CLIFTON — For the first few weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, the pace at shipping company Meest was frenetic.
Meest specializes in shipping goods to Ukraine, and the demand for medical and other relief supplies has been intense since the start of the war.
Meest workers say things have slowed down, but last week, on Wednesday, in an interview with Vasyl Tehza, who runs operations at the Clifton satellite office, things were still buzzing.
It’s well past 5 p.m. and Tehza’s cell phone rings almost nonstop. When he answers questions, he is lively but laconic.
“For the first two weeks after the war started, we worked 21 hours a day,” Tehza said, adding that he sometimes had to show up at 3 a.m. to receive a shipment.
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The Clifton office alone shipped more than 1,000 pallets of much-needed goods in those first two weeks, he said.
Meest is the go-to shipper for getting items to Ukraine, especially since the company and many of its employees have direct ties to the beleaguered country.
Tehza and his wife left Ukraine eight years ago, and his parents are still there. While always supportive of humanitarian efforts, the Russian-Ukrainian war is personal to Meest workers.
Immediately after news of the Russian invasion, his office was flooded with orders as people were desperate to help Ukraine and its people.
Items must be unpacked, sorted and prioritized.
Tehza said dozens of volunteers turned out to help sort the goods. The first priority went to medical supplies. Clothes, with rare exceptions, have taken a back seat.
“I tell them, keep them and wait a few weeks,” he said. Returning to a box full of medical supplies, he grabbed a pack of catheters. “Do you see that? It saves lives.
The equipment is shipped by air or sea. Air deliveries take five to seven days and usually land in Poland, as all Ukrainian airports are closed, then transferred to trucks and dispatched to relief groups or a government agency. Items sent by sea take weeks.
Despite the war, in parts of Ukraine, Meest resumed parcel delivery.
Among these shipments were firefighting equipment collected and organized by Clifton Fire Department.
Items like personal protective equipment donated by Passaic and 21 other fire departments to Norwich, Vermont — in the 400 sets of turnout equipment — were sent out last week, Clifton Fire Lt. Mark said. Drew.
“We currently have another 400 to 500 sets of personal protective clothing to ship and they will be packed this Sunday,” Drew said.
Tehza said he greatly appreciates the donations and doesn’t mind the extra work, considering what Ukrainians are going through.
He foresees a time when people will be settled as refugees or perhaps able to return home when there is a need for items like clothing.
His company, based in Port Reading, New Jersey, offers deep discounts and welcomes donations to offset costs. Donations are accepted at razomforukraine.org/meest and are tax deductible.
Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.