Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a News-Press series on efforts to help Ukraine.
Direct Relief’s efforts in Ukraine have become the Goleta-based nonprofit’s largest project in its 75-year history.
“What we’ve done in a year in Ukraine is more than we’ve done globally in some years,” said Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief’s president and CEO.
“Over the last 12 months, we’ve spent over $45 million,” Mr. Tighe told the News-Press last week, just before the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion. “We didn’t anticipate having or needing to spend that a year ago. But the response has been so positive (from donors). We’ve received contributions from people in 80 countries.”
Direct Relief supplies medications and healthcare equipment and works to meet other healthcare needs in areas hit by disasters around the world, including in the U.S. The nonprofit also helps areas hit by wars such as Ukraine.
Direct Relief started its work in Ukraine after Russia annexed the nation’s Crimea region in 2014.
Mr. Tighe said Direct Relief’s eight years of experience before Russia started its invasion in 2022 prepared the nonprofit to assist the nation. “That made it much easier to expand what we were doing.”
He said Direct Relief maintains a warehouse in the Netherlands, where it can fill an order in a day or two, then truck it through Europe and ultimately into Ukraine.
“We can receive donations from European healthcare companies, consolidate them in the Netherlands and have a large inventory there for people to order from in Ukraine,” Mr. Tighe said.
He said Direct Relief provides Ukrainians with medications for chronic conditions such as hypertension and insulin for diabetics.
Direct Relief also provides chemotherapy medications, antibiotics, vitamins and more.
Many of the supplies come from Direct Relief’s warehouse in Goleta, where FedX picks them up in its truck and transports them to Los Angeles International Airport for flights to Europe.
“FedX picks up here every day,” Mr. Tighe said.
He added that Direct Relief also provides money directly to help with health needs.
He cited an example.
Ukrainian refugees in Poland are entitled to Polish health insurance programs, but the refugees are required to pay two-thirds of the cost, Mr. Tighe said.
That’s where Direct Relief stepped in, with a $15 million grant to Poland to cover the refugees’ co-payment.
Another example is Direct Relief’s $50,000 grant to Joint Guardian, an international nonprofit made up of firefighters. The grant helped the nonprofit to transport first responders to Ukraine and purchase needed equipment.
Mr. Tighe said Direct Relief also took care of getting mobile field hospitals, provided by the state of California, into Ukraine. “They’re kind of a like M*A*S*H unit.”
The field hospitals were transported on a FedX charter flight to Warsaw, then taken by truck into Ukraine.
As part of Direct Relief’s efforts, Mr. Tighe visited Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, in August.
“It was a time of relative calm, and I was meeting with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that Direct Relief has been supporting,” he said.
Mr. Tighe returned to Ukraine in December to sign papers and announce Direct Relief’s $1 million grant to Unbroken, a nonprofit working to provide rehabilitation to wounded civilians and soldiers in Ukraine. He met with Unbroken at its National Rehabilitation Center in Lviv.
‘We’re going to sponsor a conference on rehabilitation at the facility in April,” Mr. Tighe said, estimating the event would cost Direct Relief an additional half million dollars. “We’re helping to bring in international experts to assist this whole new group of people who sustained serious injuries and need rehabilitation services, from prosthetics to occupational therapy, speech therapy and care for traumatic brain injury.”
The Direct Relief CEO noted that rehabilitation is a long-term need for those hit hard by the Russian invasion.
“When you see a child who has lost three of their limbs, that child will need help for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Tighe said.
He said Ukraine lacks enough professionals to deal with rehabilitation issues. “That’s why we’re trying to bring in financial support and international expertise, to get the physical plant improved, so they can care for more people and fund some of the training to train a new class of occupational and physical therapists under the broad umbrella of rehabilitation.”