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How to Bomb-proof Medicine

  • April 11, 2023
  • Access to Medicines
  • Ukraine
  • Finished rebuild of former bomb shelter providing safe storage rooms for cancer drugs. The remodeled area is organized into separate rooms with fridges and boxes of cancer medicine.(Photo/Mission Kharkiv)

“Probably no one had visited this place for the last 40 years!”  

Rostislav Filippenko

When the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv came under attack in 2022, health professionals knew they had to save lives – and medicine.

The nonprofit Mission Kharkiv went searching for a bomb-proof shelter specifically for oncology medicine, including medication for chemotherapy. These medicines need to be stored in a cold-chain controlled environment (between 2-8° C) to be effective.

After six weeks of searching, Mission Kharkiv founder Rostislav Filippenko heard about a basement under a supermarket and, while visiting, saw a neighboring room that was already reinforced and bomb-proof. “It was a former Soviet Union bunker!,” says Filippenko. “Probably no one had visited this place for the last 40 years!”  

The space was ideal: 60 square-meters and 3 meters underground, with thick metal doors and strong walls constructed during the Soviet era specifically as a bomb shelter. “The supermarket owner offered us this place for free, but it needed a huge amount of work to modify it for medicine storage,” says Filippenko. Americares provided the funds needed to improve the space.  

With a biotech engineer, Mission Kharkiv designed and remodeled the bunker into medicine storage not only safe from attacks, but also from power outages. “We included an automatically run 10kW generator with a fuel reservoir for seven days of independent functioning connected to the fridge chambers and Starlink for online temperature monitoring,” says Filippenko,

Mission Kharkiv has already received a shipment of oncological medication that will fully stock the facility for at least a year.

“The beneficiaries of the project will be the most vulnerable people who have cancer and cannot purchase medication themselves,” says Filippenko. Mission Kharkiv collatoriages with the Ministry of Health and Kharkiv Health Department, and the facility may store medicines distributed by the Ministry of Health. “We estimate that at least 20,000 oncology patients from Kharkiv and the surrounding regions, including people displaced within Ukraine due to the invasion, will benefit from this project,” he says. Read more about our response to the War in Ukraine.

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