SAP Employee Connects Private Pilots to Save Ukrainian Lives

“I’m just the one connecting the dots,” says SAP employee Stefan Sahling, co-founder of Ukraine Air Rescue.

The dots, as Sahling refers to them, are the individuals and organizations working tirelessly every day to transport desperately needed medical supplies into Ukraine and fly back vulnerable Ukrainian civilians, often wounded and traumatized, to safe countries in Central Europe.

Ukraine Air Rescue (UAR) connects private pilots and other volunteers with physicians, medical centers, pharmacies, and aid organizations to arrange supply flights to Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. Over 250 pilots from Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and elsewhere have signed up to help. The volunteers have completed more than 20 humanitarian flights so far.

“Our aircraft get medical supplies and urgent medicines to the places they’re needed fast,” says Sahling. “Requests come to us directly from hospitals and aid organizations in Ukraine and we deliver specifically to them. We also receive confirmation that the goods have arrived safely.”

On their return journeys, the aircrafts transport vulnerable people to safety, including mothers and children, the wounded, and disabled. Volunteers make sure that suitable accommodations are available for the refugees when they arrive at their destination.

Ukraine Air Rescue Delivers Medical Supplies to Hospitals and Flies Refugees to Safe Countries

Video by Norbert Steinhauser

Transporting the Wounded and Vulnerable

An avid pilot, Sahling has flown several missions to airports in Poland since Ukraine Air Rescue was founded and has witnessed the impact of the war on civilians. On May 11, he co-piloted one of three UAR-sponsored planes to Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in southeastern Poland to deliver medical supplies and pick up a family of four who had recently escaped the besieged city of Mariupol. Sergey, 64, had been buried in rubble when a Russian vacuum bomb destroyed the apartment building he lived in. He lost his wife and nine-year old grandson in the explosion. When rescue workers dug him out, one arm and a leg were crushed. He was rushed to hospitals in Mariupol and then Donetsk, but to save his life, doctors had to remove his right leg. His left arm was broken several times.

On his arrival in Germany, he was met by Semion Iomdin, a volunteer with the humanitarian organization Mrija Bergstrasse in Heppenheim, Germany. The flight reunited nine family members from three generations who are receiving medical attention in Germany. Iomdin thinks Ukraine Air Rescue fills an important need for refugee transport to safe countries. “Transport by land to a country like Germany takes up to 20 hours and requires quite a lot of logistics effort,” he says. “The flight only takes a few hours, so we contact UAR when we need to transport families that have suffered major injuries or trauma and time-to-treatment is a major factor.”

Ukraine Air Rescue also works with the German-Ukrainian aid association Blau-Gelbes Kreuz (Blue-Yellow Cross), Pharmacists Without Borders, and other organizations to supply hospitals in and around Ukraine. For example, a Ukrainian patient lying in a hospital in Iași, Romania, was diagnosed with sepsis but had a high resistance to antibiotics. UAR supported Pharmacists Without Borders by organizing the flight of a concentrated antibiotic from Ireland to Romania, enabling it to be administered to the patient within hours.

SAP Employees Help Ukraine

Ukraine Air Rescue has united SAP colleagues, partners, customers, and others in a common purpose. All bring their own special talents and strengths to the cause and are reinforcing the network into a resilient fabric. “I know how important it is to have a wave of people supporting in the background,” Sahling says.

For example, Peter Horsch, who is responsible for the partners in the SAP Retail team, heard about UAR from a friend and signed up as a pilot through the website. Sahling got in touch with him, and it turned out that they both work at SAP. Horsch has flown to Poland three times now. He can transport up to seven people in his Cessna 414. He says: “SAP is a very altruistic corporation that not only supports financially in times of crisis, for example through the Solidarity Fund, but also encourages employees to donate their time to charitable organizations.” Through UAR, Horsch experiences many aspects that are also deeply rooted in SAP’s corporate culture, like solidarity, mutual support, commitment, and the willingness to build bridges: “Everyone makes a small contribution and gets involved where their strengths lie.”

Other examples include Sahling’s manager, Andreas Hauke, chief information security officer for SAP Customer Experience, who volunteers his expertise to keep the organization’s website secure. Uliana Caceres, senior developer for SAP Customer Experience, helped establish a cooperation between UAR and München hilft Ukraine (Munich helps Ukraine) to send 600 liters of insulin to Lviv. She also helps bridge the language barrier in support of UAR’s transport logistics. Michal Tabakowski and Pawel Wiacek, SAP employees in Poland, volunteer with local NGO Salam Lab (Laboratory of Peace) to organize the logistics for Ukrainian refugees traveling on UAR’s return flights. And Anouk Vastert from SAP in the Netherlands helped by sourcing tourniquets from the U.S. to help save lives in Ukraine.

The Power of Connections

The humanitarian crisis has unleashed the power of personal and professional connections in the tech industry, as people collaborate across companies with single purpose. ServiceNow is supporting the aid organizations Blau Gelbes Kreuz e.V. and UAR with a ServiceNow platform-based application that maps all process steps of the relief operations, developed within only a few weeks. Sascha Wildgrube is a senior technical consultant at ServiceNow. Together with a core team and many supporters, he is developing an application that manages the processes from the requests of the Ukrainian hospitals; to the procurement and dispatch of medical supplies, including transport documents; to the return transport of the passengers in need of help and accommodation in Germany.

“We started immediately and implemented the most important processes,” Wildgrube says. “Our goal was to give NGOs a better alternative to email, chats, and spreadsheets for planning and coordination, thus enabling them to carry out their work in a structured, fast and compliant manner.”

He estimates about 200 person-days have already been invested in the application so far, with time donated by ServiceNow and Teiva Systems employees and by paid time allocated by ServiceNow. “It’s just good what we’re doing,” says Wildgrube. “Normally, our solutions help companies work efficiently and save costs. This time, we’re using it to help people who have been wounded in war to survive.”

About Ukraine Air Rescue

An aid organization founded by private pilots in March 2022, Ukraine Air Rescue uses private aircraft and volunteer pilots to fly medicines and medical supplies to the Ukrainian border on short notice and without red tape. From the border, helpers take the supplies to where they are needed most, mainly to hospitals. Return flights transport vulnerable and injured Ukrainian citizens to safe countries where they are helped by aid organizations.

  • Founded by SAP employees Stefan Sahling, Kay Wolf, and other pilots in March 2022
  • Over 250 pilots from 13 countries
  • 21 missions flown from 14 airports in Europe
  • More than 20 tons of freight, an estimated value of more than €1 million
  • 39 persons in need of help flown back and safely housed
  • Nine hospitals in Ukraine supplied
  • Cooperation with partners such as Blau-Gelbes Kreuz e.V., Pharmacists without borders, Mrija Bergstrasse, City of Hope Cologne, and Humanitarian Pilots Initiative