U.S. Aid Organization Uses Budapest Base for Operations in Ukraine

Ukraine Crisis

Photo by TFA

A U.S.-based nonprofit of volunteer military veterans has established base operations in Budapest to allow the team to carry out aid missions within conflict zones in Ukraine. But its genesis goes back to the end of another conflict: Afghanistan.

“It all began with a phone call,” recalls Olivér Koppány, a Task Force Antal (TFA) member and its foreign legal counsel.

American military veterans Mark Antal and Christine Quinn Antal founded TFA in July 2021 during the somewhat chaotic NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Budapest Business Journal’s conversations with team members give an insight into the history of their organization and their motivation.

The story starts when the Antals received a call from a friend stationed in Afghanistan who was desperate to help his interpreter, a man who had saved his life on multiple occasions and was now in imminent danger of Taliban reprisals. With roads blocked by the Taliban surrounding the airport in Kabul, Mark and Christine utilized their network to ensure the interpreter reached an evacuation flight within an hour.

On the back of that act, the couple established TFA, an organization of volunteer veterans whose main objective is to provide evacuation assistance and crisis management. The group has overseen missions in many conflict zones, including long-term aid missions in Afghanistan.

Operational Base

When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, Mark and Christine knew they needed a base of operations close to the country that supported air travel and allowed volunteers to go in and out on missions.

Budapest is relatively close to Ukraine, logistically speaking, but heritage also played a significant role in its choice; Mark has cultural ties to it through his Hungarian grandparents. Koppány also has Hungarian roots, having been born and lived here for 18 years. He then spent 14 years in the United States but is now based in Budapest. Of his involvement with the nonprofit, Koppány says TFA initially reached out to him for legal help. After a while, he found he enjoyed it so much that he began working with them pro bono. It is very far from being fun and games, however.

“It was extremely tense when Russia first invaded, and it still is, but perhaps we have grown accustomed to it. Once you have operated in enough conflict zones, it becomes routine. The Ukrainian people’s resolve, strength, and determination are admirable,” Koppány tells the BBJ.

Last year, the team launched a new program focusing on training civilians in front-line emergency medicine (Flem). Under it, retired special operations veterans educate civilians in cities across Ukraine to be first responders during a disaster.

The program also provides individual first aid kits (Ifak). Ukrainian civilians are taught how to identify hemorrhaging risks, apply tourniquet compressions and pack wounds, and use chest seals and space blankets to maintain heat in cold environments to prevent hypothermia. The former Governor of New York, George Pataki, was on one of our TFA’s recent trips. 

George Pataki (Picture by TFA)

Historic Motivation

TFA currently has operations in the United States, Hungary, and Ukraine but says it is present wherever required, with the length of each mission determined by need.

Quinn Antal sums up her motivation to work in high-conflict zones by sharing a conversation she had with her daughters.

“Every time someone asks why we’re here, I think of ‘Shoes on the Danube,’ a monument in Budapest dedicated to Jews massacred by the Arrow Cross Party, a fascist Hungarian militia during World War II,” she explains.

When her daughters asked how people could have let it happen, she reassured them, “[...] we are here this time, so the bad guys don’t win.”

As a humanitarian nonprofit organization, TFA relies on sponsors and must constantly raise funds to stay in operation. “Raising funds is difficult because sharing [our] work publicly, which is often what donors want to see, puts lives in danger,” explains Koppány. If you want to know more about the nonprofit or to sponsor its work, its web address is https://taskforceantal.org/

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