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With planes and grains: 6 examples of Ukraine supporting other countries in need

Today, Ukraine requires the world’s support as never before. But history shows that Ukraine has always been ready to lend a shoulder to others in need.

After over a year of harsh fighting and repelling Russia’s full-scale invasion, one can say that Ukraine managed to survive, among all, thanks to the support of its allies. First and foremost, Ukraine still exists as a country and a nation due to the will to win, courage, hard work, and the sacrifice made daily by Ukraine’s defenders. But apart from this, it is with no doubt the ability of Ukraine to establish and keep a firm coalition of friends and allies which enabled the resistance. 

As such, many stages and episodes of the ongoing warfare would be hardly imaginable without the military, political, and financial support provided by the allies, including the liberation of the Kyiv region, the counteroffensive in the Kharkiv direction, and the advance campaign in the Kherson region.

In the beginning of 2023, on the background of the very likely Russia’s renewed offensives, the West responded to Ukraine’s requests by providing the “tools” it needed – heavy armored vehicles, tanks, ammo, and advanced anti-air defence means. Ukraine is also actively working on acquiring Western-type combat aircraft.

But this has always been a two-way street. Ukraine has not only been receiving aid but giving a helping hand to many nations in need: from being one of the world’s leading contributors to UN and NATO peacekeeping missions to sending rescuers and firefighting aviation to Türkiye, Greece, and the Balkans. Since 1991, Ukraine has spared no effort to help friends in need.

Rescue mission in the mountains of Svaneti, Georgia, 1993

The Ukrainian humanitarian mission in Georgia (Saqartvelo) in October 1993 can certainly be named one of the most vivid, although almost forgotten cases. The rescue mission in the mountains of Svaneti, conducted by the Ukrainian helicopter pilots, which resulted in rescuing 7643 local refugees, became the first mission that Ukraine carried through on its own without the help of international organizations. 

Photo: Ukrainian Military Pages

As an outcome of the Georgian-Abkhazian war, in the Autumn of 1993, many people were forced to leave their homes, facing the threat of ethnic cleansing and looters’ attacks. The inhabitants of the Svaneti region started migrating massively, desperately trying to reach central parts of the country via the only available way – through the mountain passes. The situation was challenged by extremely tough weather conditions when the temperature suddenly dropped, and people found themselves trapped high in the mountains in the cold and blizzards. The Georgian government then called for help, and Ukraine responded immediately. 

Overall, the special operation was conducted by 106 servicemen of the Ukrainian Air Force of the AFU and 17 helicopters. Within six days, they performed 291 flights with 271 hours in the air in total, oftentimes flying under the fire of the Russian forces. Apart from almost eight thousand rescued lives, Ukrainians also delivered nearly 500 tons of food, medicine, warm clothes, and fuel.

The events of the mission are reflected in the documentary “Peacekeepers. In the Svaneti mountains”. Notably, the team of creators consists of Ukrainian military veterans who continue fighting today in the ongoing war against Russia, such as Myroslav Hai, the film’s producer, and Valentyna Okhlopkova, the author of the idea. 

Ukraine-made Antonov aircraft helping to fight COVID-19, 2020

In April 2022, many could see the images of An-225 Mriia in Hostomel near Kyiv, destroyed in warfare. Dmytro Antonov, the chief pilot of the Antonov An-225, visited the location and published a video afterwards, showing the results of Pax russica, or the Russian world’s presence at Hostomel airport – heavily damaged and looted buildings, destroyed aircraft. Back in April 2020, exactly two years before Mriia was destroyed, Ukraine-made Antonov aircraft played an extremely important role in helping the world deal with the global pandemic crisis. 

Photo: Li Ning / AsiaWire

Mriia, literally meaning “Dream”, was known as the world’s heaviest and largest cargo aircraft with the largest wingspan of any cargo jet across the globe. It is a symbol and the pride of all Ukrainians. Built in the late 1980s, it was originally created to transport the spaceplane Buran, a Soviet space shuttle. Since 2001 and until recently, it has been functioning as a civilian superheavy cargo carrier. 

In April 2020, Mriia took off from Hostomel for a new mission – to transfer medical equipment and protective gear from China to Poland. Overall, the Polish government requested to carry approx. 400 tons of medical cargo, including 7 million face masks and several hundred thousand protective suits and face screens. And that was only the first mission. 

In total, since Spring of 2020, Antonov Company’s aircraft such as the heavy airlifts An-125 Ruslans have delivered tons of lifesaving medical support cargo to several European states, including Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, and France. In particular, AN-124 and AN-225 aircraft conducted 17 missions and airlifted over 950 tons of medical supplies under the umbrella of the NATO-supported program Strategic Airlift International Solution (SALIS). 

Battling with wildfires, Greece and Türkiye, 2021

In August 2021, Greece experienced massive forest fires caused by record-breaking heat. To manage the disaster, threatening people, wildlife, and cultural sites, Greece requested assistance from several countries, including Ukraine. And was not left without a prompt response.

100 Ukrainian rescuers took part in extinguishing large-scale forest fires. The unit of the State Emergency Service protected two villages, Spatari and Metoky, and eliminated a ground fire on an area of 1.7 hectares.

Türkiye also suffered from a natural disaster in the summer of 2021, with fires spreading over 1,500 hectares at the end of July. Ukraine sent two An-32P firefighting aircraft with a support group to join the extinguishing affords. These were Ukrainian specialists with previous experience in battling large-scale fires in Montenegro, Israel, and Georgia.

Ukrainian firefighting aircraft were sent to Türkiye.
Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine

Evacuation missions from Afghanistan, 2021

In early September 2021, the Defence Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine conducted an operation of evacuation from Kabul which is considered one of the exemplary special forces operations. To find and safely evacuate people, Ukrainian special forces servicemen had to go on foot outside the protected perimeter of the airport. That was unprecedented. None of the other foreign missions that were present at that time in Kabul dared to conduct such a risky operation, given that the area outside the airport was already under the control of Taliban fighters. However, Ukrainians managed to find and pick up as many people as possible. 

Photo: Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Twitter

In late September, hundreds of people were still waiting for evacuation in Afghanistan fully controlled by the Taliban by that point. Ukraine became one of the very few countries that sent its forces to continue the evacuation. The aim was to evacuate nearly 100 civilians from Kabul, Ukrainians and Afghani. Taliban fighters have constantly broken the agreements and changed the conditions of evacuation, so instead of a few hours, as supposed, the operation lasted a week. Finally, the plane with 96 evacuees on board landed in Boryspil airport near Kyiv on September 23.

In total, Ukraine evacuated over 700 persons from Afghanistan, among them, international students, journalists of the prominent US media, UN and human rights organizations employees, for whom it was extremely dangerous to remain in the Taliban-controlled country.

Grain from Ukraine – humanitarian help for Africa, 2022-2023

At the end of November 2022, President Zelenskyy announced the launch of the international food supply initiative Grain from Ukraine, which is supposed to provide Ukrainian grain to Africa’s countries in need, such as Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Ethiopia. 

Russia’s war against Ukraine disrupted supply chains and caused the food crisis that affected millions of people around the globe. And as war fighting goes on, Ukrainians have been working hard to deliver grains to those who depend on it. As of February 2023, lifting the Russian blockade of the Black Sea pool allowed 22 mln tons of Ukrainian agricultural production to reach 43 countries. Even though Russia has constantly been breaking the so-called “grain deal”. 

Learn more: Russia’s Famine Games

The thing is that due to the high grain prices, some of the most vulnerable countries were left outside of the market. That is why Grain from Ukraine was created as a program to subsidise exports of grain – in other words, enabling states-participants to buy Ukrainian production and sell it to countries in acute food insecurity. The plan assumes sending 60 ships by the end of Spring 2023. It is expected that at least 5 million people will be provided with grain. Now, the project is underway.

BC CALLISTO brought 30,000 tons of wheat to Ethiopia under the Grain from Ukraine program.
Photo: Source: Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine

Notably, the plan was launched on Holodomor Remembrance Day. Holodomor was a genocide, organised by the Soviet government and personally Stalin in 1932-33, the man-made famine that affected every Ukrainian family. In his statement, President Zelenskyy said that “[e]ven as the country struggles with food shortages, devastated farmland, and widespread blackouts, we will never forget our role as a responsible global citizen – especially having experienced famine as a nation ourselves.” 

According to The Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, since the beginning of 2023, Ukraine has sent over 194 thousand tons of agricultural products to Africa, a quarter of them is grain. For instance, 240 thousand tons of grain went to Ethiopia.

Help with the search and rescue after the earthquake in Türkiye, 2022

Amidst the full-scale war, Ukrainian emergency services work days and nights to help civilians and illuminate the consequences of brutal and constant Russia’s attacks. Despite this, they can not simply stand aside when someone else is in need of help.

In February 2023, an earthquake struck Türkiye, among other countries, causing massive destruction and tens of thousands of casualties. 87 Ukrainian professionals, including rescuers, medics, dog handlers, and 10 specially trained dogs, went to Türkiye to join the search-and-rescue operation. In 10 days, they dismantled more than 100 rubbles.

Moreover, Ukrainian airplane AN-124 delivered 101 tons of humanitarian aid to help Turkish families affected by earthquakes. The mission results from the joint efforts of Ukraine, France, the US, and Türkiye, and is another example of cooperation that can save lives.

History proves that one can always rely on Ukraine when help is much needed. Despite the fact that today, Ukraine may be seen solely as a state-receiver, it is without a doubt also a state-donor. In 2023, the country initiates the creation of an International Aid Agency. And looking into the future, Ukraine has unique experience to share with its international partners. Namely, in terms of the military, practical combat, and strategic warfare experience that the Armed Forces of Ukraine acquired. Ukrainians can share with the world lessons learned in the areas of strategic communications, IT, digitalization, agro and military tech, as well as crisis management both on the governmental and private sector levels. But today, it still requires consolidation and coordinated effort of the democratic world to withstand.