Apr. 10, 2022
Since Feb. 24, 2022, news reports of the Russia-Ukraine War have been characterized by images of destroyed landscapes and, even more impactful, citizens who have been displaced, injured or worse. While many empathize with the Ukrainian people, Jeremy Fish, CEO of Enfield, England-based Ardent Hire, has deep-rooted ties to the region that have motivated him to take on some ambitious relief campaigns — efforts that he encourages his rental peers worldwide to join.
In the late 2000s, Fish was an executive with Aggreko, a power generation, heating and cooling supplier. Following three years of service in Houston, Fish was tasked with establishing the company’s operations in Russia. It was a mission that opened his eyes to the friendly nature of the Russian citizenry, and his fond memories of that period compound the grief he feels about the current conflict.
|The Ardent team on the road to deliver supplies for Ukraine
“I worked in Russia for five years and I was in Kyiv, Ukraine, on several occasions, extending relationships between the Russian and the Ukrainian business,” Fish says. “I found my Russian colleagues to be wonderful people — warm hearted, caring, kind, considerate and loyal. Russia at that time — in 2009 — was opening up, liberalizing and becoming freer. The country had huge potential, so it is with great sadness that it has been turning backwards, leading to where we are now. This war has tarnished 150 million people almost overnight.”
As Fish absorbed the devastating details emerging from the war zone, he reflected on the freedoms shared by both the U.S. and the U.K. and felt something needed to be done to help a country like Ukraine, which has been striving for similar conditions.
“We [the U.S. and the U.K.] cherish the same values: our freedom, the ability to speak freely even when our views are not popular or when people disagree, the right to protest. We have pretty good lifestyles that you take for granted until you see what’s going on somewhere like Ukraine. Ukraine was not without its challenges, but they’ve been on a path to democratization. The families that are affected by this war were leading normal lives like us up until a few weeks ago, and then all of a sudden, their cities have been razed to the ground,” Fish says.
A feeling of helplessness while viewing the carnage stemming from the war, coupled with his concern that people may eventually become desensitized to the relentless, violent imagery, spurred Fish to act.
“My big worry — because the news is so ghastly, with mass graves and people having their hands tied behind their back and shot — is that, because we see this every night on our television screens, we start to become numb to it and therefore don’t treat it with the revulsion it deserves,” he says. “Just seeing the news night after night, I felt a bit helpless. We felt as a company that we wanted to do something that was proactive and action based.”
Fish and his colleagues at Ardent Hire — a rental provider of telehandlers, excavators, dumpers, rollers and more that he has led since 2017 — had heard stories of people taking supplies to the Ukrainian front lines and decided to mount a relief campaign of their own.
|Transferring supplies in Slovakia for delivery to Ukraine
“Initially we got in touch with Polska, an organization in Poland, who was asking for supplies to be delivered to Warsaw, where they would then forward them on to Ukrainian refugees. We got a shopping list from Polska of things like batteries, torches, medicine tins, sleeping bags, blankets, new trainers, and women’s and children’s underwear. Word got round, and donations started flooding in. We collected £25,000 (US$32,486) in cash as well. We did all this over two weeks,” Fish says.
The Ardent team then set off in a three-truck caravan bound for Warsaw, but unforeseen circumstances led them instead to Košice, Slovakia, and a distribution partnership that shifted from Polska to the globally recognized humanitarian service, Rotary International.
“We heard reports of people not being able to contact Polska in Warsaw, and then leaving stuff in parking lots. We didn’t want to do that, so we got in touch with Rotary International. The Czech Republic and the Slovakian Republic Rotary Club is headed up by a businessman called Andriy Baganich. Andriy was very responsive. He said, ‘Yes, we want all of these items, but you have to meet us in Košice.’ That is about an hour away from the Ukrainian border town of Uzhhorod,” Fish says.
After a 1,300-mile, 20-hour journey, the Ardent team arrived in Košice and transferred their 250 boxes of donated materials to the Rotary International team who “drove off into Kharkiv, Ukraine — one of the towns that is being bombarded by the Russians,” Fish says. “They risked their own lives to do that drive, going into places where the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies are unable to go. It was a deeply moving experience.”
Fish and his Ardent crew didn’t stop there. Their connection with Baganich and Rotary International led to the next, and still-running, campaign — the 1K Mattress Appeal.
“We asked Andriy how else could help,” Fish says. “He said they need mattresses. Tens of thousands of people have come across the border from Ukraine into Slovakia and Poland, and they’ve got nothing to sleep on. They are put in gymnasiums, libraries, public buildings and schools, and a lot of them are sleeping on a hard floor. They might have a sleeping bag, but they need mattresses.”
A goal of securing 1,000 mattresses has been set by Fish and associates. “That’s maybe an absurd amount — it’s a lot,” he says. “We approached the National Bed Federation in the U.K. They were very supportive. They wrote to their members, and we started to have donations come in. We’ve now got 700 mattresses. We have dispatched 120 to the front line. The rest of them are all coming into one of our depots in Ipswich, England, and I’m hoping that we will dispatch the balance next week.”
|Photo courtesy of Andriy Baganich/Rotary International
Fish and Baganich are utilizing a variety of media outlets to spread the word about the 1K Mattress Appeal, including the BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.), who will feature the campaigns in segments set to run on programs that are anticipated to reach a broad audience. “BBC Midlands Today, in the center of England, and BBC Look East, in eastern England — the reach is about 20 million people,” Fish says.
Not wanting to limit his appeal for mattresses to those in the U.K. or Europe, Fish offers suggestions for people in the U.S. and other locations interested in supporting the cause.
“I’m aware that there’s a big ocean between us and it might be hard. But if people want to provide a donation, we will take their money and buy mattresses. We are working with [U.K.-based mattress suppliers] Silentnight and Dreams, with whom we have an arrangement to buy beds at cost. Similarly, if any American organizations out there have relationships with bed manufacturers that could provide donations from within Europe — either shareholders or influential people — that would be great,” he says.
In addition to the 1K Mattress Appeal, Fish also is facilitating donations of 10 and 100 kVA end-of-life generators for Ukrainians who are facing dwindling power resources in the war zone.
“There are a lot of people without power — the Russians have cut the power off or blown up their generating stations,” he says. “I’m sure a lot of American companies out there have end-of-life equipment that’s either going to be scrapped or sold for next to nothing. If they would consider sending it over, that would be absolutely amazing, and it would be directly helping the Ukrainian people.”
|Photo courtesy Andriy Baganich/Rotary International
As a member of the equipment rental community himself, Fish says that the mattress and generator donation campaigns are an opportunity for the industry to demonstrate its generosity and leverage equipment that is close at hand in a powerful way.
“This is our time to step up and do something,” Fish says. “[Ukrainian president] Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking for tanks and for weapons. We can’t provide those, but we can provide equipment and aid. We have a collective responsibility as a rental industry — not just in Europe, but across the world — to do something and help a country that is desperate for our aid. Our industry is an asset-intensive and asset-rich industry, and where some of the equipment that is at its end of life, we can actually provide it to the Ukrainians to help them.”
Those interested in contributing to the 1K Mattress Appeal or the campaign to secure 10 and 100 kVA end-of-life generators are invited to reach out directly to Fish at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)7917 242620.
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