Jason Stout is back home living in his parents’ basement, in the bedroom he grew up in when he was a Davis High Dart. He’s 39 years old and has his wife, Larysa, and their two young sons, Lev and Max, with him. He’ll be the first to tell you, this isn’t exactly how he had his life mapped out.

But Vladimir Putin didn’t give him much choice.

When the Russian autocrat sent 200,000 armed troops to the Ukrainian border this past February, the Stouts locked up their comfortable home in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and led a parade of refugees that five months later has grown to 9 million people.

Perspective: Putin won’t get away with this, no matter what happens in Ukraine

Two days before the first shots were fired, Jason and his family got in their VW van, packed up food, clothes and photo albums, drove first to the Romanian border, then to Amsterdam, where they eventually caught a flight to Utah.

Their plan is to wait out the war and faithfully pray that the Ukrainian army can keep defying the odds.

And in Jason’s case, augment the faith with some works.

In the two brief visits he has made back to Ukraine since his family made its escape, he witnessed two things:

One, he saw lines of ordinary Ukrainian men stepping up to volunteer to join the army and fight for their country.

Two, he saw that many of these would-be citizen warriors were being turned away or told to come back later because there wasn’t enough protective combat gear to equip them.

The outpouring of patriotic fervor inspired him. Now, in his exile in Utah, his determination is to aid the war effort by helping to remedy the combat gear shortfall.

He has found a Utah company, Redemption Tactical, that produces protective combat gear and has given him a wholesale price for his purchases.

He has found a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Responsibility Foundation, headquartered in Draper, to receive tax-free Ukrainian donations on its website, and another nonprofit in Kyiv, the Klyn Organization, to distribute the battle gear once it gets to Ukraine.

On the road in Ukraine: One man’s journey to help his people

And at the Salt Lake airport, he has found a Delta Air Lines contact who is allowing war-effort volunteers on their way to Poland and other eastern European countries to pack multiple bags with the combat gear without the extra luggage surcharges.

To date, his grassroots effort has raised more than $200,000 and sent hundreds of helmets and bulletproof vests to the Ukrainian front.

“This gives them the confidence they need to go into battle,” says Jason.  

* * *

The irony isn’t lost on anyone who knows Jason: that an acknowledged peacenik has waded knee-deep into conflict.

He’s spent his life devoted to avoiding contention. After graduating from Weber State University he worked with a number of humanitarian nonprofits, including the Peace Corps, Catholic Charities and a United Nations-affiliated refugee rescue group, before earning a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University in New York.

By that time he was married. He’d met Larysa, a Ukrainian native who was in the U.S. going to college, on Facebook. They had both served missions in Ukraine for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and discovered they had much in common, not least a love for Ukraine.

After Jason graduated from Columbia, they moved to Ukraine so they could raise their family in Kyiv, near Larysa’s parents. Jason got a job with a software startup — “because nonprofit jobs don’t pay the bills very well” — and they settled into their new house for what they assumed would be a good long time.

A good long time turned out to be six years.

* * *

Will the Stouts ever return to Kyiv? Jason certainly thinks so.

“They are the most resilient people I have ever met,” he says of the Ukrainians. “In some ways this is their war for independence.

As bombs fall on Ukraine, their mission continues

“At face value, Ukraine shouldn’t have this level of patriotism and resolve because it’s such a young country and shares so much with Russia. I think that’s why Putin vastly underestimated the response. He’s supposed to be this genius, this KGB operative who understands intelligence, and yet the biggest place where he bungled the operation was not getting accurate intelligence about how much Ukrainians love their country.

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“Ukrainians are giving the world a lesson in what patriotism really is. I’ve heard Ukrainians get up and say ‘My son was born in a free country and he will live in a free country; that’s why I’m fighting.’ I can’t remember ever seeing such a beautiful example of civic duty. As an American where these specific freedoms are a given it’s been the most incredible thing to witness. I’m a huge fan, if you can’t tell.”

When the war began and he saw the Ukrainians’ unified defiance of the Russian invaders with his own eyes, he says he “seriously considered joining the international legion.”

But then, “my wife talked me out of that. Realistically, I have no experience fighting. I think I can do more for Ukraine by fundraising for protective gear and helping people know what’s happening.”

All from the bedroom in his parents’ house in Kaysville he was absolutely certain he would never return to.

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