Canford Healthcare has recently donated medical/care equipment and supplies to the Tunbridge Wells-based Ukrainian Relief Group (URG) for use by the medical services in war-torn Ukraine, as well as refugees arriving in the UK.

Following an appeal by the URG in late 2022, Canford Healthcare arranged for its volunteers to pick up items that were not currently in use. These included 30 beds and other furniture, wheelchairs, hoists, support equipment, fire extinguishers, personal protective equipment, old bedding (including sheets for cutting up and using as wound dressings), a CD player and last, but not least, a piano!

The beds are now being put to good use in Lviv and frontline hospitals in Kherson and Dnipro while the other equipment has gone to other hospitals (including one for soldier amputees), GP surgeries, medical centres and dentists in Kiev and other cities.

This is just one part of the 60 tonnes of donations of supplies and equipment that the URG has collected and sent to Ukraine since the conflict began a year ago. The group is co-ordinated by Rich Akehurst, a seasoned ex-soldier, search expert, paramedic and medical instructor who travelled to Nepal in 2014 to look for survivors of the earthquake.

It all started last March when Rich and his Ukrainian wife Inna got together several boxes of their own items for the relief effort. They ended up collecting and co-ordinating donations within the local area and, thanks to the generosity of residents, these were so numerous that a main road into the town had to be closed for a few hours!

Rich and Inna are assisted by volunteer Sue Ramsay, who previously worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Pakistan with UK Aid Direct, plus 12-15 other core volunteers at the TN2 community centre (known as the Hub) that is currently the URG’s home, and kindly made temporarily available by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Some donations are earmarked for Ukraine while others are made available for refugees. Volunteers use their assorted skills and knowledge to fix, renovate and service equipment, including 200 push bikes destined for refugees. Additional support can be called upon (via social media) whenever vans need loading before the 2,550 km trip to Ukraine.

The Hub also acts as a welcome centre where Ukrainian refugees can meet up, receive donations of clothes, shoes, toys, bicycles and household items and children can play in safety. Other items are sold at a pop-up shop in the town centre.

“We welcome refugees (or ‘guests’, as we call them), and try to help them get their lives back to some sort of normality. We also provide everything from socks to sofas, deliver furniture for free and recycle items that we can’t use, so nothing is wasted,” says Rich.

Inna’s very large family has remained in Ukraine to defend their country or, like her brother, a construction engineer working in Germany, returned to enlist. At the start of the conflict the family set up a charity to transport items such as children’s nappies, toiletries, medical and camping equipment from the Ukrainian border and distribute wherever needed. Their contacts have helped facilitate the movement of URG relief supplies into Ukraine.

There have been – and still are – many challenges, though. “Despite these, the URG has gone from strength to strength, and that’s a great achievement,” says Rich.

Paying tribute to the response from the local community and further afield, he adds: “It’s been incredible. We have received some extraordinary and often valuable donations, including an ostrich egg and even a blood bank. When we put out a message on social media asking for a guitar for a young Ukrainian refugee, we were offered 12 within an hour! We’re also incredibly grateful for the use of a van donated by the Polish government and for a continuous supply of knitted toys and blankets from the readers of Woman’s Weekly magazine.”

If anyone would like to donate to the URG, please email or call 07710 989054.