Driving an Ambulance to Kyiv
Two brave Canadians, Divine Providence, and the critical need medical supplies and equipment for first-responders in Ukraine
Normally, Jeff Burko lives in Vancouver running his company which trains paramedics and other first responders. But when we met, Jeff was on his way to deliver an ambulance and medical supplies to Kyiv.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Jeff looked for ways to help. He quickly learned that emergency medical supplies were running low. Most of us would have looked for a place to click and donate. Maybe share an article.
But that is not Jeff, whose nature is to respond directly in times of crisis. A click wasn’t going to be enough. The mitzvah was to help get them supplies, so that is what he set out to do — personally. Jeff started fundraising and doing logistics to deliver ambulances and medical supplies to Ukraine, especially battlefield emergency dressings, sutures and field tourniquets. His son Max, a junior paramedic, soon joined the effort.
Traveller’s Prayer, Tefilat HaDerech
I met Jeff and Max by Divine Providence in Lublin where they had stopped for the night at the hotel where we were hosting Passover programs for refugees. We shared matzah and some canned gefilte fish, which we both decided was not as good as homemade, and they told me about their incredible, live-saving mission.
Through their first responder network, they had connected with medical suppliers in Europe and first responders in Kyiv, set up a GoFundMe, purchased an ambulance, and even arranged for first-aid supplies to be brought to near the border for them to pick up. They were now in the process of delivering the used French ambulance with balding rear tires to the first responders in Kyiv, after a stop to pick up the supplies in Chełm.
They were understandably nervous to drive across Ukraine from Poland. Jonathan texted me, “Jeff wants to know if you could you bless the ambulance before they leave in the morning.”
“Yes, see you in the AM,” I texted back.
I called up my friend Yossi in LA who is a former paramedic to see if he had a prayer handy for an ambulance. We came up with some ideas, but ultimately decided that it was Jeff and Max who needed the prayers.
A few hours later, together with Max, Jeff, and our mission parter Jonathan Gerber, we read Psalms and led them in the recitation of the travelers prayer (click to watch the video). We also had them recite Rambam’s famous ancient prayer for those in the medical profession.
A few hours later we rendezvoused with them in Chełm, just as they were loading the ambulance to the ceiling with boxes of supplies which had been driven overnight from the UK.
The supplies had arrived in vans provided by British schools near Oxford where Rachel and I had met.
Getting an ambulance full of medical supplies across the border is not simple. Every car is searched as the Ukrainians are concerned about Russian saboteurs sneaking bombs into the country via Poland. The line to cross can take thirty hours, but thanks to some of their contacts, Jeff and Max’s wait time was only four hours.
They drove into Ukraine, shut off their cell phones, and we prayed for good news.
More Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence
After a week in Lublin we traveled to Krakow to see the work being done there for refugees by the JCC, Galicia Jewish Museum, The Krakow Jewish Community, Chabad and others. We had just stepped out of our building in the Old City, on our way to the final Passover meal, called the Moshiach or Baal Shem Tov Meal.
To our joy and awe, walking down the street towards us were Jeff and Max. Another dose of Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. They had just arrived in Krakow by train from Kyiv.
We ran up to one another and embraced. Jeff and I could not let go. I was so grateful they were alive and well. It was incredible that they made it there and returned unscathed. They had just returned from Kyiv by train. They were in once piece. Rachel noticed that our meeting spot was right in front of Smak Ukrainski, a Ukrainian restaurant, and across from a former synagogue.
There, on the cobblestone street in the Old City of Krakow with a light mist falling, they told us about the entire journey. “We had originally decided to divide up the drive, but ended up making a go in one shot,” said Jeff. “It took nineteen hours,” passing multiple army checkpoints, bombed out roads and bridges, and “we didn’t get a flat.” It was a miraculous and dangerous trip. And they got the ambulance and medical supplies delivered. We were late to our meal, but we felt that Moshaich would understand.
More Supplies and Ambulances are Needed
With Russia continuing to bombard Ukrainian cities, the supplies they have in Ukraine are insufficient. And Russians are shooting at ambulances. Jeff’s goal now is to deliver armored emergency vehicles and medical supplies. “We met first responders who showed us photos of ambulances that had gone to retrieve the injured in conflict areas, that had come under serious fire,” Jeff told me. “Medics were injured and killed.”
I am in a unique position to purchase the first aid supplies at wholesale pricing as I operate a medical training (PEAK Emergency Response Training) company based in Delta BC. If enough funds are raised I would return to Ukraine (I am currently close to the Polish/Ukraine border) and once again ensure that the supplies are delivered directly to those that need them. Any amount would make a difference.
Please help by donating and sharing this post and GoFundMe campaign, so that more lives in Ukraine can be saved.
Video: Blessing the Ambulance Drivers