'Not everybody can fight, but everybody can help.' Norwalk man shares story from Ukraine's front lines
"So you're selling literally everything?" asks News 12's Shosh Bedrosian. "Everything. Why? You want to buy something?," James Vasquez says laughing.
Norwalk resident James Vasquez is making space for a new beginning. One that includes incoming fire, comradery and war.
"My Jeep is the only thing I'm taking with me. I'm getting that thing shipped over... I'm going to take it into battle with me," says Vasquez.
Vasquez is a U.S. military veteran and tells News 12 there was no option for him to sit back when he saw Russia invade Ukraine back in February. So, he took matters into his own hands, collecting medical equipment, military gear and renewing his passport to get to the front lines to fight.
"I didn't know what I was going to do, where I was going to go. I just knew I was going to get to the front lines, somehow, some way," he says.
Although Vasquez is a veteran, the war became personal for him. Vasquez says he is the type of person who stands up for others and was bullied growing up in Brooklyn. Vasquez also says his grandmother fled Soviet-controlled Latvia during World War II.
"She was smart enough to flee. And her whole family got slaughtered by Russians," he says.
Vasquez flew to Poland and crossed the border into Ukraine. He says he met up with a British-Ukrainian solider after his plans to join the Foreign Legion came to a halt. He says while he was en route to get to Ukraine, there was an attack on one of the legion's bases.
Through contacts, Vasquez says he joined units and helped clear villages outside of Kyiv and later moved to the front lines of Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine.
"When I got to Donetsk, literally the first five minutes I was there, there was an explosion," he says. "Nobody even flinched. So, I was like all right... so if nobody's flinching at this point, that means this is happening often."
Through his journeys, Vasquez garnered international attention for posting battlefield videos in real time on Twitter. He documented moments of his units overtaking armored Russian vehicles and sheltering from incoming fire. Vasquez also posted videos of him training the two units he worked with when they weren't fighting.
But war brought immeasurable injuries and losses for members of Vasquez's units. He recounts a memory of a young Ukrainian solider he fought alongside with that he took under his wing.
"There was one young kid, 22 years old," he says. "I could see he was scared, and he had a family and brand-new, you know, little baby,."
"I told them, you know, just stick with me," he says. "I'll keep you alive. And that made him comfortable. Well, I left. And now he's dead. He got ... he got killed after I left. And I feel horrible about that."
Through hard times comes humor, humanity, and principles of democracy. Vasquez says are all worth fighting for.
"I wish anybody could walk one day in my shoes over there...and see what I went through and what I've seen. And I think everybody would be doing what I'm doing in some capacity or another, you know, whether you know not everybody can fight... but everybody can help in some way," says Vasquez.
Vasquez is working with Ripley's Heroes to raise money to help volunteers in Ukraine. According to their website, they provide nonlethal and humanitarian resources to volunteers working in Ukraine who are helping to save lives.