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Polish farmers along the Ukraine border have stepped in to help source war equipment

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The White House is asking Congress for 33 billion in aid for Ukraine. Much of that money would go towards replenishing Ukraine's weapons - something that Polish farmers are also trying to do. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has our story.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACTOR ENGINE TURNING OVER)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Krzysztof Dec checks a tractor on the farm where he grows wheat, corn and beets in the Polish village of Korzenica, just nine miles from the Ukrainian border. When the Russians bombed a Ukrainian military training center near the border last month, Dec felt the shocks as he walked on his land. He's got three young boys, and he worries about nuclear war.

KRZYSZTOF DEC: (Through interpreter) This war has changed our lives and routines dramatically. The first thing we do every day is check the news and see what's happening on the front line.

KAKISSIS: He wants to help Ukraine survive.

(CROSSTALK)

KAKISSIS: And so do his friends Jan and Ewa Toborowicz, who run a dairy farm in a nearby village.

(SOUNDBITE OF COW MOOING)

KAKISSIS: The couple is housing several Ukrainian families on their farm.

EWA TOBOROWICZ: (Speaking Polish).

KAKISSIS: "Farmers feel the weight of this war," Ewa says, "because we know what it's doing to food insecurity around the world." But there is a much more immediate need - helping Ukraine's soldiers who are running out of supplies. Ewa's son Mikolaj says that's the main mission now.

MIKOLAJ TOBOROWICZ: We can help them to be better organized on the battlefield. Maybe more people will survive.

KAKISSIS: Across the border in Ukraine, Artur Harmider was tackling the same question. He's from the western city of Lviv and is plugged into Ukraine's supply networks.

ARTUR HARMIDER: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: Speaking by phone, Harmider tells us that Ukrainian soldiers expect the war to last for months at least and are running out of equipment.

HARMIDER: (Through interpreter) The soldiers text or call to tell me what they need. Requests include basics, like ammunition or ski masks, and more serious items, like thermographic cameras and drones.

KAKISSIS: Harmider had struggled to source this equipment. It's very expensive and also hard to find. Back in Poland, Mikolaj Toborowicz talked it over with his parents and Krzysztof Dec - the first farm where we met. Dec immediately started calling suppliers.

DEC: (Through interpreter) We reached out to larger farms and big companies, and they responded really positively. Some companies agreed to donate tens of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment. This shows just how important it is for Poles that Ukrainians win this war.

KAKISSIS: A few weeks ago, Mikolaj loaded the first batch of donated equipment into his van and drove it to Lviv. Ukrainian drivers picked it up from there.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: For a week or so, Krzysztof Dec wondered what happened to the delivery. He talked to his sons, ages 7, 8 and 9, about the night goggles, the bulletproof vests, the helmets.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Polish).

KAKISSIS: The boys imagined this equipment was protecting warriors against a very bad dragon, which is what they call Russian President Vladimir Putin. The equipment reached a Ukrainian territorial defense unit in Sumy, a vulnerable northeastern Ukrainian city just 30 miles from the Russian border. Dec was thrilled to see photos of the soldiers holding up the equipment he helped secure.

NATALIA: Hello? (Non-English language spoken).

KAKISSIS: We reached Natalia, one of the soldiers in Sumy. She gives only one name.

NATALIA: (Speaking Ukrainian).

KAKISSIS: She says the night vision goggles have been especially helpful in spotting ambushes.

NATALIA: (Through interpreter) If we get even one such thing, it helps save not only the citizens' lives, but also the lives of fighters.

KAKISSIS: She says she hopes the farmers don't forget about them, and they have not. Dec says they're already planning their next delivery. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Korzenica, Poland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.