The threat of bomb blasts is real for residents of the Ukraine who live near the front lines of the conflict with Russia.
A group of Canada-based volunteers, however, is giving those residents a reason to feel slightly safer with security window film.
Those volunteers—firefighters from the Toronto area—arrived on the ground May 31 with 16,000 square feet of security film to safeguard schools, nursing homes and churches in Mariupol, Ukraine (population 463,270 according to the United Nations). They have been trained by Convenience Group Inc., a Toronto-based 3M distributor, in installation procedures, and they’ll train local residents on how to install film on their buildings.
“We were approached by a local group called GlobalMedic,” which is a relief organization that brings aid to numerous disaster areas throughout the world, says Convenience Group owner George Turjanica. “One of their initiatives was to look after some issues in the Ukraine … They’re trying to [help] areas that are fairly close to the front lines.”
Mariupol is approximately 10 miles from the nearest battlefield where, as recently as June 1, a Ukrainian soldier was killed and four were wounded, according to liveaumap.com.
“There are many cities that we could have chosen,” says Rahul Singh, executive director of GlobalMedic. “Mariupol has been the site of a lot of indiscriminate rocket fire and mortars. There is a clear and present danger to civilians. The need is verified. There are many buildings that house vulnerable populations that we can deliver this project to.”
According to the United Nations, as of May 30 the conflict has killed 6,417 people.
But security film offers hope. “The whole objective here is to protect the occupants of the buildings when the shells go off in the vicinity so the shock of the shells won’t shatter the glass … It’s a pretty good program and it’s got the potential to save a lot of people,” Turjanica says.
Security film was used in a similar fashion by Israel when the nation had it installed on 27 of its hospitals. It’s also being used in other conflict zones.
“Window security film is now used to protect UN workers and the offices of big agencies,” says Singh. “This was following some security audits and changes after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. This pilot project is the first time we are deploying it to protect civilians. But I believe the idea has merit and is easy to understand and protects the vulnerable.”
Singh says he hopes to take the project to other parts of the Ukraine and even into Northern Iraq – if he can get money and access.
“If the pilot project works, which we believe it will, we will try and expand the project,” he says. “Funding and access are the two key obstacles to expansion. We will approach our government and the local diaspora to raise funds to deliver the program. Access will depend on the fighting. We’ll try to systematically install the film to priority areas that include schools, medical facilities, seniors building and places of worship. This way we protect the vulnerable: kids, the elderly, and the injured. We are also looking at replicating the program into Northern Iraq. Unfortunately there are a lot of places where this type of program is needed. But that is the reality of our world.”
Singh also thinks it’s protection that is absolutely necessary in conflict zones.
“When a mortar or a rocket goes off, the sonic boom shatters windows and turns the shards into sharp projectiles that hurtle through the air at great speed killing and maiming,” he says. “To be clear, it’s not the bomb that kills. Most of the time it is the flying glass. There needs to be a sense of normalcy and safety in these zones. Parents need to understand that their kids are safe when they go to school. By taking a simple action like installing blast film and caulking it to the frame, we can neutralize the threat posed by these windows. When faced with the options of boarding up windows or replacing each one with specialty glass, the most cost-effective and efficient method is installing blast film.”
And he also thinks it sets a great example for other companies and relief organizations.
“We are very proud of our partners at the Convenience Group,” Singh says. “They are subject-matter experts who are helping us with this project by training our team on how to train local installers, donating some installation kit and are helping negotiate bulk-volume discounts of the product. We are both bringing our expertise together, and the end result is a program that will protect vulnerable civilians living in very difficult conditions. It is a great example of a public-private partnership where industry uses its skills to help people, even if they are half a world away.”