Four central Albertans are part of a team searching for survivors buried beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings in Ukraine.
The Alberta-based Canadian International Rescue Organization recently sent a search and rescue team to the war-torn country, which has been under Russian invasion since February.
In late February, the CIRO contacted the Ukrainian embassy in Edmonton to inform them the organization has people available and capable of conducting technical search and rescue operations.
“That essentially means it’s a group who have the training to utilize specialized cameras and specialized listening devices in order to try to locate people who may be trapped in confined spaces, like rubble piles,” explained Chad Reed, CIRO public information officer.
The embassy accepted the offer for assistance. CIRO then assembled an eight-person team, which flew to Poland in early March. Canadian team members met with other members – one from the United States and another from Hong Kong – and they went into Ukraine together.
The team, which is made up of volunteers, has been seeing “pure devastation” in Ukraine, Reed said.
“Searching through the devastation and the rubble piles from the missiles, rockets, bombs – that’s what they’re encountering and have had to search through already. It’s very tragic,” he said.
The team is qualified and experienced when it comes to recovery, but searching in warzones is out of the ordinary for most members, said Reed.
“We do have a couple of people over there who have served in the military and being in an environment like that isn’t uncommon to them,” he said.
“But for the majority of our people, being in a war environment and being in an area where it’s completely devastated is pretty heavy.”
The team will return to Canada in the near future.
“We’re looking at having them come (back) here right away and taking a little bit of a break. We’ll probably be regrouping with some new members and heading back over. No timelines are specific at this point,” he said.
As an organization of volunteers, public support is important for CIRO, said Reed.
“Ninety-five per cent have taken a leave of absence from their job in order for them to take part in this mission,” Reed said.
“We’re paying for our own flights, equipment – we’ve purchased a whole pile of equipment in the past and it’s expensive stuff.
“Right now we’re leaving behind about $40,000 worth of equipment that we’ve purchased to do our job. The team has done a whole bunch of training with Ukraine volunteers to teach them how to utilize the equipment. Our plan is to donate that to the efforts over there and we’ll likely buy some more equipment when they get back and do the same thing.”
To donate to CIRO, visit www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/ciro-canadian-international-rescue-organization.