Just after dawn Tuesday, a flight took off from Piedmont Triad International Airport packed with medical supplies and parts of a field hospital bound for Ukraine.
The plane is part of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian disaster relief organization based in North Carolina. The group already has a staff of 100 working in Ukraine and with refugees in the surrounding countries.
“The need is really large in Ukraine right now. So many people are fleeing. We’re seeing almost 2 million people have fled the country, and there’s many more inside of the country displaced because of the fighting,” said Dave Philips, with Samaritan’s Purse.
People have been pouring over the border to escape Ukraine since Russia invaded the country two weeks ago. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of people who have fled Ukraine hit 2 million Tuesday morning.
“The scale of this crisis is so large and people are suffering. This is a humanitarian crisis,” Philips said.
The organization has staff in Ukraine and across the country’s border in Poland, Romania and Moldova to help deal with the refugee crisis.
It was a brisk morning on the tarmac at the Greensboro airport before the sun came up. Samaritan’s Purse had loaded about 44,000 pounds of supplies on the customized DC-8.
The plane is retrofitted to hold cargo in the front and a limited number of passengers in the back. This flight carried two relief workers who planned to join the organization’s teams in Eastern Europe.
The plane operates out of PTI Airport, where a massive hangar sits to one side of the runway with the Samaritan’s Purse logo across the building.
“We are able, because of the resources we have like this airplane, very quickly and at scale, deliver humanitarian supplies to where it’s needed,” Philips said, standing in the organization’s hangar as the flight crew did their final checks. The organization’s motto, “Helping in Jesus’ name” is emblazoned by the cockpit windows.
“We have an operation inside of Ukraine, so we’re working right there inside the country, as well as in the surrounding countries,” he said. The field hospital is set up inside Ukraine, though Philips would not say exactly where, citing concerns about security.
“The Samaritan Purse’s emergency field hospital is specially designed for these types of situations, where you have a large movement of people and a crisis going on,” he said. “It is the best of medical science that we’re able to deploy very quickly to the front lines of a situation where people have need.”
The hospital has 58 beds and two operating rooms, the organization said.
Samaritan’s Purse has another flight going out Thursday, this time a chartered 747 that will be carrying more medical supplies and an emergency medical clinic that the organization plans to set up to help people fleeing the crisis.
“This is what Samaritan’s Purse does. It is part of our core mission, to go into the ditches of life in moments of crisis, where people have need, and to provide physical and spiritual aid to people,” Philips said.