(WTEN) — Basil Seggos leads New York’s State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, but recently, he found himself leading another mission: delivering ambulances donated to war torn Ukraine. NEWS10 ABC’s Lydia Kulbida spoke with him about why he felt the need to take personal leave for what was a dangerous undertaking.
“I was only in Ukraine for a brief period, just two weeks,” Seggos told Lydia. “But I saw the nation unified unlike, frankly, anything I’d ever seen.”
Seggos says, like many people, he’s been glued to coverage of Russia’s February invasion into Ukraine. What he saw moved him to action. “I’ve always had trouble sitting on the sideline for anything.”
First, he fundraised to cover the cost of an ambulance donated through a non-profit called Ukraine Friends. And then, he became an ambulance driver for a few weeks.
Driving ambulances from Slovakia across Ukraine to the front lines, he saw the beauty of the countryside give way to carnage.
“Infrastructure directly targeted, businesses, homes, apartment buildings, water plants, sewage, power industry and all the spillover effects from that. I saw a farm field that had piles of anti-personnel mines on them, ” Seggos recalled as he shared pictures and videos. “I think part of Putin’s plan was to damage the countryside so severely to make these areas uninhabitable for a long time, and I think he’s achieved that in many areas.”
Entering a bunker that had been used by Russian soldiers, he couldn’t believe the squalor. “It looked like something out of the 1800s. Farm fields were covered with garbage, clothes hanging from trees, food on tables that had been pilfered from the countryside.”
An officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, Seggos said, “I didn’t see combat but having been in the military and seeing how they were living, I think it’s a reflection of the way they were waging this campaign. They just didn’t care about what people were experiencing on the receiving ends of these shells where people were being blown up in their houses, just the inhumanity of it stuck with me.”
But what also stuck with him was seeing the country come together, reminding him of how New Yorkers came together after Super Storm Sandy and the nation after 9-11. “Their camaraderie, their spirit of county, was extraordinary.”
In a factory in Kyiv, he was moved as he watched teens repurpose barrels into stoves for soldiers on the front lines.
“It was a really powerful moment, to see the love and the creativity of these kids and the families that were there supporting them. It gave me a sense that there’s so much going on in this country of Ukraine right now, to support its own existence. It’s not just the military. It’s really the entire country pulling together, and that to me is something I’ll remember for my life.”
As the war grinds toward the brutal winter months, Seggos understands the concerns people have about sending money to Ukraine. While New Yorkers are his priority, he pointed out, “It’s really not either/or. We’re an interconnected world and what’s happening in Ukraine right now is already having spillover effects here in the U.S. Just imagine that Putin succeeds in taking over a democratic ally. What’s that going to mean?”
In addition to delivering ambulances, Seggos helped replace a roof on a building, repaired playgrounds, and installed a heater in a displaced persons shelter. He saw the gratitude the Ukrainian people have for the help from the U.S. and the international community, and he saw the impact it made. “They have one purpose in mind, which is to prevail in this horrible war, and I think they will, and I pledge to do what I can, to help that great fight.”
He will continue to personally fundraise for Ukraine Friends but asked, “If there’s another charity you prefer, please find a way to help, to get involved. Be informed, ask your representatives to stay committed to this cause, because it matters to all of us.”