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Drivers in Ukraine Brave Bombs To Deliver Aid

Last-mile deliveries require courage from drivers entering conflict areas of Ukraine. "We understand that we are the only ones who can do this for our country," one driver says.


Ukraine Relief

An aid delivery being made by the organization AICM in Ukraine. Deliveries of medical aid into conflict areas of Ukraine have been pivotal to supporting the health system during the war. (Photo courtesy of AICM)

Nazar Chorniy knew he had enough fuel to drive his semi-trailer truck carrying humanitarian aid to its destination – an eastern Ukraine city in the midst of an active battle – but did not know if he would be able to find enough fuel to get back home, or if he would be stuck for an indeterminate amount of time.  

Air raid sirens blared overhead. Chorniy, 29, drove to a nearby bomb shelter and waited as Russian shells and missiles exploded as close as one kilometer away from him, shaking the ground under his feet.  

“The air raid alarms are frightening because you don’t know if you will see your children after the alert,” Chorniy said in a translated phone interview with Direct Relief.  

“It’s very true there is always fear, especially when the bombs fall, but understanding why you do it is the reason how you can do it,” he said, referring to his aid shipment deliveries to Ukrainian cities under direct attack. 

“We do this for good, we do this for a very positive reason,” he said.  

Chorniy is one of the many Ukrainian drivers who have been transporting life-sustaining medications and medical supplies from distribution warehouses in neighboring countries and the calmer regions of Ukraine to areas that are under direct, and at times constant, fire. With them, it is unlikely that such aid would arrive at those locations, especially given the interruptions to other forms of transport and the restrictions on movement faced by residents, health care providers, and others in the war zone.   

Though not something he anticipated when he started the job about two and a half years ago, Chorniy said he did not consider fleeing or switching his line of work in the wake of the Russian invasion— despite the fear he felt.  

A field hospital kit donated by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and transported by Direct Relief arrives safely in Ukraine and is received by Zhytomyr Humanitarian Hub. Last-mile deliveries like these have been essential to the humanitarian response in Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Zhytomyr Humanitarian Hub)

“In principle, just as any person, I had fear because [one of the world’s] biggest armies is attacking. The first two days, this fear was intense, but to see how our soldiers worked… this fearsome army wasn’t as frightening as it seemed,” he said.

Currently, Chorniy is making at least two delivery runs per week, each one covering about 800 to 900 kilometers (approximately 500-560 miles) per trip. Each roundtrip can take up to four days, he said, assuming there is sufficient availability of fuel, which remains in short supply.  

He said his medical deliveries have gone to volunteer receiving locations, which accept the packages, break them down, and redistribute them to small towns and areas that most need it, with a particular focus on those areas without electricity, adequate supplies of water and food, and with children and elderly populations that were either unwilling or unable to leave.  

A representative from a logistics company Chorniy works with, Geis Group, said Chorniy is one of about 30 drivers they are working with to maintain the highest tempo of deliveries possible. Radiant Logistics, a freight forwarder that contracted Geis, said they have shifted their operations to allow for more volume.  

“Any aid disaster program is normally 24/7, that’s just the life we live, that’s the expectations we set for ourselves. If it’s not 24/7, you lose a lot of time,” said Wiley Knight, director of humanitarian aid for Radiant. For humanitarian aid shipments, the EU lifted regulations that prohibit truck drivers from deliveries on Sunday, which Knight said helped “a lot.” 

Though the pace has been intense and has included a substantial amount of danger in some of the hardest-hit areas of Ukraine, Chorniy said that the images that have stuck with him are far from the battlefield. They are from the war’s early days when he volunteered to load trains with humanitarian aid and help refugees, especially women and children, get out of harm’s way. 

“It was pretty scary. We could see the look on their faces. We were fortunate to not have seen what they’ve seen,” he said. 

Noting that the support of the West has been, “instrumental and something we can’t do without,” Chorniy said he and his colleagues realize that they are fulfilling a critical role that few others would be willing to do.  

“We don’t want war, but we don’t have the ability to make this decision. We were forced to do what we did before (as drivers), but we have to adjust to new circumstances,” Chorniy said.  

“We understand that we are the only ones who can do this for our country,” he said.   

Interview co-conducted and translated by Sam Tkachuk. 

Direct Relief has sent over 800 tons of humanitarian aid and $15 million in cash grants to help address the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, working with dozens of nonprofit partners as well industry-leading firms including Radiant Logistics and Geis Group.

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