the Georgian National Legion. He had several guards with machine guns posted around the office. I saw handwritten phrases all over the walls of the office. I saw just enough of them to read. They were mostly quotes from Rondald Reagan.
After speaking with the Commanding Officer for some time, the Commanding Officer said of Mr. Williams: ‘Whenever he wants to come into my office, let him in.’
“From there, I went through military training programs, which lasted a few weeks of training. I ended up being the best shot they had at the time. The Georgian National Legion has three main missions: sabotage, reconnaissance and training new recruits,” Williams said.
He volunteered primarily for reconnaissance and training new recruits. Mr. Williams largely provided hand-to-hand combat training. He also did the distribution of humanitarian aid, including organizing an entire warehouse of donated goods.
“When I left Kyiv, I remained a member of the Georgian National Legion and opened a base in Santa Barbara. My mission is, in general, to publicize who the Georgian Legion is and what its purpose is, as well as fundraising. The Georgian National Legion is 100 per cent volunteer, all equipment and support comes from the funds raised,” Mr Williams said.
He learned by volunteering that they could simply revolutionize the operation.
“I’m an engineer and I’ve been a motorcyclist since I was 13. They need electric motorcycles to quadruple their productivity, the land they work on is quite open, mostly agricultural fields. They will drive as far as they need to scout, but will still have to walk to their target. Sometimes when leaving an area they have to do so stealthily, and other times it doesn’t matter if they make a lot of noise, according to Mr Williams, but both are accomplished with electric motorcycles.
“The funding I raise will be used to fund the Silent Cycle Squadron, a six-person unit. The squadron will be built from the ground up, including raising funds, purchasing bikes and upgrading them to meet the needs in the field. The funds will also be used to recruit operators, train them and bring them to Kyiv, to integrate them with the rest of the legion,” Williams said.
“I learned what Zelensky was like after hearing his impassioned speeches, but I never realized until I got there what a perfect reflection of the Ukrainian people he was. they wanted was to live in freedom and democracy and they greatly admire the United States for that. They couldn’t believe what was being done to them. I can’t think of any people who deserve more freedom and democracy than them… The real reason Russia attacked is about how the Ukrainian people are so successful in creating democracy on the Russian border and Putin feared the Russians would see this and he would be removed from office. Ukraine has become an existential threat to Putin,” Williams said.
Besides his family, his passions include Harley motorcycles, rifle marksmanship, mixed martial arts and being a guide at Reagan Ranch, which he practices at least once a week. Mr. Williams holds a BA from Walla Walla University in Washington and a Master of Science in Engineering from Virginia Tech.
“I stay in daily contact with my squadron on the frontline, and about every other day with Mamuka. My thoughts are always so strong with the people of Ukraine that I still hear the air raid sirens going off in Kyiv, thanks to a Ukrainian app that I always have on my phone,” Williams told News-Press.
“With all the places in the country where I could have ended up, or no place at all, I believe it was a higher power that took me to Mamuka Mamulashvili and the Georgian National Legion. most genuinely loving, sincere and honest people I have ever encountered, and their desire to help Ukrainians is unparalleled in my experience,” Mr. Williams said.
Those wishing to donate to the fund for the Silent Cycle Squadron can do so at the following link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/electric-motorcycles-for-ukraine.
Donations can also be made through Paypal: @georgianlegion2022.
Email: [email protected]