SAN ANTONIO — Samuel Lyles went from prosecuting crimes against children in San Antonio to becoming a humanitarian more than 6,000 miles away in Ukraine.
“I felt that the Lord just called me to go help them,” Lyles said.
The Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine commenced five months ago, resulting in the deaths of thousands of troops on both sides, including Ukrainian civilians.
Lyles, who’s back in San Antonio temporarily, is reminding the world that the bloodshed has not stopped and sees no signs of ending anytime soon.
“The war’s getting worse. The artillery’s increasing, the danger’s getting worse, the frontlines, they move back and forth but the war’s not going away, they still need our help,” Lyles said.
He’s driven through destruction for days on end and witnessed cities that’s turned into cemeteries.
“It’s just wild. You’re driving as fast as you possibly can. There’s blown up cars everywhere. It looks like a car graveyard essentially,” Lyles said.
The Backroads Foundation, based out of Utah, is the organization Lyles has been working with during his four months assisting Ukrainians.
The non-profit has delivered well over 50,000 pounds worth of combat gear, food, clothes, medicine and much more to families in need.
“I had to sell my truck to buy a vehicle in Ukraine and buy supplies and at this point I’m buying stuff on credit just to get it there,” Lyles said.
Lyles equates the welcoming nature of the Ukrainian people to the southern hospitality of Texans. He recounts staying overnight with civilians after long days of making supply runs on the frontlines.
“The Ukrainians, they’re so thankful, you’ll just meet random Ukrainians, they’ll come up and shake my hand,” Lyles said. “They always bring us into their homes, they feed us.”
Along the way, Lyles has made some new friends, even rescuing families from uncertain death.
“That’s Alana, Andy and Malana. They’re so precious. They’re now in Lviv and they’re relatively safe, which is good. But thankfully, they’re out and that’s just one of many families that are trying to get out,” Lyles said.
Lyles has also known Ukrainians who’ve died fighting for their country.
“They’re going on the frontlines. A lot of them don’t have helmets or body armor. Sometimes that’s the things that we’ll bring to them and then Andrew, who was our good friend, he’s the one who forced me to stay at the barracks when I was too tired and actually he was killed in action a few weeks ago.”
Lyles’ humanitarian mission isn’t over, even beyond the eventual end of the Ukraine-Russia war. He’s flying back to Europe on Saturday to continue his work with the Backroads Foundation, which has grown to become more effective in helping ordinary Ukrainians just trying to survive.
“My heart’s in Ukraine and I love being there. I love helping the people. The resilience is strong. So what Backroads is doing, we’re creating a network in Ukraine with Ukrainians to not only get them supplies but provide jobs as well.”
To learn more about the Backroads Foundation, click here.