Last week I was on a 2,000km car ride in a van carrying medical supplies to Ukraine. You may be wondering how this happened. Two medical friends of mine, Dr. Brian McManus and Fergal Murphy told me about a group of Ukrainian doctors working in Ireland who had started a charity called Medical Help Ukraine. We offered help. In recent weeks, the doctors have received a shopping list of medical supplies from their friends who work in hospitals in Ukrainian cities like Kyiv, Kharkiv and Chernihiv.
Items most needed include bandages, incubators, ventilators, defibrillators, bandages, aluminum foil blankets and first aid kits. We have received supplies from several donors including Glennons Pharmacy in Glasthule and St Luke’s Hospital Kilkenny. We managed to get a van kindly donated by PRL in Kilkenny and last weekend we fitted it with the supplies with the help of David Hall of Lifeline Ambulances who has coordinated the overall effort and donated ambulances.
Impressively, Medical Health Ukraine has already sent consumables and equipment worth more than 5 million euros. Our van joined the effort.
It is very topical like Guillaume Barreau of Médicins Sans Frontiitres (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders last Woche said the greatest medical need is for trauma supplies. In Ukraine there are many highly qualified doctors, surgeons and nurses who are doing their best to help everyone who is injured. But they need supplies, especially for all the civilians, including many children who have been injured by the shelling of many cities.
Anja Wolz of Doctors Without Borders said there was an urgent race against time to get the right medical supplies to the right places before aid could no longer reach militarily encircled towns and cities. “The brutality, intensity and speed of this war is unlike anything we have seen in a long time,” she said.
And so we drove off last Tuesday with a fully loaded van. We were crammed into the front of the van, stuffed with boxes of medical supplies.
We took the ferry from Rosslare to Cherbourg – a 19 hour crossing. The ship was almost empty, with most of the passengers being truck drivers. While queuing for coffee, I heard someone say, “There’s that tall, tall boy from TV, Colm Henry.”
We got some sleep in the cabin we booked which was a bit cramped. We landed at 4pm — but forgot we were cargo and were called to the van that held everything up. Several truck drivers honked their horns but we eventually pulled away and pulled onto the road.
We reached Liège late Wednesday, but arrived too late to eat. The personable receptionist told us there was a vending machine.
On Thursday we made it across Germany to Poland. At over 12 hours, it was the longest journey so far. The trip wasn’t too bad once we figured out how to connect our iPhones to the sound system, which took us two hours (we’re in our 50s). But then the clashes began. Brian’s insistence on playing Abba and performing tunes from the musicals was matched only by Fergal’s insistence on an hour of the Wolfe Tones. Eventually I took control and we had decent music.
The drop-off point was near Kraków, not far from the Ukrainian border. We arrived on Friday morning. Fergal drove most of the time, including through a snowstorm in Poland. Krakow was snowy when we arrived.
Two of the Ukrainian doctors flew from Dublin to Krakow and picked us up at the drop off point. dr Lyudmyla Zakharchenko is a pediatrician on Holles Street. She has ties to a global pediatric organization that recently coordinated the transport of a family with a child suffering from leukemia to Ireland. She hopes to go to Ukraine as part of her trip to help another sick child with a bleeding disorder. The supplies were transferred from our van to a truck that had come from Ukraine. Supplies are driven directly to where they are needed most. There is a desperate need. One hundred medical facilities were bombed and supply lines to Ukraine cut off. Medicines for chronic diseases such as diabetes and AIDS are also scarce. The medical burden of the war in Ukraine is therefore growing.
Tomorrow we drive to Bratislava to another depot with medical supplies, that of Depaul International. Tolerance levels are at an all-time low as we then face a long drive home. ‘I play Spy’ will surely save us.
This was an extremely rewarding trip. So many people in Ireland are helping Ukraine in so many ways. Please give what you can to Medical Help Ukraine (medicalhelpukraine.com) and Depauls Ukraine Appeal (depaulcharity.org). Your donation directly alleviates the suffering that is happening.
Luke O’Neill is Professor of Biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity Colleg Dublin
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/our-2000km-trip-through-blizzards-in-a-cramped-van-to-get-aid-to-ukraine-41514797.html Our 2000km journey through blizzards in a cramped van to get help to Ukraine