With millions of American fuel dollars going to Russia every day, it gave Tampa Bay Solar the opportunity to think not only about why solar energy and electric vehicles may be a more ethical choice, but also about the other ways in which we can help those facing war in Ukraine.
On April 3rd of this year, Tampa Bay Solar Partner Ben Alexander traveled to Western Ukraine to assist with displaced people in partnership with the St. John Methodist Church in Lviv.
We interviewed Ben to learn more about his trip. Learn more about his efforts and lessons learned in the warzone below.
TBS: Why did you decide to go into a warzone to volunteer?
Ben: When I booked the ticket to Warsaw in March, western Ukraine was not under missile bombardment like the eastern part of the country. I connected with Pastor Volodymyr Prokip at St. John Methodist church in Lviv and learned of their need for assistance in supporting displaced Ukrainians.
Another factor in my decision was the support I got from Steve Rutherford, the founder and CEO of Tampa Bay Solar. Steve reassured me that Tampa Bay Solar was fully behind this effort. There are many companies that would NOT have given me the flexibility to leave for an entire month, and I’m grateful for Steve’s support, especially in the face of this historic brutality.
TBS: Have you ever volunteered before?
Ben: I was a volunteer firefighter in the 1990s, and I’ve been on five mission trips to Honduras with the Wesley Chapel Rotary. I’ve also been active with Habitat for Humanity in Dade City, going back 10 years, but this was my first time volunteering to go into an active warzone.
TBS: How long were you away?
Ben: I flew to Poland on April 3 and I was in Ukraine for several weeks, then I flew home on April 30th.
TBS: What did you do in Lviv?
Ben: I was helping Pastor Prokip as he moved women and children to the Polish border in a small, four passenger car. I called my church back in Florida and secured $12,000 in donations so that Pastor Prokip could buy a used VW minivan to assist him in his efforts.
I also worked at the volunteer center in Lviv, buying food and getting supplies for the displaced people who came to the center.
TBS: Were you in Lviv when missiles fell on the city?
Ben: Yes. I’ll never hear air sirens again without also listening for the sound of explosions.
Incoming Russian missiles sound like a jet plane going over your head, but all the airports in Ukraine were shut down when Russia attacked in February. When I heard anything flying through the sky in Ukraine, I quickly moved away from windows that might shatter in the shockwave of a blast.
TBS: How did you feel about the inherent danger of the trip?
Ben: There is always risk in just living a dynamic life. I ride motorcycles, fly airplanes and skydive.
For the last few years I’ve been walking in Faith, and I felt a strong calling to go to Ukraine and help out, despite the inherent danger. I felt the same about my work as a volunteer firefighter back in the 1990s.
When I traveled to Honduras on Rotary trips there were also moments that were not very safe, but there are many team members here at Tampa Bay Solar who were military veterans in active combat, which is far more dangerous.
I feel fortunate to have made it back safely from Ukraine.
TBS: What did you learn while living in Ukraine?
Ben: I believe that we were put here on earth to LOVE other people, and my trip reinforced these values of love, service and faith. If my actions in Ukraine made it easier for Pastor Prokip to fulfill his mission, then my trip was a success.
I’m grateful to Pastor Prokip in Lviv, as well as the team at Tampa Bay Solar who supported me in this mission. I’m grateful to have been born in this country, and not have to worry about being invaded. I’m profoundly grateful to just be alive and able to serve our team and our clients in the years to come.
I’m glad I went. I would go again in a heartbeat.
This trip also reinforced the beauty of a democratic state and how fortunate I am, and we all are, to live in the United States, where our freedoms and liberties are so precious and protected.
Tampa Bay Solar cares about people at its core, from our Tampa Bay customers to those being displaced due to the war in Ukraine. We’re grateful to have kind, devoted individuals on our team willing to go as far as flying into a warzone for the sake of helping others. That kind of selfless service is hard to come by.
We hope to continue to serve our customers with the same unyielding dedication to creating greener, cleaner, and more ethical energy sources for all.