Sickened by the violence against civilians and their first-responder colleagues in Ukraine, two Victoria paramedics have acquired two ambulances full of medical supplies and plan to deliver them to the war-torn country next week.
Advanced-care paramedics Andrew Mills and Melissa Sims have been feverishly fundraising to acquire an ambulance since April 5, with the help of a network they created involving paramedics in Vancouver and Europe and a Ukrainian mobile volunteer hospital working on the front lines.
As of Wednesday morning, they had raised $25,000 to buy one ambulance. A single $16,000 donation by Vancouver paramedic Will Rogers later in the day allowed them to buy another — both through a paramedic contact based in Poland.
They say a third ambulance is available to purchase if the funds continue to roll in, and the fully equipped vehicles should be ready for the war zone by early next week.
The pair said donations have been coming from family, friends and members of the public and ambulance community, but corporate and business donations could help them buy more supplies and vehicles for the battlefield.
Mills and Sims, who are flying to Poland on Sunday, will drive the ambulances over the border into the Ukraine and transfer everything into the hands of paramedics with Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital. They expect to be met at the border, on the Ukraine side.
The Victoria paramedics said they were motivated to act after seeing news reports of civilians and medical responders being targeted or caught in the crossfire in attacks by Russian forces.
Hospital maternity wards, community centres and apartment buildings are also being destroyed as Russia rains missiles down on cities and towns.
“Just seeing people so helpless and cut off … knowing that resources are difficult or not there at all … we wanted to do something,” said Mills. “We just can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital, a non-governmental organization of civilian health-care professionals, has been first on the scene in combat zones across the country since the Russian invasion began, with team members risking their lives to treat injured civilians and combatants, and carrying out evacuations.
Mills and Sims are in contact with the organization’s co-founder, Gennadiy Druzenko, a lawyer and constitutional scholar turned wartime medical volunteer, who told CNN this week that Russian attacks on civilian centres have wreaked havoc on rescuing the wounded and collecting the dead.
“We beg, beg, beg you to send ambulances,” Druzenko told the American news network.
Among the Ukrainian medical team’s other desperate needs are ballistic vests and helmets.
Last week, five ambulances with Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital went to Kyiv’s liberated suburbs to provide care for palliative and bed-ridden patients suffering from cancer, strokes, amputations and Parkinson’s disease.
The ambulances also provided humanitarian aid, such as medicines, food, water and diapers.
Mills said the hope is to establish a pipeline where ongoing fundraising can continue to support delivery of supplies and ambulances, which need to be reliable to negotiate areas riddled with bomb craters and debris from explosions.
Vancouver paramedic Magda Wegner-Powala is co-ordinating ambulance contacts in Poland and providing translation for groups finding vehicles, while Jeff Burko, a retired Vancouver paramedic, is overseas acquiring medical supplies to stock the ambulances.
Mills said the complex network to raise money and connect with paramedics in eastern Europe came together quite quickly.
“We’re fixers by nature, I think. We see a need and we’re in there,” said Mills. “It’s what we do in a paramedic role.”
Mills has 18 years as a paramedic and Sims has 13. Both are using holiday time to fly to Poland and acquire and deliver the ambulances. Their shifts are being covered by fellow ambulance workers in Victoria, they said.
Donations can be made at paramedics4paramedics.ca