Ukraine Notebook: What clothes should I bring?

Volunteering in Ukraine? Choose your clothes carefully and your life will go smoother.

No English notes for this post, sorry… For those of you who read this blog to learn new English-language vocabulary, you will find links to the definitions of the words that I would have talked about if I had the time.

“Hot extractions:” rescuing civilians from the front line. This is a common job for foreign volunteers in Ukraine.

  1. Don’t bring cammies unless you are pretty sure you will be joining a military unit. There is currently a regulation against wearing camouflage unless you are officially associated with the military. Also, if you are doing hot extractions, it scares the civilians who you most want to reassure.
  2. Do bring obviously American t-shirts, a ballcap with an American flag or similar insignia, and whatever else you wear that marks you as obviously American. It is a big morale boost for the locals, and they will be very nice to you. (Note that many men wear a ballcap and a “tactical beard” here, so don’t rely on those alone to communicate to people that you are an American.)
  3. Don’t bring 100% cotton t-shirts. You will be hanging up your clothes to dry, and 100% cotton t-shirts take way too long to dry.
  4. Do bring kneepads. Whether you’re fighting, doing hot extractions, or teaching TCCC, you’re going to spend a lot of time kneeling on the ground. Elbow pads might be less necessary–depends on what you’re doing.
  5. Do bring shower shoes–not for showering, but to wear in your living quarters. Ukrainians tend to be maniacal about keeping floors clean, and they don’t wear outdoor shoes inside except in public places. I have even seen guys wearing shower shoes in military headquarters! One US military veteran doing hot extractions here with me commented that he had never seen more Crocs in his life than in Ukraine–this is why. Shower shoes can be bought in Ukraine, but not necessarily in the areas where there’s fighting (most stores are closed there).
  6. Do bring hearing protection. Disposable ear plugs will probably suffice. You might not wear them in the field, but if you find yourself on a firing range without them, you’ll wish you’d found room for a couple pairs…
  7. Do bring a Camelbak or canteen. Bottles of water are currently easy to find except in the areas with the most active fighting, but they are hard to carry. Personally, I have never used my Camelbak because (a) I feel guilty having it when none of my Ukrainian buddies do, and (b) a lot of the time, there isn’t enough drinking water available to fill one anyway. But, my canteen does travel with me–it’s wearable, and small enough that I can usually fill it.
  8. Fireproof/fire-resistant clothes are always a good idea… That said, I don’t know how to buy them without spending phenomenally large amounts of money, and I have exactly no fireproof clothing whatsoever… If you have some insight into this, please tell us about it in the Comments section.
  9. Heavy gloves, tactical or otherwise. No matter what your job is, you’re likely to be moving large amounts of humanitarian aid, and if you are doing hot extractions, there will be rubble everywhere. Hand injuries are actually the thing that I have treated the most here–avoid them if you can.
  10. Do bring tactical pants. You will want to carry some things on your person at all times, such as your passport. My 5.11 Defender jeans have held up OK here, but my tactical pants are definitely more practical.
  11. Do bring shirts that you can wear comfortably under body armor. That means a pullover shirt with a smooth front and no pockets. Rationale: things on the front of your shirt can get pretty uncomfortable when your armor has been pressing on them for a few hours. Probably obvious to you younger kids, but definitely not to us old guys who grew up wearing Vietnam-era jungle fatigues with those four big, baggy pockets on the front.
  12. Do invest in some merino wool clothing. See above regarding how long it takes for 100% cotton garments to dry here…
  13. Do bring clear ballistic glasses. Everyone knows to bring ballistic sunglasses, but clear glasses are crucial in unlit buildings (there is highly unlikely to be electricity in buildings from which people need to be evacuated) and at night. Ophthalmological surgery materials are in short supply here… Much wiser to just wear your fucking eye protection.
  14. Do bring your heavy-duty belt. We might need to drag you to safety by it… If you have a shooting belt with MOLLE attachments, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to bring it–who ever has enough space on their plate carrier to clip gloves, ballistic glasses, a Leatherman, a magazine pouch full of snacks and cigarettes…?
  15. Do bring full kit! Be careful about export restrictions, e.g. for night vision goggles. The Polish Customs officials are absolute assholes–they even confiscated a buddy’s IFAK (tactical first aid kit).
  16. Do bring patches. People love to know that Americans support Ukraine, and of course soldiers will want to trade them.
  17. Do bring a shemagh if you normally wear one. I often give mine away as a present, and then I miss it until I can find another one… If you don’t know what a shemagh is: you don’t need to bring one.
  18. Do avoid bulk whenever possible. Depending on what your job is, you might spend a lot of time getting in and out of tight vehicles, spaces, etc.
  19. Do bring a poncho/poncho liner.
  20. Do inform yourself about the typical weather during the period when you will be incountry, but don’t assume that you know where you’ll be. Life is unpredictable here, and many foreign volunteers find themselves in multiple regions of the country even during a relatively short stay.

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