esanum Stories: Medicine on board for Ukraine

Almost single-handedly, a trainee doctor brought medical aid worth more than € 50,000 to Kiev. How does he assess this spontaneous initiative?

How two students raised €50,000 in just a few days

Just two days after the start of the war in Ukraine, medical student David Mausolf, currently in his traineeship at a hospital in Mannheim, and law student David Gall sat together and talked about their friends in Kiev. In 2021, David Gall spent four months in the Ukrainian capital on a study exchange, and his friend Mausolf visited him. A showman took a photo of them on Majdan Square with doves of peace on their hands. Looking at it now, they don't know whether to laugh or cry.

All day long, David Gall received messages on his mobile phone, including one from a friend from ELSA. She asked him if he could transport some medical supplies to the Polish-Ukrainian border. ELSA is short for European Law Students Association, a network of young lawyers and law students, and this is the very organisation that made Gall's stay in Kiev possible in 2019.

Rescue blankets for Ukraine sold out

The two Davids decided to drive to the border together, since it's much more fun when there are two of them. Before they went to bed, they quickly posted an appeal for donations on Instagram at 11.17 p.m. on a Saturday night. Their motto: "If we're going to drive, we might as well pack the car full." By the time they woke up the next morning, more than €1,000 in donations had been raised in just those few hours. And suddenly the pressure was on to spend this money as promised.

What followed was a rough division of labour: The one David (law school) has the contacts to Kiev via the ELSA network and inquired what was really needed and how it could be transported on from the border. The other David (med school) was in charge of procurement. Thanks to his work at the hospital, he knows at least basic emergency medicine and was able to compare different suppliers. The biggest problem here was that rescue blankets, for instance, were being acquired by all aid organisations in Germany at that moment, and there were hardly any left. Insofar, the question wasn’t primarily who supplied the cheapest, but rather what was still available at all?

Kindergarten in the German city of Kassel donated sleeping mats

As David Mausolf received advice from a paramedic friend on which painkillers and emergency medication to buy, the amount of donations was growing behind the scenes. One reason was that friends and acquaintances shared the two students’ post on their own social media channels. This was also the case in Kassel, where Mausolf used to attend the Waldorf School: On Monday, the head of the Waldorf kindergarten got in touch. She said that there had already been talks among the parents about how they could get involved, whether the two Davids could actually use the money they had collected and whether they could also use donations in kind such as sleeping mats and sleeping bags?

"We quickly realised that a private car was not going to be enough," said David Mausolf. "But the situation kept changing: One minute we had a rental car, the next we didn't, and the next the car we had booked wasn't large enough. And even at the border the rules changed. At first you could still drive as far as Lviv, then only NGOs or people with special permits were allowed in." David added that "in the end we had collected €14,751.53 from 224 individual donors. On top of that, a large donation from the ELSA network for €10,000 worth of medicines and other donations in kind." In retrospect, both assess the fundraising campaign as "totally unprofessional": It was clear to all donors that they would not receive a donation receipt, and the two Davids would take whatever they could get. This included the donations in kind from individual donors in Kassel: "They completely emptied the pharmacies there," said David Mausolf.

One more thing...


An emergency backpack on top of disinfectant

Sorting in the Warsaw office

Properly labelled boxes, and helpers 

A van full of medical supplies

On Tuesday, 1 March, the two set off from Mannheim in a 16-cubic-metre Sprinter truck, which was "the largest we were allowed to rent on a regular driving licence". As they were on the way to a medical supplies wholesaler in the German town of Frankenthal, more donations kept coming in. So the staff there promptly packed two emergency backpacks worth €500 each. In Frankfurt, the students stayed overnight with a friend from the ELSA network. Then they left at 06:30 the next morning to collect the donations in Kassel.

The Sprinter van was filled to the brim with large relief supplies such as sleeping bags and sleeping mats and, in between, small boxes with expensive medicines. On top of that were the two emergency backpacks with an intubator, a blood glucose metre, a blood pressure cuff, in short, what every doctor used to carry in their doctor's case and what modern doctors now carry on their backs. The drivers didn't arrive in Warsaw until well after midnight, completely exhausted, and at 4.20 a.m. they conked out. But they were already up again at 10 a.m. to unload the truck at the renowned international law firm CMS: CMS made its offices available for the temporary storage of the goods.

Their work was by no means done, because the various kinds of medicines, bandages and supplies had to be neatly sorted and the boxes needed to be labelled in English and Russian. In several cafés in Warsaw, the two students waited for the evening and for the office to close for the day. Then, still rather tired, it was time for them to work another 7 hours. David Mausolf is the only one with the necessary medical knowledge, and he directed 15 volunteers from the lawyer's office and organised the optimal distribution and packaging. He admitted: "I was thinking to myself, you don't do that every day, I can put that on my CV." Wasn't he annoyed at that moment that he had accepted the donations from the "pharmacy buyout" in Kassel in the first place? Mausolf shook his head vigorously. "I think it just felt good for people to be able to do something instead of giving €100 to the Red Cross."

A week later, the Davids travelled to the border once more. This time around, they had a system in place that was, as Mausolf himself said, "less chaotic": he sorted the goods and labelled the boxes in his father's garage in Kassel, which was quicker than having lots of people scurrying around speaking different languages. Also, the circle of donors and the scale of the donations was smaller this time, but the campaign retained its charm of direct, unbureaucratic aid: Mausolf's grandmother, for example, collected donations at her retirement home, and within a few minutes more than €1.000 were on the table. "That's the life of the campaign," David Mausolf summarised, "the people knew us and had faith in us."

Bottom line: €50,000 raised and lessons learned for life

The two students happily and proudly announced on their social media channels that the supplies of the first transport arrived in Kiev on 8 March, those of the second on 16 March – medical supplies worth more than €50,000. Could anyone have done it? "After all, many did!" said both Davids. "It only worked out because so many people participated, so here's another thank you to all the donors, advisors, suppliers. It was a joint effort," emphasised David Gall. He remains in contact with his friends in Ukraine, most of whom have left Kiev in the meantime. Medical student Mausolf made new friends and will join Gall at the next ELSA meeting in Brussels.

"It's kind of silly to say this because the occasion is so sad," David Mausolf reflected. "But we learned a great deal. And to feel this willingness to help, to be able to absorb and channel it like that, that was something special. In any case, it also helped me in my career as a doctor. Not necessarily in terms of medical knowledge, but as a 24-year-old you are often standing in front of a 50-year-old patient and are supposed to tell them how they can live their lives better. And it's important to have experiences like that, to gain other perspectives that are incredibly valuable for the profession."