Tackling the Humanitarian Crisis In Eastern Ukraine

Isabel Garzo

Despite the decreased intensity of the ongoing armed conflict in the eastern provinces, Ukraine still remains a hot spot on the world map. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), presently there are 1.3 million civilians on the verge of a humanitarian crisis in the area. Access to medical care is among the most critical basic needs in the conflict zone.

Supplying medical products and devices to hospitals in Ukraine was already precarious, even before the start of war in the eastern part of the country in early 2014 due to severe economic recession. With the start of hostilities, medical professionals and volunteers found themselves facing even more difficult circumstances created by a shortage of special surgical medical equipment and supplies to handle the increasing number of wounded.

Vitaliy Dubil, a Ukrainian living in Washington D. C., and an alumnus of IE with an already significant professional career behind him, knows first hand that not all of his countrymen have been as fortunate as he. Using his professional experience and connections in the West, Dubil decided to devote himself, body and soul, to public service by helping in one of the most serious aspects of the humanitarian crisis: the medical service.

Together with his partner in this initiative, another expat Ukrainian, Pasha Fedorenko, they started an odyssey that became known as “Support Hospitals in Ukraine.

The aim is simple: periodic delivery of medical supplies from the United States to hospitals in Ukraine. As part of the project, the partners would search and engage private and public donors, manufacturers, and suppliers to support the cause. Locating donors and fundraising would prove to be among some of the most important tasks for the team. Executing the idea, however, would not be as simple as it seemed, especially taking into account that none of those initially involved had any previous experience in the healthcare sector, international logistics, or knew any suppliers in the United States.

It was at this point that the two Ukrainians met Jennie Martin, an experienced medical volunteer from Texas who had previously worked on a similar project and who helped them to establish contacts with various suppliers of medical products.

Because of its previous lack of visibility, in the beginning of its operations their project became an effort to gain the trust and confidence of the donors. “For a humanitarian project of this kind, the trust of supporters and donors is critically important,” says Dubil. The project’s first shipment was mostly paid for by them and by people they knew: close friends and colleagues. After the initial results and growing positive feedback from the intended beneficiaries in Ukraine, the project finally got some traction and many other people began to contribute to the cause through a crowdfunding campaign.“They saw that we can achieve what was planned and that we are trustworthy.”

Thanks to the project’s model and to the support and dedication of its partners, for every dollar donated they are able to send to Ukraine between 25 and 30 dollars’ worth of medical equipment and supplies. The humanitarian project is 100% percent voluntary, and neither of them makes any personal profit.

“The modern world is a ‘global village’ where technologies erase geographical boundaries,” says the founder of Support Hospitals in Ukraine when asked about the practical management of the project. In spite of different time zones and physical distance, “it is quite easy to manage such initiatives with numerous stakeholders.” “It gets easier,” continues this social entrepreneur, “thanks to the efficiency of the teams and the wide support of different NGOs in the USA and Ukraine that carry out the different parts of the process, from the supply phase through transport and distribution in Ukraine.”

A few years after the idea was born, The Support Hospitals in Ukraine initiative had already delivered to Ukraine three 12-meter containers with various medical cargo valued in excess of 1.5 million U.S. dollars. These containers include badly needed surgical materials and other costly equipment such as X-ray machines and monitors. The fourth shipment will take place in late summer/early fall of 2017.

To keep those interested in the initiative, the team shares its news through its Facebook page, where they publish news about hospitals that receive their aid and the stories of people who have benefited from their activities. In addition to the social networks, the team takes part in conferences and give interviews to various news and public relations outlets to raise awareness of the goals, progress, and activities of their initiative. “Our team pays special attention to reporting on our progress and future plans, because most of the funds are provided by people who trust us,” says Vitaliy Dubil. In response to that confidence of their donors, they recount in great detail the activities and achievements of their project, and provide  feedback from the health care professionals in Ukraine who receive the humanitarian shipments. One of the major constraints the project faces in its operation is that “the crisis in Eastern Ukraine doesn’t get the attention of the news media.”

For the time being, the project is going forward as planned, on course to meet the project’s initial estimates of sending five shipments for a total value of 2 million U.S. dollars. “Nevertheless, our plans will depend on the situation in Eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, we don’t see any signs that the military conflict will end soon. Therefore it is highly possible that we will continue our work after delivering our next two shipments,” predicts Vitaliy Dubil.

Support from different Ukrainian state agencies is also of vital importance for the project. “Our team has received numerous awards in recognition of our work. Furthermore, we have the support of different state agencies, including the Presidential Administration of Ukraine and the Ministry for Social Policy, as well as local governments and associations in the regions where we provide our support,” says Dubil.

Although he already had experience in managing companies and complex projects before earning an Executive MBA at IE, Dubil is clear about what he gained from studying at the school: “It helped me structure my knowledge, broaden my abilities and acquire that entrepreneurial spirit IE is known for.”

It’s not hard for Dubil to combine his full-time job at the World Bank Group, where he works on donor reporting, with this humanitarian project. “When thousands of countrymen in the war zone are fighting to satisfy their basic needs –access to medical service, food, electricity, water, housing and safety for their families– theres no need for any extra motivation to spend most of your free time supporting these people in need, points out Vitaliy Dubil.