Two doctors from Ottawa are leading an effort to ship much-needed medical equipment to Ukraine, with supplies expected to land in the war-torn country within the next two weeks.
Ottawa GP Tetyana Rogalska, who was born in Kiev and came to Canada as a child, says helping provide medical supplies to those in need in Ukraine is an extension of her work to save lives.
“February 24, the whole world witnessed the beginning of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Rogalska said. “In medicine, our entire career is based on protecting lives, saving lives and defending the life of each individual patient.”
Rogalska is part of a four-person team that organizes the fundraising. She and colleague Dr. Nicolas Berbenetz working on collecting equipment from hospitals. Yaroslav Baran, a director of the Canadian-Ukraine Federation, arranges for donations to be sent to trusted partners abroad for distribution, and Roman Fylymoniouk is committed to collecting and transporting equipment from hospitals and health centers.
More than 3,000 civilians have been killed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began more than two months ago. Hospitals, clinics and other vital parts of Ukraine’s medical infrastructure have been destroyed or damaged.
On April 7, the World Health Organization verified more than 100 attacks on health targets in Ukraine.
It’s difficult to get disease statistics within active war zones, but an estimated 1,700 Ukrainians were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the end of March. The war also created problems for medical transport, which slowed down supplies to besieged areas.
Rogalska said the respect for human rights she witnessed in both Canada and Ukraine had guided her life and career.
“The values I carry in my life and my work, the compassion, the kindness within the community,” she said. “These are common values between Ukraine and Canada, and I saw them growing up here.”
The initiative has collected equipment from hospitals across the National Capital Region. Rogalska said her group had received donations from every hospital in Ottawa and from health centers as far as Kingston, Montreal and Toronto.
The team began reaching out to doctors in war-torn areas of Ukraine to ask what was most needed. Since then, they have amassed more than 30 skids of equipment, including ventilators, defibrillators, CPR supplies, intubation supplies, infusion pumps, gauze and wound care supplies.
“We understand that our colleagues stayed in Ukraine, they worked in bunkers, they worked in basements with no supplies,” Rogalska said. “I felt a responsibility to support our medical colleagues who were trying to defend life from the war.”
The Canadian government has supported Ukraine with money, weapons and medical supplies, but that hasn’t stopped ordinary people from pursuing their own forms of charities.
The Canada-Ukraine Foundation organizes many such missions. Baran said there had been a lot of independent fundraising across Canada since the beginning of the war.
“We’ve seen grassroots initiatives where a doctor in Toronto or Ottawa would turn to their network and say, ‘What have you got?’ and then arranged their own shipping.”
The Ottawa team works with Swift Delivery Systems, a local company, to organize the supplies and partners with Health Canada to ship them.
Once supplies are ready, organizations such as the Canada-Ukraine Foundation will arrange shipment to Europe. They are working with the Ukrainian Ministry of Health and other groups to ensure supplies reach the people who need them most.
Rogalska said that a deep familiarity with Ukraine inspired her and her teammates to start this project.
“That cultural connection, that historical connection stays with me. I understand what it’s like to destroy those streets, attack the culture and make the people so desperate,” Rogalska said.
“Together, these two pieces of my identity are what compels me to act.”
Those wishing to help fundraise or raise supplies can find information online at www.cufoundation.ca.