Alaskan, at 20, launches on a one-man mission to help Ukrainians. What’s a dad to do?

Two men sit at a table in a house
Doug White, left, and his son, Ryan White, discuss logistical details before Ryan departs on a self-organized aid mission to Poland. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Ukrainian refugees need help. Ryan White, of Eagle River, decided it’s time for him to step up.

He is 20 years old, and he’s organized his own one-man relief mission to Poland. He leaves Anchorage Tuesday night for Warsaw.

“Heading over there, hopefully to, you know, do some humanitarian aid,” he said.

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White is bringing three duffel bags of donated medical supplies — sterile gauze, at least 20 tourniquets, IV lines, insulin for diabetic refugees, first aid kits to supply volunteers crossing into Ukraine to help the wounded. He’s also bringing camping gear, so he can be self-sufficient.

He is a military police officer in the Alaska Army National Guard. It’s a part-time job, but it seems to have influenced his bearing. He stands up straight and squares his shoulders for an interview.

If White is uncertain or anxious on the eve of his departure, he’s not letting on. He sounds casual, almost nonchalant.

“I figured, well, I could continue doing the same thing I’m doing at home, which is looking at what’s going on, continuing to apply for jobs and just trying to figure my life out more,” he said at his dad’s house on the Hillside, where he’d gone to say goodbye. “Or I could just put that on pause and go out and do something.”

White has a plan, of sorts. He’s been networking online. He’s found a bus that will take him from Warsaw to Rzeszow. From there, he’s heard Poles are shuttling volunteers closer to the border, where Ukrainians  are streaming in. White knows of an Israeli medical tent, where he hopes to offer his services. And he has money to buy more supplies once he sees what’s needed.

Through social media, he’s raised $6,000. One person donated miles to buy his ticket.

Where Ryan White is stoic, his dad, Doug White, is a heart-on-sleeve guy. Doug is worried, and also happy to see his son aim to do his part for people suffering in an unjust war.

“It’s such an atrocity, and it’s so awful. It’s so gut wrenching that I’m just left — I get emotional at this stuff,” Doug said said, welling up. “But it’s because I’m really proud of him, you know.”

Ryan is doing this on his own, but he’s accepting Doug’s help — like taking note of his emergency contacts in Europe. He’s agreed to send at least one message home a day. And he’s added his dad to his bank account, so if anything goes wrong, his family can trace his account history. He plans to return April 5.

He’s promised his parents — and the military — that he’s not going into Ukraine.

Doug marvels at his son’s decision. It was just like when he enlisted in the Guard: He learned of it once Ryan’s mind was already made up, and Ryan didn’t expound.

“It’s just hard to get it all out to him, so I never know exactly what the motivators are,” Doug said.

At first, he wasn’t keen on his son enlisting. He thought Ryan should spend some time as a ski bum, as he did at that age. But Doug is coming around.

“I was just goofing off, but he’s trying to serve a higher purpose,” Doug said. “So, good on him. …. He’s got a good head on shoulders.”

It runs in the family.

Doug may have been a ski bum, but he got into adaptive skiing so people with disabilities could enjoy outdoor recreation as much as he does. That launched his career in non-profits.

Now, he’s watching his son launch. Sure, he’s concerned. Russian missiles destroyed a Ukrainian military base just 20 miles from Medyka, the Polish border town where his son is heading to volunteer. But he’s beaming, too.

“We know somehow it’s going to be transformative,” Doug said. “It’s this is going to be an important demarcation point in his life. It somehow will lead him down to another step and shape who he is.”

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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