“Ukraine Needs Insulin”: The People Working to Supply Critical Medicine in a Warzone

According to the United Nations, over 3 million Ukrainian refugees have now fled Russia’s invasion. For those who remain in the country though, finding the vital medication they need to stay alive is becoming impossible.

Before the invasion began, around 2.3 million people in Ukraine were living with diabetes. Of these, around 120,000 have Type 1 Diabetes and are dependent on insulin for survival. However, Russia’s attack has decimated the existing supply chain. Pharmacies are no longer receiving consistent deliveries of insulin and those reliant on it are now effectively facing a death sentence.

“Insulin is nowhere to be found and there is no money to buy it” according to Anastasiya Glebova a 25-year-old with Type 1 Diabetes living in Kharkiv. Before the Russian invasion she was able to access the insulin she relies on for free at the pharmacy, with a doctor’s prescription. Now, because the global pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, that produces her insulin, is struggling to distribute it from its warehouses in Ukraine, Glebova is reliant on volunteers on social media for help.

Across the world, the diabetic community has been working together to do just that. Using the connections, they have built with each other on social media, initiatives to crowdsource supplies and have them sent onwards to Ukraine have sprung up in the U.K., the United States and across the European Union.

Volunteers at Type One Style’s distribution hanger at Manston Airport, U.K.

When war broke out, Charlie Cawsey, managing director of Type One Style, a British company that usually produces over patches and device stickers to decorate diabetes management devices, immediately knew he had to do something “to help people with diabetes who are facing their own deadly crisis”.  

Within 24 hours, a campaign was launched via Type One Style’s Instagram account, asking for diabetics across the world to send supplies which could then be sent onwards to Ukraine.  

Despite having no corporate support and solely relying on individuals donating their spare supplies, the campaign has already sent over £250,000 worth of diabetes-specific aid to Ukraine, including insulin. 

Cawsey also believes his efforts are uniquely placed. Instead of relying on the pre-existing distribution channels that have been left largely unusable due to Russian attacks, they “can reach recipients that no other channels can because we have built our own distribution channel”. 

Belgium-based online diabetes advocate Weronika Burkot has also been working help Diabetics in Ukraine. Through her collaboration with the Polish Diabetes Association, she has been collecting supplies sent to her by her Instagram followers. From here she sends them to Poland and they are taken over the border to be distributed amongst those in Ukraine who need them most. 

When asked why she is working to help those like her in Ukraine she said: “We are all one big diabetes family that needs to help each other out. If I can do even a little thing that will help, it is worth it.”

There are also others who have found themselves working to get insulin to Ukraine, despite originally setting out to do something else.  Barret Bumford initially flew from Chicago to Vienna, intending to deliver military and civilian supplies to Life Quality Fund, an aid group based in the Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod, currently storing supplies in Košice, Slovakia. 

Whilst he was in Vienna though, he decided to spend some of the money a colleague had given him to help on medical supplies.  Alongside the other medication, the pharmacist allowed him to purchase insulin without a prescription and even supplied the cool bag necessary to keep it at the right temperature until it could be refrigerated again. 

The generosity Bumford has experienced when gathering supplies to take over the border is something he describes as “incredible”.

From Vienna, he delivered his first batch of insulin to the warehouse in Slovakia and handed it over to a van driver to take over the border. Emboldened by this success, Bumford has since crossed into Ukraine with more insulin himself and now continues to deliver it directly to the hospital in Uzhhorod.

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