Ukraine aid worker: ‘It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made’
A Bermudian who recently moved to Ukraine to carry out humanitarian work is applying for a one-year residency to continue his efforts in the war-torn country.
Jason Rhind, a former Royal Bermuda Regiment soldier, originally planned to stay for three months working with US-based aid group Task Force Yankee: Ukraine transporting and distributing essential medical supplies.
The organisation has just gained charitable status and Mr Rhind has been so impressed with the work they are doing he has decided to apply to extend his stay.
“We are still a very small organisation but a growing organisation,” he said. “We just recently received status as an official non-profit/charity organisation which will help those of us who want to apply for a one-year residency — I plan to apply for it so that I can have the option of staying more than three months.
“All in all, I love it out here. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, without a doubt.”
After leaving Bermuda on Friday, May 13, as reported in The Royal Gazette, Mr Rhind, 36, arrived at a safe house in Poland on the Saturday morning before crossing the border the following day. He said the first few days of the trip were “challenging” as he adjusted to all the changes.
“It felt overwhelming and I had to tell myself to stop thinking at times. A new country, not really knowing anyone ahead of time, a different language and alphabet, being jet lagged and overtired, periodic air-raid sirens — it was a lot of change all at once. I was very much out of my comfort zone.”
After an unnerving experience at the border where his bags were searched owing to a misunderstanding, he was able to head to a location in the western city of Lviv.
They then moved to a second location in Lviv where the group built beds out of plywood to sleep on as well as shelves to house supplies in a nearby warehouse.
During that time they received about 6,000 Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKS), many of which had to be manually assembled. Much to their dismay, they realised that some of the pre-packed kits were missing parts.
Mr Rhind said: “The missing components included Israeli bandages, tourniquets and other crucial parts — parts that literally mean the difference between someone living or dying.
“That meant unpacking every single one and repacking them. It was tedious but the alternative is that people will die that don’t have to. That is still a work in progress.
“A few days ago we had about 20 Ukrainians come to the warehouse and they worked with us all day helping to unpack and then repack IFAKs.
“From what I have seen, the country is incredibly united in wanting to do whatever they can to help support the military as well as their fellow citizens who have had to flee their homes.”
Mr Rhind said his military experience has paid off so far and he has already taken on leadership roles.
On Wednesday, 20 Ukrainian volunteers, as well as about 15 other international volunteers, joined the group to help.
“I was tasked with leading and overseeing it,” he said. “We had three assembly lines working to unpack/repack IFAKs. During this time we also had partner organisations coming by to pick up quite a bit of their kit and we were getting kit and supplies ready that were going out the next morning in a four-vehicle convoy. It was very busy and at times somewhat chaotic.
“I was taught both in the Royal Bermuda Regiment and with Raleigh Bermuda, that leadership isn’t about telling people what to do. It’s about role modelling the behaviour you want from others and setting a standard. And so that’s what I’ve tried to do.
“I’ve started helping to organise and manage some of the daily tasks — partly just from me taking the initiative to make things happen but also at times I’ve been tasked with managing and overseeing things.”
On Thursday, Mr Rhind and seven volunteers set out from Lviv heading east to drop off crucial supplies in Dnipro — an area that had experienced considerable shelling. The supplies included surgical equipment for doctors to perform life-saving surgeries in the field as they don’t have a secure location to do so.
Mr Rhind said: “This is equipment that will allow them to perform surgery that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”
Mr Rhind, who has volunteered in the past with Raleigh Bermuda, Raleigh International Outward Bound and the Spirit of Bermuda, and has participated in the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Expedition, said the crucial work he is carrying out in Ukraine has confirmed his decision to stay as well as the bonds he is forming.
He added: “The close bonds you form with people you’re living and working with is what I love. The bonds formed in those organisations are the most meaningful and enduring friendships I have. Those have been the happiest times of my life.”
He encouraged people to donate to Task Force Yankee: Ukraine, adding: “If people donate to TFY you’ll know exactly where your money is going, what supplies you’re helping to provide, and where those supplies are delivered to.”
Anyone wishing to donate can get details by messaging him on Facebook or e-mailing Mr Rhind on email@example.com