Hennepin Healthcare team member travels to Ukrainian border to deliver critically needed medical supplies
During a time when it feels like there is so much uncertainty and fear in the world, many of us have felt powerless. For one team member wanting to take action in the face of the current crisis in Ukraine, this put him on a flight across the world.
Information Security Director Yan Kravchenko, who has lived in the United States for 30 years, is originally from Kyiv and felt a call to respond to the largest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since WWII. “We are all constantly struggling with our inability to help – what’s happening [in Ukraine] is an atrocity, it’s unimaginable,” says Yan, who has worked at Hennepin Healthcare for more than two years. “I have a lot of friends who I’m in daily contact with that are still there – always worrying about them and panicking whenever I can’t reach someone is gut wrenching.”
Yan’s fiancé, Lesia, is a Ukrainian ear nose throat doctor and surgeon who was fortunate to escape to Poland when the war began. While visiting Lesia last March, the pair helped refugees in the process of fleeing Ukraine.
“Both of us spent half our time with refugees: helping direct people, helping translate, spending a lot of time at train stations,” says Yan. “You really don’t have to be part of an organization to be useful over there right now – there’s so much need.”
After returning from Poland, Yan decided he wanted to combine a future visit with something that would also help the people of Ukraine – delivering desperately needed medical supplies.
Coming together in support of Ukraine
Hennepin Healthcare’s Supply Chain team maintains a storage area full of medical supplies no longer in use at Hennepin for potential mission trips led by providers. Thanks to the mission storage area, Yan was able to bring an SUV full of first aid and operating room supplies to the Ukrainian Community Center where he and other volunteers have been collecting aid from hospitals around the Twin Cities.
“I think we’re pretty much getting donations from every hospital. I thought it would be a really nice opportunity for Hennepin Healthcare to get in there as well,” says Yan. The massive operation sorts items into various categories to help determine what they are and where they would be most useful – anything from hygiene products to lab supplies to first aid.
The center serves as a staging area for sorting donations but is not directly involved with this work – it’s being conducted solely by volunteers who want to help. “It’s nothing short of inspirational to see how the community comes together.”
While helping refugees fleeing Ukraine when Russia first invaded, some of these same volunteers connected with Ukrainian doctors on the front lines. These connections created a direct line of communication that allowed doctors to ask for the supplies they needed most. When donated supplies make their way to the Ukrainian Community Center, they’re sorted and packed into suitcases to be delivered to those doctors via a network of volunteers. in May, Yan volunteered to bring some of these suitcases to the Ukrainian border during his next visit to Poland.
Navigating the logistical nightmares of travel
Although Yan had investigated other ways of getting supplies to Ukraine without delivering them himself, he found it was more reliable to do it personally. “By delegating any portion of this relay to somebody else, you’re introducing another element that could potentially go wrong.”
For example, bags without clearly identified owners, especially in the case of humanitarian aid, can go missing while en route to their destination.
“We’re transporting unlicensed medical supplies without paying any kind of a tariff. So while my bags were richly decorated in signage noting the contents were humanitarian aid for Ukraine, there was also a very real concern that if the bags were lost, they were almost guaranteed to go through customs where they could actually be confiscated and I would get back empty suitcases.”
Another hurdle was the checked bag limit – only two bags were covered with his ticket, meaning Yan would have to pay an extra $1300 in fees to bring all four large bags of medical supplies. However, after arriving at the Minneapolis airport on May 9, he spoke to a Delta supervisor who verified the bags were for humanitarian aid and allowed Yan to travel with the extra bags for free.
From there, Yan flew to Berlin, Germany then traveled to Szczecin – a Polish town on the German border. Unfortunately, only one of the bags managed to arrive with him.
“Because of flight challenges, they lost three out of the four bags of humanitarian aid. I had to negotiate between Polish delivery services, the German airport, and airline to try to figure out how to get them.” Luckily, Yan retrieved the missing bags a few days later.
Once successfully reunited with the critical supplies, Yan drove for a total of 20 hours in two days to Przemyśl, one of the refugee hubs near the Polish/Ukrainian border. After ensuring the suitcases were handed off to volunteers for the next leg of the journey, Yan made his way back to Szczecin.
Planning for the future
Despite the stress of several logistical hurdles, Yan felt a huge sense of relief after completing his delivery. “Delivering it made it infinitely more personal and satisfying than if I would have just loaded the bags on a bus that’s heading to that town.”
Yan is still working with the other Twin Cities volunteers at the Ukrainian Community Center. Currently, the group is filling a shipping container with less timely but still very vital supplies to help the people of Ukraine.
“Being able to play, in the grand scheme of things, even a seemingly tiny, insignificant role in solving the overall problem goes a long way…and if enough people do something that’s little and insignificant and tiny, all of a sudden big problems get solved.”
Having Hennepin Healthcare now play a role in supporting Ukraine through the donation of medical supplies feels full circle for Yan, who has longstanding ties to the organization.
“I know there is a very strong community in the Twin Cities of immigrants from Ukraine. When my family immigrated, Hennepin Healthcare was my healthcare system, much like a lot of other immigrants when they first come here,” says Yan. “[This experience] was a fascinating way to show how Hennepin Healthcare, a local healthcare provider, can make a significant impact half-way around the world.”
Yan hopes to make future aid deliveries if possible. “Every chance I get, I’ll be doing exactly what I did – except next time, maybe I’ll try to squeeze in six bags instead of four.”