Much has been written and talked about concerning ambulances and other emergency equipment being sent to Ukraine from across Europe.
Aid groups, foreign countries, and individuals have all taken up the cause and sent or driven used ambulances and fire engines to the Ukrainian border to replace the many vehicles destroyed by Russian forces during the past nine months.
What you might not be aware of, however, is that these efforts have not been limited to Europe. Since March 2022, a group of Americans have also played an increasingly significant role in supplying ambulances from the U.S. to Ukraine.
One small group of Americans and Ukrainians working out of Chicago, Illinois called US Ambulances for Ukraine, has sent 18 fully-equipped used ambulances to Ukraine since March 29, 2022.
The effort started with a simple question.
Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, a seven-year-old girl in the United States asked her dad if anything could be done to help the people in Ukraine. In response to her question, the idea of sending used ambulances to Ukraine from the United States was born.
For the idea to be successful however, ambulance providers, hospitals, fire departments and others would have to be willing to donate used ambulances, medical supplies, fire equipment, and money to what has been self-described as a “crazy idea.” Fortunately, the “crazy idea” has been embraced by most who have been asked to help.
In March, when the first U.S. ambulance provider in Illinois was asked if they would be willing to donate one of their ambulances the only response given was: “What do you need, gas or diesel?”
And that was all that was needed to get a movement started. With the help of the Ukrainian Consulate in Chicago, and groups like UA Resistance Foundation, the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America, and UA House California these donated ambulances have been shipped via aircraft and ship to Europe. Once in Europe these ambulances are then staged on the Ukrainian border awaiting their final delivery into Ukraine.
On more than one occasion the US Ambulances for Ukraine group has driven these convoys of ambulances into Ukraine and personally turned the vehicles over to the military unit, hospital, fire department or other end user. On other occasions, US Ambulances for Ukraine coordinates efforts with Ministry of Health officials, other government entities and other not for profits like Life Support Ukraine, which then assist with getting the ambulances across the border into Ukraine and the ultimate distribution of the vehicles.
So far, the group has sent six shipments containing 18 ambulances full of supplies with the last convoy being delivered last month in October as Russia increased the intensity of its missile and drone attacks across most of the country.
As a result of the increased strikes, the group had to adjust drop off locations and timing but in the end was able to deliver all seven ambulances, over 60 defibrillators and over two tons of medical supplies and fire equipment to locations across Ukraine.
The group is planning a seventh shipment sometime in December, which will include 10 ambulances and one fire engine. The fire engine will be the first such vehicle shipped by the group but it is hoped that it will not be the last as they are talking to several fire departments in the United States about possible donations.
As the donated ambulances have been collected from across the U.S. they too have been distributed across Ukraine. Kharkiv, Rivne, Odessa, Cherkasy, Izyum, Kherson are just some of the places where the 18 ambulances are currently operating. These ambulances are being used by regional hospitals, fire departments, military units, and mobile surgical hospitals.
Because of the contacts that have been made since the effort began in March. it is now common for US Ambulances for Ukraine to receive emails directly from military units, hospitals, regional governments, or fire departments requesting an ambulance or a fire engine.
With letters in hand, the group sets out to find ambulances and match them with a possible recipient based on the vehicle type and who the end user will be. For example, a larger ambulance might be given to a Fire Department for use as a rescue vehicle to augment existing fire equipment.
Smaller ambulances that are faster and more maneuverable might be given to a front-line unit where it will be less of a target and easier to navigate obstacles. The bottom line for the group is to find ambulances and fire engines and get them to Ukraine.
Often in the U.S. the group will promise donors of the ambulances that if US Ambulances for Ukraine is given an ambulance, they will do everything they can to make sure the donated ambulance “gets into the fight.”
While the group tries to work as quickly as it can to send its ambulances from the U.S. to Ukraine, it can still take a month or more before transportation for the ambulance is arranged and it is shipped. While an aircraft can have a vehicle delivered in less than 24 hours to a staging space close to the Ukrainian border, the past 13 ambulances have all been sent via ship. which takes around four weeks to travel from the East Coast of the U.S. to its staging location along the Ukrainian border. With the length of time to ship always on their mind, the group is eager to see its next shipment off in December.
This next shipment will be its largest after a surge of ambulance donations following the group’s successful mission in October. Besides sending the largest single shipment of ambulances from the U.S. by any aid organization to Ukraine, the December shipment will be special in that it will contain the group’s first fire engine, which will be sent to Mykolaiv. In addition, seven of the 10 ambulances will be assigned to frontline combat units, staying true to US Ambulances for Ukraine’s promise of getting the donated American ambulances “In to the fight.”
Chris Manson is the Vice President of Government Relations for OSF HealthCare, a 15-hospital health system in the United States. He is is a former volunteer firefighter and was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps Reserve. By Decree of the President of Ukraine No595/2022 Chris was awarded the Cross of Ivan Mazepa
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