Wimbledon support for Ukraine
Wimbledon support for Ukraine
Stephanie Gruner Buckley on the community spirit that is helping to send supplies to Ukraine
Wimbledon residents are sending ambulances with medical supplies to hospitals in war-torn Ukraine. Aliya Aralbayeva, originally from Kazakhstan, and her husband, Kyiv-born Andrei Semikhodskii, started their volunteer efforts after being inspired by the actions of a Ukrainian construction worker.
A day after the Russians invaded, Oleksandr Hulitskiy, who lives in Beckenham, bought a decommissioned ambulance to drive to his native Ukraine, stay and fight. Not wanting the ambulance to go empty, he contacted a local Russian-speaking mums group on WhatsApp. Aliya and her husband saw the post and thought an ambulance should be filled with medical supplies and maybe they could help.
Aliya posted her own message, asking for donations to buy supplies for field hospitals such as blood clotting medicines, tourniquets and compression layer bandages. Hundreds of people responded, including complete strangers. With thousands of pounds pouring in, the couple filled the first ambulance, and then bought two more ambulances.
With that, Medical Life Lines Ukraine was born.
Aliya, a lawyer, says the most inspiring part of running a charity is seeing the local community rally around the cause. People offer more than money; they offer their time and ideas. They create new initiatives. They spread the word and more people sign on to help.
Within hours of posting that initial message, donations were stacking up in their Wimbledon home. Friends and neighbours came to help sort them. Then their friends came too — many of whom Aliya and Andrei had never met.
People jumped into managing logistics and outreach, including UK-based Ukrainian mothers — Irina Pierrot, Tanya Piggins and Maria Milko — who also helped set up and run a JustGiving page. Meanwhile, Andrei, a DNA expert, quickly came up to speed on Ukrainian hospital needs and Europe’s medical supply chain.
Many more people volunteered to drive ambulances to Ukraine, a 24-hour journey, including two dads the couple knows from their daughter’s school, Wimbledon High.
Each day brings more donations piled up at the couple’s door, and increasing involvement from friends and neighbours.
Corinne Jakubowski, the head of the couple’s local Wimbledon residents’ association, launched an appeal to send an ambulance with milk and diapers and medicines to a neonatal unit outside of Kyiv. Her club, the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club on Wimbledon Common, got involved too, with members donating generously.
More volunteers showed up following a short speech Aliya gave at a Friends of Wimbledon High meeting. She says she got emotional, but her message resonated.
Immediately after, Petra Walton Luckin, a mum at the school, offered to help. Ever since, Petra has been organising more meetings with parents, and running food collections and fundraisers. Parents at Wimbledon High have generously donated to the cause, including buying two more ambulances for £14,000.
Girls from Wimbledon High have helped too. During their April break, they sorted donations, and baked cupcakes and cookies to raise money. They also sold “virtual cupcakes” online. In total, the children raised more than £3,000 to stock ambulances.
John Fuggles, another parent at Wimbledon High, drove an ambulance to the school, where girls stocked it with food. John then drove the ambulance all the way to Ukraine.
It’s not just locals who are helping out, but so many others. An intensive care nurse, Emma-Jane Thornton, heard about the efforts and organised a group in Norfolk to collect crucial medicines for neonatal intensive care units, and delivered them to Aliya and Andrei’s front door.
Louise Rose, a professor of critical care nursing at King’s College London and one of the founders of Life Lines, a philanthropic initiative started during the Covid-19 pandemic to help critically ill patients stay connected to family, now helps with fundraising and advises on medical aid supplies.
A church hall in Surbiton, St Marks, became a collection point with congregation members sorting donations. The Surbiton volunteers then set up their own charity called Save Ukraine to help refugees. Meanwhile, another church group, Our Lady Church in Croydon, raised more than £8,000 to buy electric generators for Ukrainian hospitals.
In less than two and a half months, this growing band of volunteers has raised more than £80,000 and sent nine ambulances packed with life-saving medical supplies, food, diapers, and other essentials.
The support from the community has been overwhelming, says Aliya. It’s more than the incredible generosity of people giving time and money, she says. It’s about a boost in community spirit. “We’ve started recognising neighbours, and meeting for local events and gatherings more frequently.”
This week, the tenth ambulance will go to Ukraine. Driving it will be Aliya and Nix Kersley, another mum from her daughter’s school.
“I cannot take all the credit,” says Aliya. “This might have started with us but people joined it and made it successful.”
More information is on their JustGiving page where you can donate and read more about this charity.