Disclaimer: This article is the first part of a four-part series. This series will discuss sensitive matters pertaining to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
As the bombs began to fall on Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, one Kenora paramedic felt an overwhelming need to help.
The tension between Ukraine and Russia had been building for decades but it was in the early months of 2022 that the world watched as the conflict reached a boiling point. Missile and artillery attacks from the Russians began to rain down on the populations of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, as the people watched in horror.
The invasion left the world feeling hopeless as we watched lives be forever altered.
Jordan Searle, a paramedic with Ornge Air Ambulance in Kenora, was watching the situation unfold before his eyes through social media when he felt an overwhelming need to help.
“I was working a night shift here in Kenora on the air ambulance (Ornge) and we were watching the initial phases of the invasion happen – watching it live and I was just amazed that this was even happening,” he explained.
Searle, originally from Britain, had spent years of his life working in the British Military with time spent in Afghanistan before coming to Canada in 2017 to work as a tactical paramedic in the Toronto region. He has worked in Kenora on the Ornge helicopter for the past three years.
With his ample experience in conflict zones and a desire to do something, Searle contacted some of his friends from his time in the war and they began to plan their objectives.
“I got together with a couple of friends of mine [from the military] through some social media apps and pretty much everyone was in the same sort of boat. We were pretty amazed that this was all unfolding in front of us. So, we decided to get together and see what we could do to help.”
Within days of the original idea, Searle and his team had come from around the world to meet in the UK.
Searle had made contact with a connection in the UK who was instrumental in getting supplies, “an old employer of mine, a good friend that I started my ambulance career with, was now running a divisional part of the ambulance service in Bristol. He was very helpful, he helped organize vehicles and equipment and he made sure that everything was serviced and correctly done.”
The team was also able to get in contact with a volunteer ambulance detachment that is part of Ukraine's civil defence network. The group operates to the same standards as the government-run ambulance programs and works to help sort the backlog of patients, similar to the St. Johns ambulance group in Canada. The ambulance group was able to point Searle’s team in the correct direction.
Searle and his team then prepared to head toward the conflict zone. After reaching out to multiple friends, former employers and organizations, he was able to source four donated, working, completely stocked ambulances that he, along with his friends, would be able to drive across Europe to the Ukraine-Poland border.
Once reaching the border of Ukraine, Searle said the plan was to just drop the stuff and go back home but that didn’t happen. Once they got there, the team saw absolute chaos. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), supplies and fleeing refugees had been bottle-necked at the border.
“There were a lot of NGOs and aid charities working on the border but none of them were willing to come into the country, for obvious reasons – a lot of these charities have policies that say they are not allowed to go into an active combat zone.”
“It was incredibly infuriating to see that everything these people needed for day-to-day living and for emergency care was stuck [at the border] because the NGOs wouldn’t release it.”
“So, for me, it was very frustrating because we were not an NGO group, we were just a bunch of motivated guys that pulled a lot of strings to create a unit and [gather] resources of what they needed on the ground so that we could bring it directly to them.”
Searle did add a disclaimer that he would not recommend civilians go and do what he did because more often than not, un-trained civilians can become a hindrance if not a danger in situations like these.
Searle’s team realized that there was more to be done, that was when they were approached by the Ukrainian government who asked them to enter the Kyiv active conflict zone and help with the wounded.
Watch for part two of this story which will be released tomorrow, May 26, at 5:00 AM (CDT) or you can listen to the full interview with Jordan Searle HERE: