Campervan racing to save lives in Ukraine

Dnipro, Ukraine - Mar 12, 2022 railway station, refugees

Refugees at Dnipro railway station on March 12 - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Taking urgently-needed medical supplies directly to a regional hospital in Ukraine, a Hitchin charity is helping save lives in the war-torn country, writes Richard Young

'They are driving in a campervan full of medical supplies in a war zone. They have been sleeping on the wards in the hospital and when there is an air raid siren they are going in pitch black down into the bunkers with the doctors and nurses.' 

This is what is facing two charity workers repeatedly racing 180km into Ukraine to deliver desperately needed medical supplies to courageous medical teams facing a huge volume of injured, sick and traumatised people fleeing bombed out towns and villages in the country. 

I'm speaking to Jo Wearne, UK director of Hitchin-based Humanitas. She is on her own in the small office in the heart of the town, the rest of the five-strong team are on the Ukrainian border packing medical supplies and assisting medical director Dr Ramiz Momeni and charity co-founder, Harpenden's Sarah Wade, who have been making the runs in a 4x4 and campervan to an undisclosed regional hospital in the south of the country. From here, supplies are also being sent on by train to Kyiv and other cities in need. 

LVIV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 28, 2022 - A woman holds a baby at the Lviv railway station as refu

A mother holds her baby at Lviv railway station as refugees flee hostilities - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

'Hundreds of injured civilians are being taken to the hospitals every day,' Jo says, victims of the relentless aerial bombardment by Russian forces on civilian targets. 

The charity's work running homes for orphaned and abandoned children in Romania, where Dr Momeni is based, meant the team was able to react quickly to the crisis. 'We were there anyway in a neighbouring country so we thought we just have to do something,' says Jo. Rather than the expense of transporting supplies from the UK, Dr Momeni is able to buy medical supplies in bulk in Romania. The charity has a shopping list, directly from the hospital, of 176 different medicines and medical items.

'The town we are travelling to is now home to 150,000 displaced people who have been forced to leave their bombed towns and cities,' explains Sarah from the Ukranian border, just before leaving for another delivery. 'The population of the town has doubled and they are under pressure every day from the constant sound of air raid sirens. The town is preparing for the fighting to reach them but they are also a centre for the distribution of aid to other towns and cities.'

Humanitas, set up 21 years ago to give some of the world's most vulnerable children access to education, healthcare and a home, has also operated crisis missions – working with refugees in Greece fleeing civil war in Syria and and in the Balukhali camp in Bangladesh for persecuted Rohingya – but it has never been into a war zone before. What did Sarah, 40, feel crossing into, literally, unknown territory? 

'Our first journey into Ukraine was the most difficult as we didn't know what to expect. We didn't know the conditions of the roads or what it would be like trying to get through the checkpoints. Since then we have a better knowledge of what we need to do and the best roads to travel on, but everything is changing so quickly and each journey that we take involves more checkpoints and more military presence.'

2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine bombed building destroyed war refugees. Rocket bomb attack

Residents gather what belongings they can in the aftermath of a rocket attack on a residential block - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

The pair have bulletproof vests, walkie-talkies and are tracked by a professional security team. Jo says the team has not seen any other aid agencies in Ukraine and 'most of the donated supplies' are building up in warehouses on the border and are not making it into the country.

'There are warehouses on the Ukraine border where charities are putting stuff for hospitals to collect. But most of the supplies are not what the hospitals need. It’s just too too dangerous for the hospitals to come out. We are being told exactly what supplies are needed and taking them there.' 

Sarah says the team has 'been absolutely overwhelmed by the response we have received to our Ukraine appeal and we would not be able to do what we are doing if it wasn't for the generosity of people living here.' But there is so much more to do, she adds. Those arriving from the devastation elsewhere ‘have nothing but the carrier bags and rucksacks they arrived with’ and are living in schools, churches and community centres where conditions are ‘utterly desperate’. 

Humanitas medical director Ramiz Momeni and charity CEO Sarah Wade prepare to head into Ukraine with supplies

Humanitas medical director Dr Ramiz Momeni and charity CEO Sarah Wade prepare to head into Ukraine with supplies - Credit: Humanitas

'Despite the selfless humanitarian efforts of the people living in the city, the families – mostly women, the elderly, and children – do not have bedding, cooking equipment, warm clothing or enough food, and we are determined to return with these supplies on our next missions.' 

To help the terrorised people of Ukraine through the work of Humanitas, go to