This is how retired pilots help Ukrainian refugees! | Politics and Economics | In-depth analysis with a broader perspective from DW | DW

Retiree John Boone was able to stay in his small house in Apalachicola, Florida, enjoy the sunshine on one of the most beautiful beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, and occasionally give flying lessons. But John Boone is no ordinary retired pilot. The 71-year-old has already flown twice around the world with his Cirrus SR22 light aircraft.

He left it all and went to Canada and then Greenland, and from there to Iceland and Ireland and from there to Germany, the trip took five days, and the reason he did it was because he heard about the Air Rescue Ukraine initiative, an initiative to transport aid to the Polish town of Milic, 60 km from the Ukrainian border. He volunteered to work for two months transporting aid on his plane.

John Boone, a thin man with a bushy beard, talks about his trip to Germany as if it were child’s play, perhaps because he has been flying in the clouds all his life. He first sat in the cockpit as a teenager and worked for Delta Airlines as a pilot for 36 years, his trips from work between Atlanta and Frankfurt often spent asleep. The autopilot was driving the plane. And in the back of his plane he placed the flags of the 35 countries that visited Bonn. “I think it’s important to do what we can, whatever resources we have, to help Ukraine,” says Boone. “In my case, my resource is my little plane, so I brought it with me.”

Friendship of refugees

On his plane, John Boone carried hundreds of medical backpacks to Poland, and from there transported Ukrainian refugees from Poland to Germany. He has been friends with them on Facebook ever since. He now has as many Ukrainian friends as his American friends, he says with a laugh. “Everyone you bring to Germany is forever grateful to you. Today I’m going back with a Ukrainian war hero who needs hospitalization in Germany. It’s a great experience when you feel you can make a difference. We definitely make a difference.”

The reason John Boone joined this initiative is Kai Wolff. Or, more accurately, that Boone would have been training in Apalachicola by now if it weren’t for the idea that Kai Wolff came up with with his friend, IT expert Stefan Sahling (52), after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine . “We philosophized about what we could do,” Sahling says. “We have 30 years of professional experience in manufacturing. Second, IT to organize. Third, aviation. We thought if five to ten crazy people from friends would participate, then we could do something impactful.”

Pilots from around the world

From madmen with the number of fingers on a hand to 313 registered pilots, some of them travel at their own expense. Among them are pilots, engineers and specialized soldiers. From Canada, Ecuador and Kenya. So far, the Save Ukraine by Air initiative has taken off 69 times from Milic in Poland, from the airports of Cologne-Bonn, Augsburg and Mainz. His flights carried 17,000 kilos of luggage, special cancer drugs, first aid kits and blood purification equipment rushed to Ukraine, mainly from the warehouses of the Blue Yellow Cross in Cologne. “We recently received a call on Saturday morning that a special and very rare drug was needed at the Ukrainian border with Moldova, because an infected Ukrainian had developed antibiotic resistance. Then we arranged a flight from Dublin, and the same evening the patient got his first dose,” says Kai Wolf.

parcels to Bucha

Ukraine Air Rescue helped in Bucha, a town that gained worldwide fame after speaking out about atrocities committed by Russian soldiers. Together with the criminal police in Cologne and the Blue and Yellow Cross, it brought dozens of so-called “rape test kits” to Mainz airport to prove rape cases. Also in luggage: 200 kilograms of body bags.

“Fifty to fifty percent,” says Kai Wolff in response to whether he makes more time for his IT company or Ukraine Air Rescue.

Ukraine Air Rescue focuses on injured people who need surgery, people who need wheelchairs or unaccompanied children. But the air bridge to the border with Ukraine can only work if founder Wolff and his team organize the work behind the scenes.

Time, again!

Monday evening, the final steps before two scheduled flights. The next day, according to weather and weather changes, a bad air front moves over Poland. Experienced pilots can fly around, but it takes longer and the airport in Germany is not open to fly around the clock. Should the relief flight be canceled at short notice?

Then a suitable hotel will have to be booked quickly for the refugees waiting in the heat of the plane. This is now routine for Kai Wolf, who organizes all events on a laptop with the patience of an angel while calling pilots.

“Fifty to fifty percent,” says Wolf in response to whether he devotes more time to his IT company or Ukraine Air Rescue. The situation will not change in the near future, says Wolf, who has been to Ukraine several times and has many friends there: “When will it end? When the donation money is finished. Or we will collapse from fatigue. Or at best when the war is over.”

Oliver Bieber / AK

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