Twin Cities man flies to Ukraine to help fellow soldier he fought with in Iraq

Lee Wolfgram (center) in Ukraine (Supplied)

A Twin Cities attorney and retired military veteran recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to assist a fellow soldier in Ukraine. The two served side-by-side in Iraq. This time around, the Minnesotan flew into a war zone to help the Ukrainian get his critical life possessions out of harm’s way.

"I was using my military training to assist a military friend. I guess that's how I would characterize it," Lee Wolfgram explained to FOX 9’s Paul Blume. "You know that the mission was playing like a military operation. It was coordinated like a military operation, had objectives, like a military operation. So we just executed like we would if we were on official duty with the benefit of having the freedom of on being my own commander."

Wolfgram documented his mission on his Facebook page with various video clips from the journey. In one video, air raid sirens can be heard with explosions going off within a couple miles of their location.

Wolfgram is seen with a couple of Ukrainian soldiers over dinner, trying to keep the moment light, "I think if we weren’t soldiers, we’d be running for the basement."

While serving with a multinational force in Iraq nearly 20 years ago, Wolfgram formed a lifelong bond with several fellow soldiers including a Ukrainian Wolfgram will only identify by his rank and first name for security reasons, Lieutenant Colonel Borys. He reports that Borys served as his interpreter.

"Yeah, my battle buddy, you know. The same guy that stood by me in Iraq. You know, I was really emotional about the fact that when I went to Iraq, this guy showing up next to me and now he's in trouble and he needs help. And he had just mentioned to me his concerns, and I'm like, I think we could develop a plan. I think we could do this. And so that's where the concept of the operation came from."

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Wolfgram said Borys was able to get his family including a wife and young son out of danger, via train to the Netherlands in northwestern Europe.

But only with what they could pack in a couple of suitcases.

Borys, who is from Odessa, the major port city in the south of Ukraine, remained behind to do his part and defend the country.

"These people are like anybody else that you would meet a friend. You know, they've got jobs, they've got children's school, you know, all that stuff. They're just like us, you know, so they get up in the morning, go to work like everybody else. And then one day the whole country is being attacked, you know? So it's yeah, it's terribly sad to see all of that," Wolfgram said.

While Odessa has remained relatively safe from the deadly onslaught playing out elsewhere across Ukraine, Borys wanted to get his car and critical valuables to his loved ones some 1,500 miles away given the unpredictability of the war.

And that’s where Wolfgram came in.

He found an open week in his schedule after a court case settled and mapped out the operation. He took off from MSP, eventually finding his way to Moldova, and a bus journey across fortified borders and armed checkpoints, before reconnecting with his long-time friend in Odessa for a quick overnight.

They then packed up Borys’ car and made a 40-plus hour trek across the heart of Europe.

Wolfgram described the reunion near the Dutch city of Utrecht as priceless.

"It was a wrap your arms and twirl around kind of thing," said Wolfgram. "Really great to see. And they were very happy, of course."

In one final touching twist, Borys’ loved ones are staying with another fellow soldier from the joint-multinational deployment in Iraq, a Dutch family.

Wolfgram flew home to Minneapolis on Wednesday. Borys apparently had a 10-day pass to make this reunion with his family and take care of personal affairs. At last report, he was on his way back to Ukraine and his military duties.

"I do realize it was a pretty bold move," concluded Wolfgram, about his whirlwind trek to help a fellow soldier and friend. "But it was the timing. That's when it had to happen. It wasn't really all we had planned for that, and it had to happen, and it went off well."