Fergal Nealon from Sligo based Ukrainian aid organisation Rapid Response Ukraine updates Stephen Holland on the work they do bringing supplies directly into conflict zones
Sligo based humanitarian organisation Rapid Response Ukraine continues to bring urgently requested supplies to where they are most needed in war-torn Ukraine.
Operating since last March the non-profit group has secured a new supply line through Romania, completing 22 delivery runs into the country, and raising over €134,000 in charitable aid.
With contacts that include the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, The National Guard of Ukraine, doctors associations, army battalions, and delivery drivers, Rapid Response Ukraine founder Fergal Nealon says they are able to distribute supplies within one week of receiving requests because they have direct lines of communication and do not have to deal with the same level of ‘red tape’ as larger organisations.
“We now have an efficient route through Romania where there is a safe passage at the Romania/Ukrainian border, there is a sort of no man’s land there,” he said.
“We use a junior doctors association in Romania who purchase medicine at half the price of more western countries. They buy them wholesale and bring them to the safe border channel.
“Before, when we used the Polish/Ukrainian border, Ukrainians either had to come into Poland which they are not allowed to do, or the Polish had to go in themselves.”
Fergal says that on a typical week they receive requests for aid in several different cities in south and east of Ukraine asking for the most urgently needed medications and supplies. On each run they send up to €20,000 to Romanian doctors who secure the supplies and have them delivered to the Rapid Response Ukraine warehouse in Lviv.
After the goods arrive at the warehouse, they are delivered to the different requestors which Fergal says is the most efficient way of sending the items and ensures a quick turn around on the arrival of aid.
“It’s very targeted and it’s become more targeted, we are getting requests from individual army battalions on the front line. Last week, there was one specific battalion that was in the thick of it, a lot of conflict is happening in forests and they were getting destroyed by insects,” he said.
“They had an urgent callout for insect repellent, these are the things you wouldn’t think of, and we were able to get that repellent out directly to them.”
As the conflict in Ukraine has developed Fergal says larger aid organisations have become better at getting aid where it needs to go, but their organisations can still reach places others cannot.
“If a certain battalion has a specific need, they won’t have to go through the same amount of red tape with us. We have our own levels of due diligence when following up with requestors, we require stamped official documents to ensure aid is going into the right hands, but that all happens quite quickly,” he said.
“An important item since we’ve started is insulin, the diabetics were on their knees and we managed to transport some in a few weeks back, we were able to get cold storage and bring some insulin into the south of the country and get it to diabetic sufferers.
“We are getting daily requests from orphanages, hospitals, army battalions and even had a request from an individual in a city whose medicine was cut off, we were able to get it delivered right down to that micro level, that’s how we are operating at the moment.”
Since its inception Rapid Response Ukraine has received overwhelming support from the Sligo community and Fergal says they have been so appreciative of all those who have donated since their very first call for medical aid last March.
He highlighted successful fundraising events from the Sligo Fire Brigade, the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation, Osta Café, the Weir Gallery and a music fundraiser in the Dunes bar in Strandhill, all of which had raised thousands of euro worth of funds that go directly to Ukraine.
“We are matching the Sligo Fire Brigade with a request from the fire fighters in Kharkiv, they were looking for specific equipment and we were able to twin their donation with the first responders in Kharkiv,” Fergal said.
“Sligo has been great, everyone’s got involved to support Rapid Response and help a local organisation, knowing the funds will go to the right place without any admin or wages being taken off the top.”
Fergal said that they have raised over €134,000 so far, but they have easily shipped as much aid that has come from other donors, stating that organisations work in unison with each other to ensure every delivery is as beneficial to Ukrainians as possible.
“The HSE in Limerick had a lot of goods such as masks, gowns, and aprons, about 350,000 items, and we got it from Limerick into frontline hospitals in Ukraine. We’ve done as much logistics for other donors as we have done for our own supplies,” he said.
“We have a warehouse and volunteers who are happy to help, we have drivers in Ukraine, and this works well for delivering full loads. We could have a van that we’re sending across the country with €20,000 worth of important drugs, but the driver might look at the van and see that it’s just half full, they want a full load.
“We can pad that load with gowns and masks and then once it’s full the drivers are delighted; it works for everyone and we can get excess supplies into Ukraine.”
An offical response from the head of Kramatorsk City Health Care Department Andriy Petrychenko expressed their gratitude for medical supplies provided by Rapid Response Ukraine.
“Your help is timely and will be used to save the lives of our soldiers and civilians,” he said in a letter.
Fergal says the more funds that are raised the more aid they can deliver and he encourages those who want to help to set up their own fundraising events as this is a great way to bring the community together in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
Those who wish to donate can do so at www.rapidresponseukraine.com.