In her 14 years working as an advanced care paramedic in Regina, Jennifer Schwartz has witnessed trauma, violence and pain.
“I have seen a lot of human suffering,” she said Friday.
In her day to day, she’s able to help people, which is why watching the suffering in Ukraine — of families torn apart, of death — hits so close to home, despite being so far away.
“I had a visceral need to help these people,” said Schwartz.
Looking for something to do, outside of making posts or being glued to phones or screens watching the conflict unfold, Schwartz took it upon herself, after seeing a request for assistance from the Ukrainian Co-op, to co-ordinate support for Ukrainian first responders in the form of body armour, protective ballistic vests and helmets.
“I do feel helpless being over here and this was a small thing that we could do, to get together and help,” said Schwartz.
She and a co-worker, David Reed, got the ball rolling and have now received donations from all over the province.
Describing herself as being “very pregnant right now” Schwartz has used her time while working light duty to dive into the co-ordinating and donation of supplies.
Regina EMS, Regina Police Service (RPS), Saskatoon Police Service (SPS), Regina Fire and Protective Services, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the Estevan Police Service (EPS) have all donated body armour, helmets, flashlights, ear protection and other material.
Reed is a veteran, who did a tour in Croatia in 1993. He got in touch with Sgt. Rich Fraser with the RPS, also a veteran who did a tour in Bosnia in 2000, to loop in the RPS.
When Fraser was in Bosnia he saw the aftermath of war. He said at that time it was “winding down” but “I’ve seen what’s happened in those situations.”
“I wasn’t there for peak of the fighting by any means, but I saw just the overall destruction and having to work with the people that were living there,” he said.
Fraser said much of the equipment is technically expired, but in a war zone, any additional protection will go a long way.
SPS Deputy Chief Mitch Yuzdepski said 21 sets of Kevlar vests, 10 sets of panels and five ballistic helmets were donated.
“We can’t use these expired Kevlar vests and typically we destroy them,” said Yuzdepski. “I’m confident that Kevlar provides a level of protection for several years beyond the expiration date.”
Yuzdepski said his connection to the conflict comes by way of his family, a heritage shared by many in Saskatchewan who trace their roots back to Ukraine.
For Fraser, his connection to the country goes back to 2015, when he took part in a joint training program in Lviv through the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program to mentor and train police officers in post-Maidan Uprising in Ukraine.
“I’ve stayed in contact with a few of the gentlemen that I became friends with over there,” said Fraser. “It’s almost like having skin in the game, but I’m not there.”
As the conflict dragged on, it became apparent that police and EMS needed added protection. “Not all officers had body armour, so they asked if we could send some while this invasion was going on,” said Fraser.
An old army friend of Fraser’s has been providing support from Poland, co-ordinating where the supplies will go once the shipment arrives in the country. He knows that in an active war zone there’s no guarantee that things will get where they are intended, as groups can intercept the shipments.
Right now, the first shipment is held up in Toronto. More equipment has been gathered but before they send anything else, Fraser wants to make sure the first batch makes it into the country. He suspects that International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) might be partly responsible for the hold-up, given that body armour is regulated and falls under ITAR.
“We have 42 vests there and 16 helmets,” on the ground in Toronto, said Fraser. In Regina, there are eight boxes packed and several additional sets of armour that need to be packaged.
Schwartz said she hopes this will be an ongoing project, donating aid to Ukraine, while Fraser wanted to underscore that even if attentions have wandered off from what’s happening in Ukraine, the fighting is still happening.
“It’s still on, it’s still dragging out. Everything starts with a big load of attention, donations, and now it’s tapering off,” he said.
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