West Palm Beach equestrian lobbyist headed to Ukraine — 'I've got to go over there to help'
Updated: Apr 26
AS A LONGTIME equestrian lobbyist and consultant, Dean Turney is most comfortable working with the wealthy movers and shakers of Wellington polo country.
For the next three months, he’ll be devoting his energy to an entirely different mission: Helping the defenders of Ukraine.
On Saturday, the West Palm Beach man will depart Palm Beach International Airport on the first of three flights that will ultimately take him to Budapest, Hungary. From there, he plans to be shuttled across the border into Lviv, where he will deliver an initial batch of supplies to Ukrainian civilians fighting the Russians.
He said he plans to stay in eastern Europe for three months, acting as a “gofer” delivering supplies to citizens in Ukraine from countries such as Hungary and Poland.
“I don’t expect to be fighting any Russians, although I was offered (the opportunity) to carry a Kalashnikov while I’m there,’’ he said, adding that he doubts he will accept the offer.
“It’s just something I would like to do,’’ he said of his mission with a new charity called Hand to Hand Aid Ukraine. “A lot of people are donating money to different charities. I just wanted to take it a big step further than that.’’
Turney, whose ancestors came from eastern Europe, said he feels a special connection with Ukraine, where he has often visited over the years. He said he had been planning this summer to take his first trip to Ukraine since 2016.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, he said he felt compelled to do something, anything, to help friends he made over the years in Lviv and Kyiv.
“I think what really got to me was receiving text messages (from friends in Ukraine) saying, ‘Why are the Russians destroying my city and destroying my neighborhood park’ and describing the battle occurring just outside their living room windows,’’ he said.
“I know this sounds kind of overly dramatic but it was just overpowering to read this and talk to them on the phone. I didn’t have one great epiphany, but after seeing what a bastard Putin is, I said, ‘I’ve got to go over there to help.’’’
He was at dinner a few weeks ago with Kirsten Kopp, a Wellington equestrian Realtor, when he mentioned his desire to go to Ukraine to help. Kopp put Turney in touch with Sean Donaldson, a Miami hair salon owner active in charitable causes.
Donaldson, the personal hair stylist for Sir Richard Branson and other celebrities, is helping launch the charity Hand to Hand Aid Ukraine, which will provide money for supplies that Turney and other volunteers will take to Ukrainian citizens who stayed to defend their country.
When Donaldson heard Turney was headed to Ukraine, he knew the equestrian lobbyist would be a perfect partner for the charity’s mission.
Turney “is a very brave selfless human being,’’ said Donaldson, who helped launch the charity with three Ukrainian friends in South Florida.
“I think for some of us there are certain times in life when you feel a calling and whatever that calling may be you have to act on it because that’s your inner self talking to you.’’
This is one of several videos taken by friends of Dean Turney's in Ukraine on Feb. 26, 2022, two days after Russia invaded.
Turney said his plane fare will come out of his own pocket. He expects to stay with Ukrainian families and with families of Ukrainian sympathizers in Poland or Hungary, arrangements set up by his own contacts and by the charity.
“All the credit to him,’’ Kopp said of Turney. “Nobody should feel that they can't make a difference even if we're over here in beautiful Florida and it seems so far away.’’
Turney, who is divorced and has no children, said he plans to keep an online diary for the charity, documenting what he sees.
“Once I get there, I will deliver supplies for the civilian soldiers – night-vision goggles and boots – and find out what else they need,’’
“I expect to be a gofer going back and forth from Lviv to Poland to buy whatever supplies are needed and head back across the border.’’
He said he knows a lot can happen in three months. If the fighting intensifies in Lviv, in the far western reaches of the country, he will have to make a decision on whether to leave.
“I doubt I would stay and fight but if there's some way I could provide logistical help I would certainly do that,’’ he said.
“That’s a risk I’m taking but I don’t think it's a big risk.’
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years in the newspaper business, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.