A Soldier’s Story of Russian Nukes, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Romance in Ukraine – Sun Sentinel

On a shelf in his Boca Raton home, retired U.S. Army Colonel Bill Millard keeps a large piece of steel, barely larger than your outstretched hand, carved into the shape of Ukraine. This would be the shape of the country before Russia swallowed Crimea and then came back for the rest.

The piece of polished metal was once part of a hardened silo that housed a Russian SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile nearly 90 feet tall, tipped over by a nuclear warhead.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Millard was a member of a military team that in the 1990s, under the bipartisan U.S.-Russia Cooperative Threat Reduction Pact, dismantled these missiles and silos across Ukraine. .

A parting gift from the local mechanics Millard had worked with in the small town of Uman, the statuesque Ukraine is engraved with the names of the places they were assigned to and the words “Wonderful Times”. It’s not Millard’s most treasured symbol of his time in Ukraine – it would be his wife, Milena – but it’s close.

Millard says the rugged remembrance has taken on additional emotional resonance in recent times as a reminder of the Ukrainian people’s “bravery, audacity and tenacity” in the face of, as his wife puts it, the “crazy monster” of to the side.

“I took it out and put it back on my desk because guys from Uman, we still talk to each other. They are going through a difficult time, and they wrote to me and asked if I could help them,” says Millard, 59. “These people are the salt of the earth. Their perseverance is incredible. It should be noted. »

On Saturday, Armed Forces Day, Millard will co-host a fundraiser for Ukraine called SongFest for Vets III, which will run from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton. Sponsored by VFW Post 9610 in Lake Park, the day will include performances by top local tribute bands, Ukrainian food, beer, art and kid-friendly activities, a motorcycle rally and an appearance by Miss Ukraine International .

Admission to SongFest for Vets III is free, donations are accepted. Tribute bands performing will include KISS Alive, Erasmith (Aerosmith), Shoot to Thrill (AC/DC), as well as classic rockers Shovelhed.

Millard supports four organizations with the proceeds: the nonprofit Razom for Ukraine (razom means “together”); the volunteer collective Angels of Kyiv, which delivers food and medicine to bocas in the Ukrainian capital; a veterinarian in Ukraine, married to Milena’s close friend, who houses refugees and abandoned animals on a farm where he raises Cane Corso dogs; and farmers from the Erdaka farm in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk.

Supporting local veterans on Armed Forces Day is an equally vital part of the event for Millard. Representatives from Palm Beach County Veterans Services, the American Legion and the VFW are expected.

SongFest for Vets IV, with many of the same bands and other features, takes place Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. at the Terra Fermata beer garden and concert venue in Stuart.

“What SongFest is about putting on a good show, connecting veterans to the services they need, and connecting the community to the veterans who live there,” says Millard, who has hosted two previous SongFest for Vets events at the South Florida Fairgrounds. “Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day. This is largely due to the isolation they feel when they cannot get the help they need.

Millard grew up in Fort Lauderdale – the music-loving son of longtime WIOD and WLRN radio figure Mike Millard runs a Facebook group called Rock pathology – and joined the army to become a military diplomat, studying Russian and Russian history at Stetson University.

After serving in Desert Storm, he traveled to Ukraine with the Army’s Third Infantry Division, participating in the first U.S.-Ukrainian peacekeeping exercises, called Peace Shield ’95. In Kyiv, at an American bar called the Cowboy, he met Milena Burd, a well-known theater actress and co-host of a popular TV series about Jewish life in Ukraine, a first for the country just emerging from decades of anti-religious regime in Ukraine. The soviet union. Eight years of “Yahad” are archived in the Harvard University Judaica Collection.

“After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine tried to prosper and be an independent country,” says Milena Millard, noting that 1,500-year-old kyiv has a history twice as long as that from Moscow. “They tried to build the country on morality, democracy and freedom. It’s a very bumpy road. They suffer, but they try, you know?

She has distant relatives and numerous friends in Ukraine, who describe a “horrifying” existence in neighborhoods, largely abandoned except for the elderly and mothers with infants, littered with unexploded bombs and mines.

“Even now when I call them you can hear explosions in the phone, you can hear sirens all the time. Kyiv residents have not slept for 81 days,” she says.

At one point, she found the email address of a former classmate she hadn’t spoken to in many years.

“I asked, ‘How are you?’ And she replied: “I’m happy because you haven’t forgotten me. And I burst into tears,” she says. “It is very important for the Ukrainian people to know that the world will not forget them. They are fighting for all of us.

It’s a theme that unites the two causes at SongFest for Vets III, she said.

“It’s a very thin line for both. Both the veterans and the people of Ukraine fought for democracy and freedom for the whole world, and they don’t want to be forgotten,” she said.

SongFest for Vets III takes place from 2-11 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at the Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Free entry. To visit Facebook.com/SongFestforVets.

Hip Hop Helps: Ukraine Benefit Concert, 8 p.m.-midnight Friday, May 20: The popular Respectable Street nightclub, 518 Clematis St. in West Palm Beach, is hosting a fundraiser with music from Dan Lee, GVIN, Amani Omar, John Brown, Chevy LaPole and DJ Undrwd. Tickets cost $5 to $10. To visit Facebook.com/respectablestreet.

Grove Art Feeds Ukraine, 6-9pm Saturday May 21: As part of an art exhibition at the Coconut Grove Arts Festival Gallery at Mayfair, 3390 Mary St. in Coconut Grove, more than 20 artists have donated original works to raise funds for the chef’s World Central Kitchen Jose Andres. To visit Calendar.CoconutGrove.com.

“To Ukraine, with love”, 8 p.m., Tuesday, May 31: Miami City Ballet dancers perform a twist on their pandemic-inspired pop-up performance “To Florida, With Love” at the Lynn & Louis Wolfson II Theater, 2200 Liberty Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets are given away only, with a limited number of places upon prior registration. All proceeds will go to supporting the work in Ukraine of Voices of Children and World Central Kitchen. To visit GiveButter.com/toukrainewithlove.

Staff writer Ben Crandell can be reached at [email protected].

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