A group of Ukrainian doctors working in the Irish healthcare system are "overwhelmed" with support after raising more than €100,000 in one day to send emergency medical aid from Ireland to Ukraine.
Dr Alexandar Boychak, a consultant radiation oncologist with St Luke's Radiation Oncology Network, has been living in Ireland for 20 years but is from a small city in western Ukraine called Rohatyn.
"I'd been going to a lot of demonstrations outside the Russian embassy and Leinster House after Russia invaded. The other doctors and I knew each other socially because the Ukrainian community in Ireland is small. I met a colleague at one of the demonstrations and the idea just struck me that we should do something together," he said.
“There are doctors working 24/7 in Ukraine but the main problem at the moment is people are dying because there are no supplies to treat them with. Infrastructure is being destroyed and pharmacies are having to close.
“But this is our niche and we know what’s needed, so we launched a GoFundMe which only went live on Wednesday morning and already has over €100,000 in donations.”
Dr Boychak said public support for the initiative has been “absolutely overwhelming from every possible angle”.
“It’s just 360-degree support, it really is unbelievable,” he said.
An ambulance and two vans filled with medical equipment were to leave Rosslare on Wednesday evening and will arrive in Ukraine on Friday with the initiative’s first delivery.
The Ukrainian embassy in Ireland will facilitate the transportation to Ukraine through the Polish border.
“We’ll be providing the type of emergency aid that’s solely focused on keeping people alive day by day – things like bandages, chest drains, masks, PPE suits,” Dr Boychak said.
“It’s a very fluid situation, so we’ll keep an eye on it and to what our contacts there say is needed.”
Dr Boychak said the ambulance will remain in Ukraine and will be “loaded with supplies continually”.
The team is working with the ministry of health of Ukraine and has direct links in multiple Ukrainian hospitals affected by the crisis.
The group, calling themselves "Medical Help Ukraine", has also been approached by Ryanair, which has offered to fly supplies to the nearest airport to the Polish border with Ukraine.
“Our contacts on the ground will pick them [the supplies] up from the border and drive them back into Ukraine,” Dr Boychak said.
“It’s a very DIY job. None of us are sleeping more than two hours a night, we’re working on this constantly. If we can save even just one life it’s worth it to me,” he said.
Several other Irish-based Ukrainian doctors are involved with the initiative, including Dr Kateryna Kachurets, who is a GP in south Dublin, Dr Nataliya Kononenko, consultant occupational health physician at CIÉ's medical department, and Dr Oksana Kozdoba, paediatric fellow in Children's Health Ireland at Crumlin.
The initiative is also supported by Lifeline Ambulance Service, the HSE, Blackrock Health, Bons Secours Health System Ireland, UPMC Ireland, and the Mater Private Network.
The group hopes to continue to deliver an ongoing supply of medical equipment and ambulance cars to Ukrainian hospitals in active war zones which are in critical need of emergency supplies.
To achieve this, they are calling on the medical manufacturing community in Ireland to donate suitable equipment where possible.
The group said all funds raised would go “strictly towards assisting the Ukrainian citizens, who became victims of the conflict, and medical staff in their efforts to heal those wounded”.