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Ukrainians ‘not alone’ this winter, say UK volunteers sending ambulances of aid

Volunteer group Medical Life Lines Ukraine has raised thousands of pounds to send ambulances and other equipment and supplies to the country.

Aisling Grace
Saturday 13 January 2024 08:00 GMT
Medical Life Lines Ukraine has raised thousands of pounds to send ambulances and other equipment and supplies to the country. (Medical Life Lines Ukraine/PA)
Medical Life Lines Ukraine has raised thousands of pounds to send ambulances and other equipment and supplies to the country. (Medical Life Lines Ukraine/PA)

UK volunteers who have sent almost 50 aid-filled ambulances to Ukraine have said they want to show civilians of the war-torn country “they’re not alone” as they prepare a further convoy amid another harsh winter of war.

Daniel Whitehead, 51, told the PA news agency that the organisation, Medical Life Lines Ukraine, has sent 48 ambulances filled with aid, 21 generators and one all-terrain crane to Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

As well as providing essential medical supplies and practical items, the group hands out smaller items like chocolate and sweets to children to “provide a little ray of sunshine in the depths of winter”.

The volunteer-run organisation plans to drive four more ambulances to Ukraine in late January.

“Because it’s so cold, we’re going to be taking out a lot of cold weather gear, and clothes, thick coats, boots, we’re even going to be taking duvets and so on,” Mr Whitehead told PA.

“(We want to show) Ukrainians that they’re not alone and that we care about them and we’re thinking about them.”

The group of Medical Life Lines Ukraine volunteers have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds and liaises with pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies and hospitals across the UK to procure medical equipment and supplies.

More than 40 volunteer drivers have taken on the task of driving across to Ukraine to deliver the ambulances and aid, which are distributed across the country.

The most recent convoy set out in November with five ambulances sent to Avdiivka, Kharkiv, Zhytomyr and Zaporizhzhia.

Mr Whitehead, the lead organiser and an assistant general counsel and director at Citibank, said: “In the past we’ve taken everything from pots and pans to children’s toys, cuddly toys, nappies, sanitary ware.

“We take a lot of medical equipment, so we have taken PPE, for example, but we’re also taking things like tubes that are disposable, for example, in the context of anaesthesia.

“We take a lot of crutches. They don’t have enough crutches and crutches are often just used once and disposed of in the NHS, and we need to get our hands on as many of those as we can and transport them out.”

The group has received “endless gratitude” for the help it provides to Ukrainians, Mr Whitehead said.

“It’s very, very touching. In fact, it brings tears to your eyes when you meet people,” he said.

“There’s a possibility for small groups like ours, to have a direct impact and actually save lives, which is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to do.”

The group started their work in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion.

“A lady who lives locally to me, Aliya Aralbayeva, decided that she was going to fundraise, buy an ambulance, fill it with aid, and get it to Ukraine,” Mr Whitehead said.

“She reached out to her local WhatsApp groups and all the rest of it and very quickly raised a large amount of money and a lot of aid and was able to get first ambulance out to Ukraine.”

Since then, the group has continued to grow and receive “in some cases, quite staggeringly large donations”.

Rishi Sunak announced a £2.5 billion military aid package for the coming year on Friday – an increase of £200 million on the last two years – which includes £18 million for humanitarian aid.

Mr Whitehead, based in London, said: “I’m very pleased that the UK government continues to support Ukraine as so many people in the UK wish to do.

“It’s important that as a society, we acknowledge not just that Ukraine has very significant, pressing and urgent military needs, but also huge humanitarian aid needs.”

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