How A Business Community Is Saving Lives Amid COVID-19

September 22, 2020

To Andrey Stavnitser, the fight against COVID-19 is a battle of epic proportions. On the social media pages of a pandemic crisis center he founded in Odesa, Ukraine, drawings of superheroes next to doctors underscore the idea that medical providers are society’s modern-day heroes.

Stavnitser is neither a scientist nor a doctor. He’s the co-owner of the Ukrainian company and IFC client MV Cargo and co-owner of the Neptune grain terminal, a joint project between Cargill and MV Cargo. The terminal is located in the port of Yuzhny, in the south of Ukraine. Because of Stavnitser’s efforts, the COVID-19 crisis center in Odesa has mobilized 135,950,000 Ukrainian hryvnas (almost $5 million) to purchase testing equipment and support health-care professionals throughout Ukraine.

Stavnitser believes deeply in the need to keep Ukraine and its commercial enterprises healthy. So, in mid-March, as the global pandemic tightened its grip, Stavnitser gathered together the heads of more than 200 Odesa businesses to support local hospitals with medical equipment and personal protective equipment, supply households with food and supplies, and coordinate transportation and care for elderly people. Skills he learned in the business world translated well. The fundraising, operations, and procurement process were “just like developing an infrastructure project,” he says. “It was necessary to act quickly … as only private business can.”

The Regional Administration and City Council backed the crisis center from its earliest days.  Odesa is a popular tourist destination and the third-most populous city in Ukraine, and its density made citizens especially vulnerable to the pandemic.

In addition to the funds raised by the crisis center, the organization purchased and delivered sophisticated medical equipment, protective gear, and other much-needed items to hospitals, ambulance crews, social services agencies, family medicine centers, and a laboratory. These donations included 48,000 protective suits, 231,100 respirators, 200 pulse oximeters, 42 lung ventilators, and 32 oxygen concentrators, among other items.

The group also supplied meals to doctors in local hospitals and provided free accommodation and transportation. Working with ambassadors from the U.S., Israel, and Italy, leaders of the organization arranged workshops so that doctors from those countries could share expertise and training methods with local doctors.

Meeting an Unanticipated Need

The scale of the need introduced by the pandemic was beyond what Stavnitser or his colleagues could have anticipated. “At that [first] meeting, no one really knew anything,” he remembers. From the start, though, “Everyone put everything they could into this battle. Money, employees, communications, resources, their capacities, their products, their ability to negotiate and find solutions to difficult situations.”

With the crisis center’s support, many hospitals in Odesa region received lung ventilators and vital signs monitors. © TIS Group of Terminals

As the needs increased, so did the crisis center’s outreach. This required volunteers to work around the clock for months. But they were dedicated to their mission, Stavnitser points out. “No one ever said a word about how tired they were or asked for a weekend off. Everybody was very happy to be involved because people were scared—and when you're scared, you have to do something. You have to participate” in a solution.

As Ukraine gradually begins to reopen, the crisis center is collaborating with regional health-care agencies to share resources, and some of the companies associated with the crisis center will continue to provide for residents’ needs. Others have pledged to communicate their lessons learned to the Ministry of Health, regional health agencies, and other organizations so that solutions are more readily available in the future.

Stavnitser believes that making this information accessible will help strengthen Ukraine’s response to any public health crisis that might present itself. As he reflects on the past few months, he believes that the efforts of the crisis center show that the business community can unify and contribute to the greater good of local citizens.

Helping to protect people in Odesa from the first surge of COVID-19 was “a great honor for me,” he says. “If somebody asked me if I'd do it again, I think I’d say yes, because I feel that together we have done the right thing at the right time. And now we’re better prepared for the next emergency.”

Published in September 2020