Dr Helen Ashdown appeared on BBC South this week to discuss her work sourcing emergency medical supplies for doctors on the frontline in Ukraine.

Speaking on the evening news, Dr Ashdown explained how it all began with a conversation in the school playground between Helen and another mum, Iryna Dyachenko. Together, they had been conducting general fundraising for Ukraine through the local school community. But Iryna, whose family are still in Ukraine, was aware of the desperate need for medical supplies.

Helen started by making an appeal for general medical supplies to all the Oxford colleges via Somerville’s Treasurer, Andrew Parker, as well as GP surgeries in Oxford. The response was overwhelming, and the first two consignments were promptly despatched, with the transport and logistics costs covered by a crowd-funder.

As the fighting continued, word came through from Iryna’s family that the doctors urgently needed surgical equipment for trauma surgery such as fractures caused by gunshot wounds. Many operating theatres were being forced to improvise for supplies, even using household drills for surgical procedures.

Helen swung into action, contacting all the orthopaedic and trauma specialists she knew locally and sending out enquiries up and down the country. Regulatory hurdles had to be navigated, new knowledge had to be acquired and more funding was required. Helen partnered with British Ukrainian Aid and the Ukrainian Medical Association, which made it easier to approach medical supply companies and ask them to donate specific items.

What makes this special is that, because of the connection with Iryna’s family, we can respond to very specific requests, go to donors for those particular items, and see it on the ground in Ukraine a short time later. 

DR HELEN ASHDOWN

However, it is undoubtedly the intimate, homegrown nature of this operation that has made it so impactful – with the Somerville community contributing an important role. Through Iryna’s family, Ukrainian doctors have been able to share their need for supplies with Helen. Members of our Ukrainian community at Somerville, including our Fellow in Economics Dr Margaryta Klymak, have subsequently translated these requests, and Helen has then gone out to the medical suppliers with these highly specific requests.

Once the equipment comes in, Helen has been storing them in our Principal’s garage, assisted by students staying on over the Vacation. To prepare the consignments, Helen has been helped by several first year medics (as well as the ever-heroic Lizzie, Helen’s daughter!).

Among the equipment recently sent to Ukraine are pulse lavage systems to treat gunshot wounds, as well as a diathermy machine to stop bleeding. The most recent shipment took two days to reach the Polish-Ukrainian border, and was being distributed in Ukraine the following day. Within a week, Helen was receiving pictures and videos of the equipment being used to save lives, improve outcomes and boost recovery times.

Speaking about the project, Dr Helen Ashdown said, “Normally with humanitarian aid, you don’t have that personal connection. What makes this special is that, because of the connection with Iryna’s family, we can respond to very specific requests, go to donors for those particular items, and see it on the ground in Ukraine a short time later – which makes all the effort we’re making so absolutely worth it.”

To support Dr Helen Ashdown and her team of helpers here at Somerville in reaching their £20k fundraising target, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/medicalequipmentukraine

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Further reading?

Spotlight on Somerville 4: Defending Ukraine’s Universities, Protecting the Pound and More

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28 September 2022
Spotlight on Somerville 4: Defending Ukraine’s Universities, Protecting the Pound and More

Joyce Reynolds

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23 September 2022
Joyce Reynolds

The Long Read: An Interview with Professor Iyiola Solanke

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22 September 2022
The Long Read: An Interview with Professor Iyiola Solanke