Covering the Land of Lincoln

Stafford man helps deliver ambulances to Ukraine

Kevin Dillard was showing friends and family some photos from his recent trip to Ukraine where he and three other Americans delivered emergency vehicles to military and government officials.

One image shows a portion of the 10-unit convoy, which included three ambulances from LifeCare Medical Transports in Stafford County. The firetruck and nine rescue squads sat at the border between Poland and the war-torn country for seven hours before the group got permission to proceed.

Dillard realized the risks he and others faced.

“It was definitely on our mind that we were probably a target,” Dillard said. “It was almost a small sigh of relief (each time) we would drop off a vehicle and the convoy got smaller.”

Earle Greene, who often traveled to that part of the world before he retired from the Air Force, said Dillard was right. He’s a friend of the family who says he’s known Dillard since before he was born.

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“From a military aspect, you should have been a prime target as you crossed the border in that large a group,” Greene said. “You really were fortunate there, Kevin.”

Dillard is the co-founder of LifeCare, which has been the local staging area for the collection of emergency supplies for Ukraine since last March. The way he got involved is yet another example of what a small world it is.

Years ago, Dillard ran calls out of the Chancellor Volunteer Fire Department in Spotsylvania County with John Manson, whose brother, Chris, is vice-president of a health care system of 15 hospitals in Peoria, Illinois.

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine almost a year ago, Chris Manson’s 7-year-old daughter, Lily, was watching the news and asked how to help those being bombed. She said she wanted to do more than pray, and her father decided to ask an ambulance provider if he could spare a unit to send to Ukraine.

The response was a single question that shocked Manson.

“What do you need, gas or diesel?”

From there, Manson made arrangements to have the unit flown overseas, then sent several more squads. He found a Ukrainian woman in Chicago with connections in the shipping world and started reserving space regularly on an international container ship.

He asked friends and family how to expand the effort, which he named US Ambulances for Ukraine, and his brother suggested Dillard, who’s involved with several local and state advisory boards and committees. Dillard also has led rescue efforts to places hit by natural disasters, such as New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

By the end of this week, the grassroots effort that started because one little girl in the Midwest wanted to do something will have delivered 28 ambulances and one firetruck to Ukraine.

“One of the things I’ve been blessed with, with this whole adventure endeavor, is everyone’s willingness to chip in,” Manson said. “LifeCare’s been really great, Kevin has been incredibly helpful, reaching out to different first responders and various providers in rural communities. He’s collected a lot of supplies that we’ve put on shipments.”

Dillard’s team of bookkeepers estimated that the three donated ambulances and equipment that has come through LifeCare for the effort are worth more than $500,000.

Bandages, tourniquets and other supplies needed by trauma patients came from volunteer rescue squads in Colonial Beach; from Concord near Lynchburg; from Sterling in Northern Virginia; and Northumberland in the Northern Neck.

Madison County’s volunteers provided 40 backboards, which rescuers use to carry patients, and Dillard said those went straight to the frontlines. The Northumberland Sheriff’s Department also contributed bulletproof vests, while fire departments in Wintergreen and Stuart’s Draft provided fire hose and 30 sets of air packs and masks worn by firefighters.

The Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads, which Dillard has on its advisory board, donated cash, as did other churches and people statewide. That helped pay the $140,000 cost to ship the 10 vehicles overseas to Germany, where they were taken by tractor–trailer to Warsaw.

The four Americans picked them up there. They included Dillard and Chris Manson; Clarence Fox, chaplain for the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads; and Brian Kliesen from New Mexico. Polish people helped them drive the vehicles to Ukraine last week, where members of the military escorted the group through Lviv, Rivne, to the capital city of Kyiv and through the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, where heavy battles continue.

The Americans took a lot of pictures while there and in most of them, Dillard smiles broadly as he greets children from an orphanage and hands out candy or helps them sit behind the wheel of a firetruck or ambulance.

But there was nothing to smile about in Mykolaiv and Kherson, where in one location, the blast from a nearby bomb blew a hole in an apartment building. At least 45 people died in that early-morning attack, he said.

“You would think, in a war, it would just be soldier to soldier, but they don’t care if it’s an ambulance or a hospital,” Dillard said. “Hospitals and private residences have been bombed.”

He saw streets where three or four houses were ruined by blasts, then there’d be one home still standing. An older woman would be out front, sweeping off the sidewalk and trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in the midst of carnage.

Early reports indicated the Russians had either stolen ambulances and firetrucks from cities and towns, or shot them up so they couldn’t be used, Manson said. That’s why they want to send over as many units as possible, and Dillard said Ukrainians were more than grateful for the support.

In one city, a military official was so moved to receive the ambulances, he tore his unit’s patch off his uniform, on the spot, and gave it to Dillard. In other areas, people smiled, then teared up, when Dillard mentioned that the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine are flown on homes or displayed on bumper stickers in the Fredericksburg area.

He plans to continue collecting emergency supplies — and will make a special plea for wheelchair-accessible vans. At an orphanage, he learned that children injured during the war have to be carried in and out of vehicles because they don’t have adequate transportation.

Anyone interested in donating equipment or vehicles can contact him at [email protected] or 540/752-0137.

Manson also plans to continue sending over ambulances “as long as the need exists.” He’s not set up to handle donations, but is working with a Chicago-based nonprofit called UA Resistance that channels aid to critical areas. More information about the ambulance drive is available at its website,

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

[email protected]

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