Tourniquets, body armor, more: A lifeline of help for Ukraine
On a Sunday evening in May, a large box of medical supplies packed by volunteers in a Minneapolis gym arrived at his hospital in Odesa, a medical facility that has been suddenly immersed in the horrors of war. Early the next morning, a 60-year-old Ukrainian soldier arrived at the hospital needing emergency surgery to prevent his left leg from being amputated. "It's unbelievable, really," said Stanko, who spoke last week by phone while working the overnight shift at the Odesa hospital. The successful surgery is but one of dozens of recent cases in which Ukrainians on the front lines have benefited from a volunteer effort more than 5,000 miles away in Minnesota to provide them with humanitarian aid. Through an ever-widening network of personal contacts, Minnesotans are delivering a vast assortment of medical supplies and protective gear — tourniquets, intravenous bags, body armor and even military ambulances — to southern and eastern Ukraine, where Russian missile strikes have devastated civilian areas and inflicted mass casualties. Like the war itself, the scale of the humanitarian aid effort has surpassed the imagination of Minnesota's Ukrainian community.
A core group of the volunteers — organized under the group Stand with Ukraine MN — has been in regular contact with soldiers and medical personnel near the front lines. "It's like an expanding spider web of people connected to do good," said Sasha Sakurets, a volunteer and nurse at M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital. The relief effort has evolved to meet the rapidly changing situation on the ground. Tactical medical gear — such as high-quality tourniquets, sutures and hemostatic gauzes to stop catastrophic bleeding — are in high demand because of Russia's relentless airstrikes. Much of the donated equipment is packed into suitcases and duffel bags — and brought on passenger flights to the Polish cities of Warsaw and Krakow. "The feeling we share is, this equipment has to be in Ukraine right now because every day that it sits here is a missed opportunity — a day that it's not saving people," said Kovbasnyk, who runs a small trucking logistics business out of his home in Mankato.
The effort to collect and distribute lifesaving equipment is also therapeutic. "Sometimes it feels like I'm watching my own children being attacked, and I can't do anything to stop it," said Yosyf Sabir, a father of two and graphic artist who is an activist in the Twin Cities' Ukrainian community. On a recent evening, the gym at the Ukrainian American Community Center in northeast Minneapolis was buzzing with activity. Four pallets of donated medical supplies had just arrived from a Twin Cities-area hospital. "I have to investigate things like chest seals and tourniquets to make sure they actually will do the job," Melnik said. On a rare quiet night in Odesa, Stanko took a break from caring for patients to reflect on the grinding war and its daily atrocities.
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