At the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, Vasyl Mazurin, an entrepreneur from Druzhkivka in eastern Ukraine, approached city doctors with an offer to help repair equipment that could aid patients suffering with COVID-19. Medical staff took him up on the proposal and presented him with their old, non-functioning lung ventilators.
“It was our initiative, and we weren’t sure we would cope. We’d seen these lung ventilators only on TV in the news,” said Mazurin. “But here at Kontact, we have production facilities, designers, and modern machines with computerized numerical control. We’d never repaired medical equipment, but we wanted to help—and we succeeded.”
Kontact LLC, a gas equipment manufacturer, has been working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Economic Resilience Activity (ERA) since 2019 receiving advice on business strategy, foreign market research and entry, and how to engage with international partners. When the company pivoted to work on ventilators, ERA helped it identify relevant technical and business relationships in Kyiv and Lviv, which improved Kontact’s expertise in ventilator production and accelerated the repair process.
Engineer Yevhen Benkov with a repaired ventilator. Photo courtesy of Kontact.
Ukraine registered its first case of coronavirus on March 3, and as of June 9 there are 27,856 confirmed cases, with 810 deaths.
To take on this challenge, Mazurin set up a dedicated team of workers to study lung ventilators. “I had never repaired anything like this before,” said Yevhen Benkov, an electrical engineer at Kontact. “I got all the instructions and started studying them, until I understood how these ventilators work. Although the ones we repair are old, basically it’s just that the mechanics are faulty. We got a ventilator from 1980, a model called PO-2. It works through active inspiration and expiration. We managed to repair it and gave it to the doctors.”
To date, Kontact has fixed all five ventilators submitted for repair and sent them to local hospitals. The firm does not charge for repairs, considering it a charitable contribution to the fight against the pandemic.
Doctors are now using the repaired ventilators. Photo courtesy of Kontact.
“Doctors have tested the equipment, and the ventilators are operational. They are different makes and years—from 20 to 40 years old,” said Mazurin. “They have exhausted their capacity long ago, but my employees managed to restart this equipment. On one ventilator they changed the tubing, for another they made rubber gaskets, made drawings and manufactured other parts.”
Even an old operating ventilator can save someone’s life, Mazurin says, but now his company is developing its own machine. Specialists from the DAI-led ERA team have put the Druzhkivka plant in touch with Kyiv specialists—programmers, engineers and doctors—as well as practicing anesthesiologists in Lviv.
Kontact may now branch out into building new ventilator machines. Photo courtesy of Kontact.
ERA has “helped us partner with other people interested in development. We have an ambitious goal: to develop our own lung ventilator. We are currently working on development of technical documentation, taking into account all expert opinion. We have recently consulted doctors from Lviv. After the technical specifications are approved, a prototype will be made. I believe we will be successful,” said Mazurin.
Other ERA partners are also redirecting their businesses to address the COVID-19 challenge, whether by producing masks and protective clothing for medical workers, manufacturing sanitizers, or promoting and delivering their services online. We look forward to supporting their pandemic responses as best we can.
Natalia Pokolenko is the media and information analyst for the USAID Economic Resilience Activity in Ukraine.