Daily air raid sirens were a reminder to a local delegation on a humanitarian mission to war-torn Ukraine of the conflict playing out in that country, says retired Langford fire chief Bob Beckett.
“It is a beautiful country and we were far from the eastern front, but the sounds of the air raid sirens were a constant reminder the war wasn’t that far away.”
Beckett, Langford Mayor Stew Young, Shawn Carby of GlobalMedic and volunteer videographer Brendan Strain recently returned from visiting four municipalities in the city of Lutsk, in the northwest part of the country, near the border with Belarus. They met with the mayors and councils of the municipalities, with populations of between 12,000 and 50,000 residents.
The group spent four days visiting refugee centres, delivering monetary aid and supplies that were funded through donations and finding out what the people needed.
“The people we met were so impressed that four Canadians came to their country to help and support them. They are a proud people and would have preferred to be able to take care of themselves,” said Beckett.
The group was representing the Langford-GlobalMedic Ukraine Humanitarian Project, a fundraising drive initiated by Langford council. They partnered with GlobalMedic, a Canadian charity that has been providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid for 20 years.
At each community, the Canadian contingent was greeted by children bearing the traditional Ukrainian “welcome” bread (kolach) and salt as a gesture of hospitality, Beckett said.
Beckett is no stranger to delivering aid in a war zone — he previously organized the delivery of firefighting equipment to Afghanistan, following it up with training programs. He has also delivered humanitarian aid to Haiti, visiting that country 17 times.
“Haiti, Afghanistan, Bosnia or Ukraine — the message is the same. Everybody wants the same things for their families — a roof over their heads, food on the table and a future for their children to live in peace,” he said.
Beckett said that eight truckloads of aid were set to be delivered just after the delegation’s visit, including fire and rescue gear donated by area fire departments.
He credits GlobalMedic with being “nimble” in responding to needs of the local population. While the delegation was visiting, the mayors mentioned there was a dire need for water-purification tablets. A few telephone calls later, the group was able to tell the mayors that it had secured thousands of tablets — and they were on their way.
While the aid they delivered took care of the residents’ immediate needs, Langford council is already considering next steps to help the Ukrainian people. But Beckett said that there is only so much they can do as one municipality. “What if every municipality partners with a Ukrainian municipality?”
He said that even the smallest and simplest gestures can be effective. He heard that one municipality couldn’t get a battery for its fire engine. “How easy would it be for a community [in Canada] getting together to raise money to buy a battery?” he asked. “When you can inspire a community to act, you are also inspiring tomorrow’s children.”
Young called participating in the aid mission “one of the most impactful experiences of my life.”
“It has demonstrated to me that not only are our humanitarian efforts critical, but everything needs to be done to resolve this conflict and provide for everlasting peace.
Beckett noted that Langford residents raised $500,000 for the people in Ukraine in a week.
A matching $150,000 grant was provided by the Sprott Foundation.
“Sometimes tragedy brings out the best in people.”
To contribute, go to https://www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/city-of-langford-globalmedic-ukraine-humanitarian-/.