Four Central Albertans were part of a team that saved the life of a Ukrainian trapped under the rubble of a destroyed building.
The Alberta-based Canadian International Rescue Organization sent a search and rescue team to Kyiv, Ukraine, from early March to early April.
The team took part in three search and rescue operations. One of those operations was life-saving for one individual.
“We were surrounded with (Ukrainian) soldiers and all of those soldiers were just cheering,” team leader Marcel Schur said, adding it was a bitter-sweet moment because the partner of the person they rescued was dead just a few metres away.
Additionally, the team was called to be on standby another four or five times throughout the stay in Ukraine.
“If they knew everyone was dead and nobody was trapped, they didn’t even call us,” Schur said.
“Our specialty is (helping those) trapped people. In between calls, there’s a lot of downtime – a lot of sitting, waiting and eating,” he said.
Schur, who was in the military for 20 years, said he had never seen anything like the scene in Ukraine.
There was a concern for the team’s safety at the beginning, he said.
“There was constant shelling all of the time – either outgoing or incoming. It would wake us up for the first part. Then if it didn’t rattle the windows, we didn’t get out of bed. Later on if it didn’t set off the car alarms we wouldn’t get out of bed.”
CIRO utilizes special equipment, including cameras and listening devices, in order to locate people trapped in confined spaces.
Getting into Ukraine was a bit of challenge, said Schur.
“They were so overwhelmed with people coming out, that there wasn’t enough customs for people coming in,” he recalled.
“The lineups at the border were long, but they got us in as fast as they could. Once we got into the country, getting around the roadblocks and road closures, to avoid the Russians – the normal trip would take six hours and it took us about 18.”
Most of the damage the team saw was caused by missiles and rockets, Schur explained.
“There were not a lot of bombs because the air was pretty tightly controlled by the Ukrainians,” he said.
“It looked mostly sporadic. They didn’t target a lot of the government buildings or infrastructure. It was just general sporadic shelling. Closer to the end, when we were getting ready to leave, they were targeting more important stuff.”
The team will return to Ukraine in the next couple of weeks.
To donate to CIRO, which is a nonprofit organization, visit www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/ciro-canadian-international-rescue-organization.