“Ukraine AirLIFT” Takes Off, Delivering Supplies to the War-Torn Country
The U.S.-Ukraine Foundation is responding to the immediate needs of Ukraine by initiating flights with supplies to nearby Poland. It is coordinating with several humanitarian relief organizations, and on the lookout for additional planes to help with the effort.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to unfold—the largest mobilization of forces in Europe since 1945—the DC-based U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (USUF) is activating Operation “Ukraine AirLIFT” to deliver much-needed medical supplies to the country, the group announced on Thursday.
The foundation received donations from around the world to fund an airplane to fly to Poland last week with supplies that will be trucked into Ukraine headed for a military hospital in Kyiv.
“Those of us who have been working on U.S. and Ukraine relations are so heartened by the response,” said USUF President Nadia McConnell. “It is so heartwarming, and it’s really making a difference, even in Ukraine. They sense that.”
The group has been working in Ukraine for over 30 years and is the oldest U.S. presence in the country, with an office in Kyiv, which supports the development of democracy, a free-market economy, and human rights in Ukraine.
When Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, USUF worked with hospitals and organizations to collect supplies and funding to send to the region in shipping containers. Now, with increased shipping costs and the immediate need from Ukraine, USUF shifted to the Ukraine AirLIFT to send over medical supplies by plane.
One of the many challenges is, civilian planes cannot fly into Ukraine, so they’re flying into Poland and coordinating with on-the-ground efforts to truck the supplies across the border into Ukraine. “This is all going to be very fluid,” McConnell said. “It’s a moving target.”
McConnell likens USUF’s Ukraine AirLIFT initiative to the Berlin Airlift during World War II when the United States and United Kingdom airlifted food and fuel to Berlin from Allied airbases in western Germany. She emphasized that a top priority for the group now is to find planes of any size that can fly to Poland to deliver supplies to Ukraine.
“We need to identify airplanes to go over, which is a unique need we haven’t dealt with previously,” she said.
USUF is working with several organizations, including the Ayfa Foundation, which rescues unused medical supplies, and Rotary International, which has a strong network in Ukraine and is focused on the refugee situation and finding funds to purchase food. “You have to determine the value of sending something versus trying to purchase it,” McConnell, who previously worked for FEMA, said. The group is also working with Caritas, a Catholic humanitarian relief organization.
In the past, the group was able to coordinate among organizations and groups in Ukraine and the U.S. to assess needs and match them to available supplies and make sure they were getting into the right places. “It’s a very important coordinating mechanism, but right now it feels like we’re building the airplane while we’re flying it,” McConnell said.