Alberta-based search and rescue team works to find Ukrainian survivors beneath collapsed buildings

Members of an Alberta search and rescue group are in Ukraine working to save the lives of those trapped beneath the rubble of buildings collapsed by airstrikes.

The Canadian International Rescue Organization (CIRO) consists of eight volunteer team members, mostly from central Alberta, who have travelled to Kyiv to conduct a series of high-tech missions in hopes of finding survivors.

After reaching out to the Ukrainian consulate in Edmonton at the end of February to offer their services, the team embarked to Ukraine the following week with food rations and equipment.

Team leader Marcel Schur from Red Deer described unsettling moments that occur daily as his group enters the danger zones of Kyiv where strikes have hit less than a kilometre away. 

This included a tense moment on Monday, when a bomb went off across the freeway from where his team was conducting a search effort.

“It’s just up and down with these emotions,” Schur said.

“You go through the chaos and the confusion and everything like that, there’s high and lows, it’s hot and it’s cold at night and you get this big rollercoaster of a day.”

Schur says his team members are using cameras along with seismic sensors to detect movement. CIRO has been working exclusively with the Kyiv Fire and Rescue Service to train their firefighters how to use the technology.

“As long as it’s a conscious person and you can get them to tap or scratch on the surface of the rubble, we’ll be able to hear them,” said Schur.

“Normally in an earthquake you get layers of destruction, but because it’s all blown in, it all just falls and intertwines with each other. There’s not a lot of spots for the person to be underneath, but there is always a chance and that’s what we work for.”

As of Wednesday, the group has successfully completed searches of three buildings and has found one survivor.

Sadly, many people discovered are already deceased, but the hope of finding even a single survivor is why Calgarian Kyle Porter made the trip.

The nine-year member of the Canadian Armed Forces is a medic who was watching the Ukrainian conflict on television and felt it was an obligation to offer his services.

“I saw that footage and I thought, ‘that’s not fair.’ I have equipment, I have training. I have experience, and the fact that I get to sit here and enjoy the benefits of where I live compared to these people and their families, I knew I needed to do what I could to get some cosmic level of justice.”‘

Porter says he’s seen everything from minor wounds caused by pieces of glass falling from buildings, to people who are critically injured in explosions.

Those scenes are still difficult to experience for search and rescue team members like Jackson Siewert from Okotoks, Alta.

“It’s tough to see, but we’re here for a reason and you have to focus on that reason, because we want to help,” he said.

“There’s a lot of emotions for sure, but as a team we have to hold things together.”

CIRO is a non-profit organization that relies on donations for help.

 Anyone wishing to donate to CIRO can visit CanadaHelps.Org

The Canadian International Rescue Organization consists of eight volunteer team members, mostly from central Alberta.

 ‘THEY’RE RESILIENT AND DETERMINED’

Throughout the last three weeks of the CIRO tour of Kyiv, Schur says his team has been overwhelmed by the help of Ukrainian people who have provided food, water and housing.

His crew brought enough food rations to last at least 10 days, but so far none of his team members have had to delve into their supply.  

“It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with this team and to work with Ukrainian first responders, because they’re resilient and determined,” Schur said, holding back tears.

“The moments of finding a missing person are few and far in between, but with all the people that are around there, when you do find somebody who’s alive, it’s a really exciting moment.”

The Canadian International Rescue Organization consists of eight volunteer team members, mostly from central Alberta.Porter says the Ukrainians have a relentless attitude towards fighting this war.

“I have seen every single member of the Ukrainian public attempting to add to this war effort in some way, even people with very little to no training are signing up for the armed forces,” Porter added.

“I’ve seen women setting up bomb shelters, putting cam nets together and they are so determined that they will not be interfered by foreign forces.”

The CIRO team expects to depart Ukraine within the coming weeks so that the volunteer members may return to their everyday jobs.

Schur says he will be handing over the seismic recovery equipment to Ukrainian firefighters and plans to have a second rotation of volunteers soon.

“They all got jobs to do at home to make money and that kind of stuff there, but once they make enough money, we’re going to come back at it again and help out for a second round.”

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