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For this team delivering aid into Ukraine, the supply run is personal

Silva Alkebeh is the chief of supply logistics for the UNHCR and is in charge of getting aid into the country.
Ari Shapiro
Silva Alkebeh is the chief of supply logistics for the UNHCR and is in charge of getting aid into the country.

RZEZSOW, Poland — Silva Alkebeh has run missions everywhere from Darfur to Pakistan to Bangladesh. Now, she is loading a truck in Poland that is bound for Ukraine.

But these aren't military shipments, they are humanitarian ones.

As the war effort inside Ukraine continues and millions of refugees flee the country, Alkebeh spends her time thinking about how to get aid back into the country and right to the heart of the most besieged cities.

She is the chief of supply logistics for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and right now she's in a massive warehouse next to the airport near Rzezsow, Poland.

Supplies are being sent out of the warehouse almost as fast as they're coming in.
/ Ari Shapiro
/
Ari Shapiro
Supplies are being sent out of the warehouse almost as fast as they're coming in.

"Our target is to not have this warehouse full. Whatever is in is out, if not the same day, the next day," she says.

"Just to give you a very concrete example ... we received a donation from Ikea, we received the shipment from our operation in Greece, and all of them are already inside Ukraine."

Alkebeh grew up in Syria and has worked for the UNHCR for 15 years.

"When the Syria emergency started, this is when I started to feel the difference, because when you see it happen in your country, when you see the assistance going to your people, you are connected," she says. "It's not just a job, it's much beyond a job. It's not just humanitarian ... maybe someone is helping your friend or family in your country."

Alkebeh says she struggles to put into words how Ukrainians must be feeling right now.

"I don't know what to say here. It's like you are forced to flee you home, leave everything behind, you don't know what will happen tomorrow. You don't know who will receive you and how they will receive you," she said.

"And all of that happens suddenly," she said — you might even have to leave your family, or could even lose them. "I cannot even describe it with words. Nothing could be worse than that."

Alkebeh and UNHCR's Chris Melzer survey the enormous warehouse where supplies are being sorted.
/ Ari Shapiro
/
Ari Shapiro
Alkebeh and UNHCR's Chris Melzer survey the enormous warehouse where supplies are being sorted.

Outside the warehouse, four trucks are preparing to leave for Ukraine. On board are 16,000 blankets that have just been flown in from Dubai on a jumbo jet. About 35,000 blankets have already passed through here in the past few days.

Right now, the supplies are just about meeting the most basic needs of those still in Ukraine.

"The most important thing is everything that has to do with cold and warm," says UNHCR spokesman Chris Melzer, who is on site watching the trucks get loaded. "So blankets, outer garments, sleeping bags, also some canned food."

Melzer is hopeful, but unsure if the trucks actually can get into Kyiv, Mariupol or other cities that are close to being surrounded by Russian military.

"This is exactly the question, and that's why we asked for these so-called humanitarian corridors — to not only get people out of these areas, but also supplies in," he said.

In the parking lot, the drivers are waiting for the final things they need before they roll toward the border of Ukraine. A 63-year-old Ukrainian man with gold teeth is among them.

Mykola, who declined to give his last name, has been driving trucks since 1975. Over the windshield, he has a little red curtain for shade with white pompoms hanging down.

He still has family in Ukraine, and he worries about them.

"Especially my granddaughter, who is 8 years old. She's really afraid of those sirens that sound every night. It's scary," he said.

He knows that the work he's doing, driving aid into Ukraine, can be very dangerous.

"Wherever you go, whether it's the western or eastern part of Ukraine, they can start attacking you at any time, dropping bombs or whatever," he said.

So, is he frightened?

"What is fear? I may or may not be frightened, but I'm human and I have to do my job."

The trucks finish loading and the engines roar to life. Then they roll out, headed into a war zone.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.