Firefighter Aid Ukraine has been around for eight years, sending health and safety equipment overseas once it’s no longer needed in Canada.
“We end up with a lot of equipment that needs to be removed from service for many reasons, whether it’s life-cycled out or expired,” project director Kevin Royle explained.
In that time, he’s gone to Ukraine seven times. But the two missions he’s been on since Russia invaded have been altogether different.
“The initiative was started because they’re under-funded and ill-equipped. That hasn’t changed, it’s been exasperated,” he said.
On Friday, Royle returned to Edmonton after spending two weeks overseas where he was checking on a new logistics plan for the donations.
Instead of chartering their own plane, Firefighter Aid Ukraine is now putting pallets of supplies onto passenger planes whenever there’s extra cargo space.
The new plan allows the donations to be moved faster.
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This most recent visit was about ensuring the boxes were being delivered to the right places, getting into the hands of the first responders who need them.
So far in the war, 89 tonnes of donations have been sent to Ukraine.
“We’ve always focused on firefighter PPE, rescue equipment. We also supply medical and hospital diagnostic equipment, first aid consumables,” Royle said.
On this journey, Royle and other volunteers visited fire stations in areas that were under Russian occupation for a month.
“Just seeing the damage and what they had to endure, what they tried to accomplish under shelling and gunfire and the severity of what they were trying to mitigate — it was pretty bad,” Royle explained.
“They’re in need of everything,” said volunteer Vitaliy Milentyev. “Bunker gear, gloves, boots, helmets, all sorts of extrication tools.
“They had it all, but the Russians took it all or destroyed it.”
The group also provided some basic training in how to use some of the donated equipment.
The firefighting donations are coming from services in Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan, BC and even as far away as California.
“Fortunately we’ll never have to deal with pulling victims from a structure that’s fallen because of a missile strike or an explosion like that. We’ll never have to deal with being interrogated or beaten by an occupying force.”
In Ukraine, tools like the jaws of life or even radios are invaluable.
“The next day we were getting pictures and videos of that equipment being used in fires, right away,” Milentyev explained.
That instant gratification encouraging these men to keep going, giving both their time and energy to the cause.
“The war is not over. They need our help. They need it to survive and need it to win this war. We have to keep fighting with them,” Milentyev said.
“We keep hearing about war fatigue here. People are just changing the channel or going to the lake to enjoy their summer days,” Royle said.
“People don’t have that luxury in Ukraine. They don’t know when the next missile strike is going to happen, where it’s going to hit, what its going to destroy or who it’s going to kill. They don’t have the ability to turn off.
“That to me is reason enough to keep doing what we’re doing.”
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