At a warehouse in Sydney’s Castle Hill, volunteers are packing medical aid onto pallets, for shipment to Ukraine. This week alone, 45,000 items are leaving Sydney for the journey to London and then by road to battlegrounds in Ukraine’s east.
“It is everything from bandages to body bags,” says Keith Roffey, a retired businessman who is now managing Rotary Australia’s Medishare campaign.
“We are sending tourniquets, bandages, plasters and catheters – all items needed for immediate medical aid.
“Some of it goes to the frontline workers, the rest is distributed to hospitals throughout Ukraine.”
Rotary’s Keith Roffey with donated medial aid. Credit: Supplied Rotary Australia
Mr Roffey estimates Rotary Australia has shipped up to $20 million worth of Australian medical aid so far and says demand has spiked again this week.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently accused Russian forces in the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson of engaging in mass theft of medical equipment and ambulances in a bid to make the area uninhabitable.
“This is a humanitarian issue, this is a human tragedy,” Mr Roffey says.
“The consumables come from suppliers here in Australia, including medical institutions such as private hospitals and public hospitals.
“And they are donating items that may be close to their use by date, with perhaps six to 12 months to go.
Rotary Australia partners with the Ukraine Crisis Appeal and is part of Rotary International, a not-for-profit organization that supports a range of charities. Rotary was founded in 1905 by a lawyer in Chicago, USA.
“I am enormously proud of what we are doing here,” says Mr Roffey.
“I am proud for the people that work with me, I am proud for our country. I’m enormously proud of the Ukrainian community who have initiated this.”
While Rotarians are packing and sorting medical supplies the aid effort is co-ordinated by Dr Liz Paslawsky, Chair of the International Coordination for Medical Aid for Ukraine, a sub-committee of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations (AFUO).
The daughter of Ukrainian migrants, Dr Paslawsky runs the relief effort from her home on the Illawarra coast, about 90 minutes south of Sydney.
Dr Liz Paslawsky is co-ordinating medical aid for Ukraine. Credit: Liz Paslawsky
“Rotary has been a partner in this relief effort every step of the way, sorting goods and purchasing medical supplies,” she says.
It’s not just medical aid being sent to Ukraine. The Australian government recently announced an additional 30 bushmaster protected mobility vehicles will be sent to Ukraine’s front line, a total of 90 vehicles so far.
And Australian-developed technology is in demand from international donors, to defend against other threats in the warzone.
Australian demining equipment is being sent to Ukraine. Credit: Minelab
Adelaide company Minelab is helping to demine large areas of Ukraine, by shipping military grade mine detectors to European donors who then send them to the frontline.
“The Ukrainian government estimates that 160,000 square kilometers of the country is contaminated by land mines, putting around five million people at risk,” says Hugh Graham, general manager of Minelab’s countermine division.
“Our landmine detectors are designed to find landmines, improvised explosive devices and other explosive remnants of war. We use a combination of metal detectors and ground penetrating radar, which can find non-metal targets as well as more conventional landmines.”
Mr Graham is an engineer who retired from the Australian military in 1999 and has seen first-hand the impact of land mines on both soldiers and civilians.
“A landmine is an abhorrent and evil device, and its only purpose is to anonymously kill and maim people. It does not discriminate between combatants and civilians.
“The injuries [caused by landmines] can range from losing a foot to a lower limb or both limbs. Injuries can affect the arms and lead to blindness as well.”
After Russian forces withdrew from parts of Kherson, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces were working to stabilize the city, and warned that Russian troops had left the region littered with mines and booby traps.
Worldwide, it is estimated that up to 110-million land mines remain in the ground.
An international Mine Ban Treaty was signed in September 1997, as a framework for comprehensively eradicating landmines.
The 164 signatories have since destroyed more than 55 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines, including more than 100,000 devices during 2020.
Ukraine has signed the treaty, Russia has not.
Mr Graham says since 1997, progress has been made removing millions of mines worldwide, opening up vast areas for farming and grazing. However, Ukraine has become one of the new landmine hotspots.
“Every conflict is a backwards step and we’re seeing that in Ukraine right now,” Mr Graham says.
“There were 7,100 casualties reported from landmines in 2020. We don’t have the results for 2021 and 2022 yet, but I’m very much expecting that they will be increased due to the conflict in Ukraine.”
Mr Graham is a recipient of one of
Cambodia’s most prestigious civil honors for his personal commitment to reducing the number of ‘live’ landmines in the country.
DroneShield CEO Oleg Vornik holding a counter drone device. Credit: SBS / Sandra Fulloon
Australian developed counter-drone technology is also helping to reduce the loss of life on Ukraine’s front lines.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using the Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone since mid-September. Iran recently acknowledged for the first time that it had supplied Moscow with drones but said they were sent before the war in Ukraine.
Drones are a remote weapon of choice, and are cost-effective at about $20,000 dollars each, compared with millions of dollars per unit for more traditional drones.
DroneShield is an Australian company supplying counter-drone technology to Ukraine, and to the Australian military and the American Department of Defence.
CEO Oleg Vornik, who was born in Russia and fled with his family as a child, is proud to support Ukraine’s war effort by helping to establish a ‘dome of protection’ against drone attacks.
“We have different approaches from body worn and a hand-held solutions all the way to fixed site solutions, that can sit on the top of a building or another potential installation, then provide a bubble of detection.
“And then when the system senses there is a drone or multiple drones, like a swarm coming, it activates electronic counter measures to defeat it.”
Mr Vornik says the threat from kamikazi drones is escalating. These devices carry warheads and are able to fly hundreds of kilometers before smashing against targets, either civilian or military installations.
“These are one-way drones. They carry explosives inside of them, and so they create a lot of damage. Basically, it is an airborne traveling grenade,” he says.
Mr Vornik says Australian technology is playing a key role in Ukraine’s war effort, with DroneShield among several Australian companies meeting rising demand from European donor nations.
“We have hundreds of units built, and ready to go,” he says.
“We are bulking up in our inventory and ready to send significant numbers of counter drone devices when required and when the budget becomes available through the military aid programs.”