This Australian entrepreneur provided medical aid on a 2,500 kilometer journey through Ukraine

Dangerous, exhausting and upsetting: that’s how entrepreneur James Spenceley views his week-long trip delivering ambulances to some of Ukraine’s war-affected regions.
“There are towns in Ukraine that have 500,000 inhabitants and there are only two ambulances left,” the 45-year-old explains.
“Yet there are missile attacks and soldiers are injured and have to go to the hospital. Ukraine therefore needs more ambulances than ever. Yet every day so many people are being destroyed.
Mr Spenceley’s road trip began in late May in Poland where he picked up the refitted ambulances, bought in France for $25,000 each.
“The ambulances are equipped with stretchers, defibrillators and blood transfusion equipment. They can have such a big impact, get people to hospital and save lives,” he says.
Mr. Spenceley is no stranger to risk. He sold a house, raising $1 million, to fund a startup in 2007 and has since been twice awarded Young Entrepreneur of the Year by EY. The 45-year-old is president of the online platform Airtasker.
“I take calculated risks. So selling my first house to start a business was a calculated risk and delivering ambulances to hopefully save five lives a day is a calculated risk where the reward justifies the risk.
He paid for the first two ambulances himself and raised $200,000 in crowdfunding to buy at least eight more.
“I felt compelled to do something. It’s one of those rare opportunities where you have to step up,” he says.

James Spenceley on the road in Ukraine Credit: James Spenceley

It is estimated that, since February 2022, economic losses due to the war in Ukraine may have reached $600 billion.

Damaged residential buildings account for the highest losses. In addition, nearly 25,000 kilometers of roads were damaged or destroyed, Ukraine Last weekend.
“It’s a disaster on a scale I’ve never seen,” says the entrepreneur.
One of the ambulances parked at St Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv.

One of the ambulances at St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv. Credit: James Spenceley

After his grueling journey, Mr Spenceley is relieved to be home on Sydney’s northern beaches this weekend, with his Ukrainian-born wife Viktoriia and their two children Roman, 11, and Sienna, 7.

“We are so happy to have James back as everyone has been praying for his safe return,” said Viktoriia Spenceley, 36.

A damaged building

A damaged building photographed by James Spenceley in Ukraine. Credit: James Spenceley

“We are all very proud and our children cannot believe that their dad went to Ukraine. They couldn’t wait for him to come home.

The family’s fundraising effort is deeply personal. The couple met while Mr Spenceley was working in Odessa, Ukraine, then married in Sydney in 2007.
Viktoriia Spenceley’s family still lives in Kherson, Ukraine, and she is very concerned for their safety.
“Every day I can’t believe what is happening. It’s such a shock,” she said.
(from left to right) A boy, a man, a woman and a girl seated at a table

James Spenceley with his wife Viktoriia and children Roman and Siena in Sydney. Credit: James Spenceley

“My mother has a blood pressure problem, there is no medicine. At night they have to turn off the lights because they don’t want the Russian army to know where they are.

“It’s completely life changing and in a really horrific way.”
Support from the Spenceley family is not the only non-governmental medical aid sent from Australia to Ukraine.
Liz Paslawsky is Chair of the International Coordination of Medical Supplies in Ukraine on behalf of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations.

Ms Paslawsky has so far overseen the collection and distribution of over $1 million in Australian medical aid for Ukraine.

A man in a suit and tie and a woman in a wedding dress and veil

James and Viktoriia Spenceley’s wedding in Sydney in 2007 Credit: James Spenceley

“Thank you to everyone who donated to Ukraine Crisis Appeal. We raised and spent funds for emergency medical aid that goes directly to the front lines there,” she says.

Across Australia, she says, coordinators are collecting medical supplies from hospitals, filling in lists of needs received weekly from the Ukrainian Ministry of Health.
Ms Paslawsky said this week that 150 pallets of medical aid, including tourniquets, bandages and defibrillators, will be flown from Australia by defense planes.
A smiling woman

Liz Paslawsky helps coordinate Australian aid to Ukraine Credit: Liz Paslawski

In London, Australian medical supplies will be picked up by aid organization UK4UA and transported to Ukraine by vehicle convoys.

Ms Paslawsky is also a visiting professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University and praises Australian generosity.
“People donate not only money, but also their time and energy to collect medical supplies. It’s been fantastic,” she says.
In the May budget, the former federal government provided $156 million in aid to Ukraine, including $91 million in lethal and non-lethal military aid and $65 million in humanitarian and military aid. settlement assistance.
The Ukrainian relief effort is also underway for Mr Spenceley. It plans to return to war zones later this month to deliver more ambulances.
A man standing next to a truck loaded with boxes

Pallets of Australian medical aid on their way to Ukraine Credit: Liz Paslawski

“The soldiers need sleeping bags, they need earplugs, because the shelling is so strong that they lose their hearing.

“So we will be going back there in the next few weeks to deliver more ambulances, as well as supplies like sleeping bags, hearing protection and knee pads.”
He says the trip changed his life forever.
“I definitely became a different person after seeing all the destruction there,” he says.
A woman and a man standing on an outdoor balcony

Viktoriia and James Spenceley at their home in Sydney Credit: SBS News / Sandra Fulloon

“What shocked me the most is that not only military installations are affected, but also shopping malls and building material companies.

“We visited a children’s hospital which had been bombed and had no roof and all the windows had been blown out. The children had all been evacuated.
“When you see this kind of destruction, it makes you realize how much more is needed.
He says Ukrainians not only have to win the war, but face a massive reconstruction effort.
“Millions, literally millions of people, saw their homes destroyed.
Spenceley has received letters of gratitude from Ukrainian authorities, including this message from Yuri Chaplenko, commander of military unit A7052:
“By helping us in difficult times for all of us, you not only give material things, but with them the hope that together we will overcome all adversity, the light will overcome the darkness and we will finally return to normal, and above all peaceful and a happy life.’
Certificate with writing on it

The certificate given to James Spenceley by the Ukrainian army.

Mr Spenceley also had this response to a Ukrainian TV reporter who asked him why he was there:

“I said ‘everyone post the hashtag Stand With Ukraine’. And I wanted to be here with Ukraine.