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Charles City man leading humanitarian efforts in Ukraine

Charles City man leading humanitarian efforts in Ukraine
Kendall Nolt of Charles City helps with food distribution in Ukraine. He has been there since the beginning of the war in February. Submitted photo.
Charles City man leading humanitarian efforts in Ukraine
A Plain Compassion Crisis Response aid worker walks through a war-torn city in Ukraine. Submitted photo
By Mary Pieper, Special to the Charles City Press

While others from the Charles City area are following the war in Ukraine on TV, Kendall Nolt is seeing it up close.

“More than ever, I understand how traumatic a war is to a country, to the people. We never experienced that at home directly,” said Nolt, 24, international response director with Plain Compassion Crisis Response.

The Charles City resident is part of a team the organization sent to Ukraine immediately after Russia invaded the country in late February.

“It’s actually very difficult to wrap your mind around that until you are driving down a street where there’s just apartment buildings blown up and tanks just blown up in the street,” Nolt said. “You meet people, you just see the looks in their eyes, just the blankness of the faces, and it’s just like wow, it’s very real. It’s very, very nasty…just the reality of that’s what a war actually is.”

When Nolt and the rest of the team first arrived in Ukraine, they helped people evacuate. Now they are concentrating on food distribution to those who have decided to stay.

Nolt, a firefighter and EMT, joined Plain Compassion last year.

“It was kind of a way for me to put my skills and experience to use more on a bigger scale and also travel while doing it, seeing different places,” he said.

His first project with the organization was in August 2021. He went to Haiti as part of a medical team that responded to a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

The team traveled by boat to some of the cut-off regions in the mountains that were inaccessible by land due to landslides. They found injured people and kept them alive until U.S Coast Guard and U.S. Army helicopters could get them out.

In January of this year, Nolt went through a Plain Compassion two-week training program.

Then Russia invaded Ukraine. Within 15 hours, Nolt was on a flight from Minneapolis to Hungary. After a while there, he crossed into Ukraine with other Plain Compassion team members and some individuals from another relief organization.

After a few days in Lviv, the Plain Compassion team traveled to Rivne to set up camp. They stayed there through the Russian assault of Kiev so they could evacuate people from the region.

The evacuees usually spent a day at the camp before being taken in trucks to the Polish border so they could cross over to safety.

One of the first evacuation missions Nolt participated in was near the front lines.

“Right over there, people were literally dying,” he said.

On another mission, the team tried to evacuate a family but had to turn back “because things were too crazy there,” Nolt said.

Then about a month later, “we actually made it in and got them out and got them out to Poland. That was a really good feeling,” he said.

The evacuees who were directly in war zones have a look of “utter shock and horror” on their faces, according to Nolte. He said they are “pretty speechless. They just want out of there.”

Others who were not in the direct line of fire are less traumatized, he said.

But most evacuees are hoping to go back home soon, according to Nolte.

“They are pretty positive as a whole,” he said.

One of the translators on the team occasionally gets text messages from those they helped get out of Ukraine to let them know they made it to Germany, Holland, or some other country.

The Plain Compassion team in Ukraine currently consists of 15 people from the United States, Paraguay and Ireland. Several Ukrainians are also working with the group.

The team currently is in Dnipro, which is located between Kiev and Odessa.

The group is no longer doing evacuations because most Ukrainians who want to leave the country have already done so, according to Nolt. He said the people living in the far eastern portion of the country, where the fighting is currently taking place, are in their 70s and don’t see a reason to go.

“They would rather just stay in their homes, and they are totally comfortable with that,” Nolt said. “They adapt to what is going on around them.”

Plain Compassion is focusing exclusively on humanitarian aid right now. The organization has a warehouse and is moving 30 to 40 tons of food each week.

The team usually supplies churches or shelters, but also does individual distribution of bags full of food items such as canned meat or soup, in addition to rice or pasta. They load the bags into a van and drive to a spot within a couple of miles of the front lines and distribute them to the waiting crowd.

On a recent distribution day, a military chaplain accompanied the team and led a prayer service when they arrived at their destination, which was 10 kilometers from the front lines. Nolt said they could hear incoming and outgoing rocket fire the entire time they were there.

As the international response director for Plain Compassion, it is Nolt’s job to start new projects in war zones or natural disaster sites.

“I am committed to staying in Ukraine until something happens somewhere else,” he said.

One of the most meaningful things Nolte has seen during the war was when the team was driving through a town north of Kiev after the Russians left.

“It was utterly devastated, everything was blown up, there’s tanks and groups of trucks that are blown up and houses blown up, and you are like, ‘Wow, where do you start cleaning up?’” he said.

Then he saw two women in their 60s or 70s sweeping up near a bus stop where the plated glass had been shot out.

Nolt said he realized, “If you don’t know where to start, just pick a spot. That was something that stuck out to me, something I will carry away.”

To make a donation to Plain Compassion Crisis Response, go to

To make a donation specifically to the organization’s relief efforts in Ukraine, go to

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