A team of thieves has eluded detectives' efforts to retrieve 400 bulletproof vests destined for Ukrainian medical workers stolen from a New York City non-profit organization for almost two months -- but police are hopeful video will help track down the suspects.
Exclusive new video shows the March heist from the offices of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America on Second Avenue in Manhattan. Police say the black trash bags carried out of the non-profit, as seen in the video, held the hundreds of life-saving vests donated by local law enforcement agencies.
In the span of less than three hours, three different vans pulled up in front of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America building in the East Village, with multiple people in masks hopping out of each of them and casually walking inside. Surveillance video from a deli next door showed them then haul out large brown boxes full of the bulletproof gear, and then driving away.
"People right now in our community, they’re either in church praying, or everyone is feeling disenfranchised. They have no power right now, and then this happens, and that absolutely affects people," said Andrij Dobriansky, a spokesperson for the UCCA.
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The vests were meant for medics, humanitarian workers, and others who have joined the fight against the Russian military, not Ukrainian soldiers themselves, officials said.
"Who isn’t being supplied are territorial defenses, the people who are getting humanitarian supplies across. So these kinds of donations — whether they come from Suffolk County, we have a lot of police precincts in New Jersey and upstate New York also donating, these are why it’s important," said Dobriansky.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, support has poured in to nonprofits like the UCCA, with donations like clothing, toys, diapers and more all lining the entryway hallway.
Police departments in the New York City area have donated hundreds of decommissioned bulletproof vests to charities supporting Ukrainian forces fighting Russia’s invasion.
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office on Long Island said it worked with the UCCA to donate 450 used, decommissioned vests, but could not confirm that the vests that were stolen were the ones it donated.
The sheriff’s office stops using the vests after five years, but officials said they remain sturdy enough to offer protection in warfare.
“It is despicable that someone would break into a building to steal supplies and materials intended to aid those affected by this humanitarian crisis,” said Vicki DiStefano, a spokesperson for Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.
"As far as we can tell, maybe about three-quarters of that supply was taken last night," said Dobriansky, who added that neighbors and elected officials near and far had been checking in throughout the day.
"The fact that New York is not only being generous, but they’re very responsive tonight warms our heart," he said.
Police are searching for the three vans and whoever was in them, and responsible for the theft. They were able to track the vests to Brooklyn but have still not recovered the haul. A reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest.