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An 18-hour drive in Ukraine that a Tsawwassen paramedic will never forget

Jeff Burko is planning for a third trip into the war-ravaged country after bringing his expertise and much-needed medical supplies through community donations.
Jeff Burko Ukraine
Veteran Tsawwassen paramedic Jeff Burko, right, and his son Maximilian, left, also a paramedic, made the 18-hour trek from Lublin (Poland) to Kyviv, driving an older ambulance with no military support.

A veteran paramedic from Tsawwassen has brought his expertise along with much-needed medical supplies to Ukraine and he is far from done yet.

Calling from an “undisclosed location” in Europe, Jeff Burko told the Optimist he is now planning for his third trip into the war-ravaged country after delivering $30,000 worth of medical equipment, including more than 800 tourniquets, 2,200 Israeli combat pressure dressings and airway management supplies.

Burko and his son Maximilian, also a paramedic, made the 18-hour trek from Lublin (Poland) to Kyviv, driving an older ambulance with no military support.

“We actually went in under the radar. We managed to hook-up with someone who was connected to the children’s hospital in Kyviv that needed an ambulance, so it was a win-win in that we drove their ambulance from Poland and basically crammed it with $30,000 worth of medical gear,” explained Burko. “There were debris and detours on massive sections of highways. We drove through farmland too. There were potholes big enough to put a VW bug inside them. We went over some bridges that we clearly never should have been on that had been hit with missiles and bombs.

“Every few km there were road blocks where everyone wants to check what you got to make sure you’re not smuggling in people because they are very concerned about mercenaries coming in. They are also very concerned about the KGB, which is exceptionally active there.

“There is also a 9 p.m. curfew where you’re not to be on the road, but we explained we had these urgent supplies that we needed to get to people. There was one momentous occasion when we were dead tired and it was pitch black as you could imagine. We came across this one group of basically farmers and laborers that had picked up weapons and were wearing fatigues to defend their community. We started to talk about Vancouver and so forth and before you know it, we're in their little makeshift bunker, and they're making us a cup of coffee. It was incredible. In the middle of nowhere with AK-47 (guns) everywhere and blown up houses beside you.”

Burko is not only a paramedic. He also operates a medical training company in Delta, PEAK Emergency Response Training. It meant he had access to supplies that were badly needed in Ukraine and his unique skill-set would be invaluable knowledge to medics on the frontlines. He launched a successful Go Fund Me Page for the initial trips and a third campaign is well underway.

“I was sitting at home in Tsawwassen, in my office, looking around and realizing we have all this stuff that they really need and don’t have access to,” he added. “So it started from there, knowing a lot of these wounds and injuries that were killing soldiers and civilians could be prevented with supplies they are very short of.”

He is now busy planning for his next trip, which will include the delivery of armoured ambulances and more pharmaceuticals, along with basic medications.

“We’ve now got three vehicles (in Europe) that are going to be earmarked for us, so I need to go see them and pay for them,” added Burko. “At some point in the next little while we’re going to bring those vehicles into Ukraine.”