Local firefighter volunteering abroad to help Ukrainian refugees

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A firefighter-paramedic from Strathcona County Emergency Services is on the other side of the world trying to help those fleeing the invasion of Ukraine. 

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Marc Pavan, an SCES member, has travelled to Moldova with a charity called GlobalMedic to assist evacuees who have fled the war in Ukraine.

“The leadership team saw a need for us to respond to this crisis and sent out a call for volunteers to deploy in early March,” Pavan said. “I wasn’t able to deploy with the initial team, but after some lengthy discussion with my wife and lots of support from my coworkers, I put in my availability to deploy and I was selected for the second team to deploy to Moldova.” 

Ukrainian refugees are fleeing their homeland to neighbouring countries, Moldova, one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries, has welcomed more than 380,000 Ukrainians already, according to Operational Data Portal Refugee Situations.  

Pavan is part of a two-person team in Moldova and there is also a two-person team in Romania, which has also seen a large amount of refugees. 

“Part of what makes first responders who we are is the strong internal drive to help others who need help. The Ukrainian refugees flowing through the bordering countries have fled with nothing. No food, no clothing, etc. Families have been ripped apart,” Pavan said. “A key driving force for me was seeing that men were forced to stay and fight. It pains me to imagine my family becoming refugees without me there to help and protect them. I had hoped I could help some Ukrainian man fighting by doing some simple things to help and protect his family.”

Strathcona County Emergency Services firefighter-paramedic Marc Pavan is currently coordinating food distribution for Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. Photo Supplied
Strathcona County Emergency Services firefighter-paramedic Marc Pavan is currently coordinating food distribution for Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. Photo Supplied

Pavan and his partner are based out of Chișinău, Moldova, which is currently far from the active fighting, but he noted that there are Russian troops in the nearby state of Transnistria and they’ve been there for a while. 

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“Where I am in Chișinău, the signs of conflict are slight. Some large buildings have been converted or repurposed to serve or house refugees. The local expo centre is similar to Northlands. I attended that location and it is set up much like Northlands was set up to handle Fort Mac fire evacuees,” Pavan said. 

Many refugees are living in Soviet-era buildings, which were once remote summer getaways with no power or running water, according to Pavan, adding GlobalMedic has been providing food and basic necessities like hygiene items and firewood. 

Pavan, who had been in Moldova for 48 hours when he spoke to The News over the weekend, said so far he has been focused on learning what the team before him did and ensure their work continues. 

“I’ll concede that it’s not glorious work. I’m not patching up battlefield wounds, but the needs are significant and we are doing a great deal to fill them,” Pavan said. “I don’t think there are enough charities in the world to make everyone whole again.”

In one day, Pavan said his GlobalMedic team provided 500 6.5 kg bags of cabbage, potatoes, peas, beans, sugar, pasta, and pretzels, which was more than 7,000 pounds of food handed out to refugees staying in vacant apartments in Chișinău. Photo Supplied
In one day, Pavan said his GlobalMedic team provided 500 6.5 kg bags of cabbage, potatoes, peas, beans, sugar, pasta, and pretzels, which was more than 7,000 pounds of food handed out to refugees staying in vacant apartments in Chișinău. Photo Supplied

The SCES member said he has been working hard learning Russian, Ukrainian and Romanian to better communicate with refugees. 

“The stories are hard to hear. Even harder to see is some of the artwork made by the kids. There is paper and markers at many of the places refugees are staying,” he said. “Today, I saw a terribly graphic picture of tanks and helicopters fighting and a horrifying one of a person tied to a wall with a bullet hole in the forehead and bleeding from the torso. Children recreated these images. There are no bandages for the wounds these kids have suffered.”

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Pavan said he is currently the only member of SCES who volunteers with GlobalMedic but they are very supportive of his work. 

“My SCES coworkers have been incredible. My shifts had to be covered in my absence so our residents would not go without,” Pavan said. “My coworkers jumped forward so quickly when I put out the request. The support of my wife and small children needs to be acknowledged too. Being away is hard on all of them.”

Marc Pavan recently arrived in Moldova this past weekend to assist with food delivery for Ukrainian refugees. Photo Supplied
Marc Pavan recently arrived in Moldova this past weekend to assist with food delivery for Ukrainian refugees. Photo Supplied

It’s expected that Pavan will be helping in Moldova until mid-April.

This isn’t the first time Pavan has travelled to another country to assist in emergencies. GlobalMedic deployed him to the Philippine Islands in 2014 after super typhoon Haiyan. 

Back at home, Pavan coordinated domestic response locally during the fires in Fort McMurray and helped provide thousands of hygiene kits to evacuation centres in the Capital Region. 

Those interested in helping with the situation or learning more about the work of the charity can find out more at globalmedic.ca.

More than 100 Ukrainian refugees arrived in Edmonton on Monday evening, March 28, when a LOT Polish Airlines plane landed at the airport to collect donated supplies of lifesaving medicine and equipment. The refugees all have hosts waiting for them in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Thomas Lukaszuk, former MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs and former deputy premier of Alberta, worked with Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland and her office to put together a protocol for identifying “Ukrainian national refugees” that could come to Canada on the Monday flight free of charge.

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LOT Polish Airlines donated the plane and Shell Canada donated 50 tonnes of jet fuel towards the initiative.

“I know what it’s like to be a refugee, I came here as one when I was 13 years old. I remember people welcoming me at the airport in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 1982 and now I get to do the same thing for others,” said Lukaszuk.

“This really is in the spirit of Canada and what Canada is all about and I know how difficult this journey is for them, not just physically but emotionally, and I know how much they are missing their country and their families but at the same time I hope that most of them will make Canada their home for a second shot at life.”

The refugees will have work permits that will allow them to work anywhere in Canada. They will also have health-care coverage and children in grade kindergarten to Grade 12 will be able to go to school.

— With files from Kellen Taniguchi

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