Direct Relief readies a shipment of medical supplies to Ukraine. | Credit: Lara Cooper/Direct Relief

Thirteen pallets of urgently needed medical and other supplies started their journey from Direct Relief in Santa Barbara to Ukraine on Friday. They contained critical contents like insulin, which a person with type 1 diabetes can live without for just over a week. Further complicating delivery into a war zone was the necessity to hold insulin at a controlled cold temperature.

The supplies are currently being flown into Poland and taken across the border by the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, said Tony Morain, spokesperson for Direct Relief. He said they’d received confirmation the first shipment Direct Relief had sent last week arrived safely with no interceptions or incidents. He added that they’ve been asked not to disclose cities to which the supplies are being sent.

Other needed supplies were oxygen concentrators, which Direct Relief purchased in the Netherlands and is sending to Ukraine. Critically ill COVID-19 patients can require oxygen concentrators, and Eli Lilly and Co. and Merck have donated supplies of their COVID-19 medicines, as well. Coronavirus and cancer patients are among those most vulnerable to the disruption of supplies. Medical agencies are also concerned about another outbreak of measles — the Russian-Ukraine conflict in 2014 led to the largest measles outbreak in Europe in many years — as vaccination rates for measles, polio, and COVID-19 are far below herd immunity targets in Ukraine.

In the first week after the invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces were known to have made 24 strikes against six hospitals, including with outlawed cluster munitions in Vuhledar, Donetsk. A children’s hospital in Kyiv and two maternity hospitals — in Kharkiv and Mariupol — were also hit. Attacks were also reported on medical workers and ambulances, Direct Relief reported. The nonprofit is also shipping medical backpacks that contain supplies like sutures and combat-application tourniquets.

More than a million Ukrainians have fled the country, and Direct Relief’s partners in Europe say coordination last week was dependent on volunteers picking them up and taking them to communities offering to shelter them.

Another aspect of the war that concerns world agencies is food. Many Ukrainians are cut off from regular supplies of food and other necessities. When it comes to exports, along with Russia, the country supplies Egypt with 85 percent of its wheat, according to the Middle East Institute, as well as 72 percent of its sunflower seed oil, a staple of Egyptian cooking.

Direct Relief delivered support to Ukraine long before the war with Russia began at the end of February, about $27 million in medical aid in the past six months. The pace of shipments of medical supplies is stepping up, Direct Relief reported, with many medicines and supplies donated by manufacturers as the nonprofit organizes flights and coordinates deliveries with its established partners in Ukraine.

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