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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

War in Ukraine: coordinating the largest-ever EU civil protection operation

In response to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine in February, the European Commission is running its largest-ever operation under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Teams of civil protection experts are on the ground in Poland, Moldova and Slovakia to help coordinate incoming assistance – over 35,000 tonnes so far.

4 team members in Poland told us how aid gets where it is most needed and shared their impressions from the ground.

4 team members in front of a building
© European Union, 2022

A unique response to a unique crisis

The war in Ukraine has caused the worst humanitarian catastrophe since World War II. More than 12 million people have been forced to leave their homes, half of them fled to neighbouring countries.

Panos Katsikopoulos, from the General Secretariat for Civil Protection in the Greek Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, is working as a civil protection team leader in Poland. According to him, “this is a unique emergency.”

Therefore, the EU’s civil protection response has taken a unique shape.

All 27 EU countries, plus Norway and Turkey, have offered material assistance ranging from field hospitals, ambulances, and medicines to food, clothes, tents, firefighting equipment, and generators. The items are delivered directly to Ukraine or channelled through logistical hubs in Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

Emergency healthcare supplies from the rescEU stockpile have also been mobilised. Hundreds of severely ill Ukrainian patients are being transferred to hospitals in other EU countries through coordinated medical evacuations operations.

Just days after Russia’s invasion, EU civil protection experts arrived in Poland to set up the first and largest operation to support the transportation of relief items to Ukraine. Shortly after, similar hubs were established in Romania and Slovakia as part of a contingency plan to send humanitarian assistance across the Ukrainian border via alternative routes.

“This is just another example of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism’s ability to adapt to the particularities of each emergency thinking ahead and reaching out to the appropriate stakeholders within the Member States, utilising new tools and applying alternative ways of delivering according to its mission,” Panos says.

Bringing in other EU services for a better response

2 medical experts from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) joined the team to support Polish authorities. They helped strengthen early warning and rapid response systems, surveillance data flows and other public health activities.

2 civil protection colleagues seen from the back looking at a building
Medical experts assisted the Polish authorities in adjusting their health system and accommodating refugees who were exposed to difficult conditions and exhausted.
© European Union, 2022

“In Poland, the Ukrainian population is being registered with access to health care but making sure that existing early warning and alert systems can detect outbreaks in this population is very important. Some refugees already left for neighbouring countries, so some of the information collected may be of relevance for other EU countries, and even to the rest of the world,” explains ECDC expert Julien Beauté.

The presence of medical experts on the ground is also an additional asset for medical evacuations of chronically ill patients. These evacuation operations are supported by the new rescEU medical evacuation plane, financed by the EU, and hosted by Norway.

Group of civil protection colleagues in front of the yellow medical evacuation plane
In March 2022, the EU's first medical evacuation plane entered into service to help transfer Ukrainian patients to receive the necessary medical care.
© European Union, 2022

Piotr Kramarz explains how this process works.

“We participated in medical evacuation of a child with advanced tuberculosis who had to be treated outside Ukraine. They were treated and stabilised in Warsaw first. Once the condition improved to the level allowing them to continue travelling, the evacuation was completed, and the child accompanied by the parent were taken to Norway,” he says.

‘Desire to do the right thing’

The work of civil protection experts is one of many ways the EU assists Ukraine and its people with emergency assistance.

It supports and complements the efforts of hosting communities which impressed Paul Rock, another EU civil protection team member and lead for emergency management from Ireland National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management:

“We joined a coordination meeting in the central railway station. 17-18 years old volunteers passionately told senior officials of what needed to be done or improved. Their desire to do the right thing and the level of coordination were fantastic.”

Photo of a civil protection colleague with next to it a photo of a wall in a train station full of Ukrainian children’s paintings
The wall in a train station full of Ukrainian children’s paintings that depicted their feelings about the war was one of the things that Paul will never forget from his mission in Poland.
© European Union, 2022

Story by Begum Iman, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
Publication date: 31/05/2022