The South Londoners sending old ambulances with medical supplies to Ukraine

By Ellie Brown - Local Democracy Reporter

11th Mar 2022 | Local News

VOLUNTEERS from South London are raising funds to buy old ambulances and medical supplies and drive them to war-torn Ukraine.

A group including working mothers from Surbiton and Wimbledon are organising the relief effort and have raised over £37,000 in a JustGiving fundraiser.

The women all have family and friends in Ukraine and were left horrified by the invasion of the country by Russia on 24 February - so wanted to do something to help.

Their group called the Ukrainian War Crisis - Civilians Medical Help Appeal has at least 17 volunteers and two donation points in South London including at St Mark's Church in Surbiton.

The written-off ambulances have been restored to working order and filled with specialised medical equipment and supplies.

Five of the ambulances have now made it to hospitals in Kyiv, such as the children's hospital Ahmadet, with more set to go to other towns such as Lviv.

Pairs of drivers from South London make 30-hour trips across Europe to the border of Ukraine - with about half crossing over to stay and fight.

Long-term Kingston resident Irina Pierrot set up the group with her friend Aliya Aralbaeva, from Wimbledon, just two days after the invasion.

Helping them run it are former Surbiton resident Tanya Piggins and another South Londoner, Maria Milko.

Irina, a mother-of-three, was born in Crimea and left Ukraine when she was 20.

She has friends all over the country and returns there every year.

"I was born and grew up in Ukraine, I consider it home," she told Kingston Nub News.

Speaking about the war, she said: "It's really sad. We're all the same, it's a real tragedy."

After the invasion there were frantic calls between Ukraine and London. "We were crying for two days."

"Some of our friends started fleeing, spending days on the border. Some went back because their husband wasn't allowed out," she added.

The group's appeal for ambulances and medical supplies quickly gained support.

"At the end of the first day we raised £5,000," Irina said.

"It was massive, it was going really fast. By the third day we opened a just giving page.

"We were contacted by Ukrainian drivers, men who used to work in transporting goods, contacting us to say a car was available today.

"Half are going back to fight for their country, half are volunteers who just want to help.

"The drivers are absolute heroes."

Alexandr, a South Londoner from Ukraine, is driving an ambulance that he used his savings to buy to the country's border.

Once there, his contacts will take the ambulance and drive it to hospitals where supplies are needed.

Alexandr is not crossing the border because if he did go his wife and children would want to join him - and it's not safe for them.

He decided to make the trip after hearing about the invasion and wanting to do something to help.

"I was thinking, what can I do?" he said. "If I buy an ambulance it might save somebody's life."

News of his effort spread fast and inspired Irina and Aliya to set up their appeal.

People have been generous when helping him - the ambulance was sold at a low price and the vehicle was restored for free, Alexandr added.

Irina also told Nub News that medical professionals are now contacting the group to tell them about written-off specialist equipment available in London hospitals.

Updates on their efforts are posted regularly and can be found on the group's JustGiving page HERE

Neonatal hospitals are now one of the main focuses of the group's efforts and baby supplies are urgently needed, their Ukrainian contacts say.

Neonatologist Iryna, a sister of one of the group's volunteers, is working in the Kyiv Hospital the Academy of Human Health.

She gave an update on the desperate conditions they are operating in, which Irina translated for Nub News.

Iryna said: "The situation with caring for premature babies is very difficult. Doctors work in extreme conditions.

"Mothers and babies are now sheltered; these conditions are very inappropriate for babies.

"We have to hide babies in hospitals' basements, heating does not work properly, we are already lacking necessary equipment and medical supplies."

She added: "Thank you all for your desire to help, it's a great support and motivation for us here. We feel we are not alone."

     

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