Weʼre raising £72,000 to travel to Ukraine for an eighth time to provide refugees with food and supplies
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In 2022 with 2018, I had the pleasure of travelling to Ukraine with two great friends on a fund raising charity drive to raise money for our local First Responders. I only spent three nights in Kyiv but found the people to be decent, friendly, warm and welcoming. For that reason, we decided to do something to help them.
Our first trip!
As many of you will know, we visited Ukraine in April, taking a suitcase of childrens clothes and sweets and plus a credit card, knowing we could spend over £7,000 on food and essentials. We flew to Krakow in Poland where we were met by a friend called Igor, a Ukrainian refugee who moved to Poland after Russia invaded.
Our first trip was to a huge supermarket in Krakow, where we filled his minibus with supplies – twelve full shopping trollies in total!
We then travelled to Jaroslaw in Poland for the night and, on the 22nd of April, we drove to Medyka, on the Poland Ukraine border, taking a surprisingly short three hours to cross into Ukraine, due to the fact we were carrying aid and we were waved through past miles of queuing traffic. Once in Ukraine, we travelled to Lviv where we made the first of our food drops to people living in apartments. These people were so grateful that they insisted we sit and eat with them as their way of saying a small thank you. Very humbling.
From Lviv, we went to Ternopil, further East and met with the leaders of a church which regularly feeds 200 people a day and at night, turns into a refuge with the pews moved to allow mattresses to be spread out. After learning what the church people needed, we left to go to a missionary refuge where we unloaded all of our supplies and were given food and a bed for the night.
The next day, we went to a huge cash and carry and filled the minibus again, this time to take to the church. We filled their stockroom with enough food to feed 200 people for around two weeks and again, were invited for food. Wonderful people who were so grateful.
That afternoon, we visited two local schools which have been turned into refugee centres, with ten or twelve people living on mattresses on the floor of classrooms. Many had been injured, most had lost everything and all were in tears to see that we had travelled to bring something.
The rest of the day was more shopping for the missionary refuge and then we returnedto Lviv. An interesting evening with air raid alarms twice but luckily, no actual raid!
On the Sunday, we bought more supplies and crossed back into Poland. We headed to Krakow where we said goodbye to Igor who then drove the supplies to Warsaw to distribute to fellow Ukrainians living near him.
A quiet amazing trip, full of emotion and great satisfaction. To see the look on the face of a person who has next to nothing when you give them enough food for a week is something quite valuable. To know you helped is priceless and we created some memories in those few days that we will never forget.
Our second trip!
We had a successful second trip to Ukraine in June, visiting Rivne, Kyiv, Velyka Dymerka, Irpin and Bucha.
A far more disturbing trip than the first, due to what we witnessed. On our first trip, we met many people living in uncomfortable but safe surroundings. This time, we visited people living in what remained of their shattered homes. Some still had remnants of Russian missiles in their gardens and all had experienced the worst of humanity.
The devastation we experienced in Irpin and Bucha was worse than anything you have seen on the news. Home after home destroyed but people were still trying to live there despite no water and no electricity in many cases.
One of the saddest moments was when we met Anastacia and her mother. Anastacia is disabled and she and her parents had fled their home in the East when the Russians invaded. They were living in an unused school in Rivne along with more than 100 other refugees. We gave them a substantial amount of food and promised we would find some important medicine in Kyiv and post it back for Anastacia.
This was an eye opening experience and, at times, a quite upsetting one. Nevertheless, it made us more determined than even to continue doing whatever we can.
We are now aiming to hit £20,000. With £12,700 spent on our first two trips, this will give us over £7,000 and, to ensure we can spend it, we’re going for a week rather than five days.
Our third trip
On the 25th of August, we flew to Poland and again, we were met by Igor. He had already been shopping and had dozens of bags of food to distribute. We drove into Ukraine with two Ukrainian women and their children who were desperate to return home and dropped one off with her family in Korostyshiv. The young boy hadn't seen his grandfather since the war started and they cuddled for the whole time we were there.
From there we took the long drive to Kyiv, taking the other lady and her son safely to their temporary home.
Our first full day in Kyiv meant an early vist to the cash and carry and this was the pattern for the next three days, buying food , packing identical bags, loading them into our minibus and driving to destroyed towns and villages to deliver it. We visited Chernihiv, Bohdanivka, Borodyanka, Vyleka Dymerka and others. All had people living in shattered homes, often without water or electricity.
An additional and very moving part of our trip was to take the ashes of a young British soldier, Jordan Gatley. Jordan died whilst fighting with the International Legion of the Ukrainian Army. He was posthumously awarded Ukraines highest military honour and we were proud to collect this on his parents behalf and bring it home to England.
None of this is easy. The fund raising is the hardest part of all and the emotional side of seeing these people and the conditions in which they live isn't fun either. However, we've loved what we've achieved and are keen to get back in January.
Our fourth trip!
Our fourth trip was easily the most successful, most rewarding and most unnerving trip we've done. On Sunday 5th February, we flew from Birmingham airport to Warsaw in Poland. From there, a drive of 285 (460km) miles through heavy snow to Medyka where we parked our hire car and walked across the border. Igor was waiting for us and, by this point, it was 6.00pm Ukraine time. We then started the long, 400 mile (643 km) journey to Kyiv, over very poor roads and again in heavy snow but couldn't make it all the way and stayed in a hotel near Korostyshiv. We did the rest of the journey the next morning and met with our contacts in the Ukraine army. They asked us if we would be prepared to take food into an area close to the front line in Kherson and provided us with helmets and body armour!
We had the benefit of an additional van, filling it with around £3,800 of food plus a generator that was going to be invaluable for a church that was a meeting point for people to eat, get warm and, with our help, now have light and the ability to charge mobile phones. We then set off South, travelling to Odessa and then Mykolaiv for the night, another 7 hours driving and another 380 miles (610 km). Next morning, we travelled to a church where members of the army were waiting to help us unload and pack our food into separate bags. The temperature was -3C but they supplied us with coffee and, believe me, after packing this many bags, we were warm. Once the 200 bags of food were loaded, we headed for Oleksandrivka where the remaining villagers were waiting for us at the village hall. Every person here had either lost their home or had it damaged. There was no electricity and the village hall was the hub for everything, with a large wood burning stove, makeshift power and even a Starlink internet connection. When we arrived, the army chaplain blessed the crowd and we then gave a large bag of food to everyone, with around 150 bags gone in seconds.
From there we went to Stanislav and handed out another 30 or so bags of food and it was here that we heard artillery in the distance for the first time. Quite disturbing!
From there, we headed to Kherson, a city recently liberated by the Ukrainians but still under daily shelling. The devastation there was as bad as anything we had seen in any of our trips and it's hard to imagine what these people have endured. We gave out the rest of our food and headed back to Mykolaiv. We learned later that Kherson, where we had been a couple of hours earlier, was again shelled and people injured.
On Wednesday, we left Mykolaiv and returned to Kyiv, with our army friends inviting us to a makeshift base hidden in a village close to Kyiv. From here, they co-ordinate the tracking of incoming drones and missiles. We were shown the control room where various ammunition was stored and where they had sophisticated displays tracking anything in the air. They gave us a late lunch of traditional Ukrainian food and then took us to another location where we were shown a mobile surface to air missile launcher. This had been on station since June and, in our previous two trips, we have driven past it a couple of dozen times but it was so perfectly camouflaged that you would bever know it's there. We finished Wednesday with more shopping and bagged it ready for delivery on Thursday morning.
On Thursday, after delivering to a nearby village, we went shopping again, this time buying a massive quantity of food to take to the army church in Kyiv where they could then take it further to the front line in Bakhmut where it was too risky for us to go. Once this was unloaded, we returned to the cash and carry and had another massive shop. We bagged this up in sub zero temperatures in the car park and, due to failing light, decided to deliver it the next morning.
Friday, our last day in Kyiv, we were woken at 4.00am by the familiar sound of the air raid sirens. Even though we've heard these so may times before, they still send a shiver down your spine. We set off to travel to Chernihiv where we had been before in August, We met with Valeria and were invited in for coffee and food. It's humbling that these people who have little or nothing, insist on giving whatever they have to us. Before we left, Valeria's son played the Bandara, a traditional Ukrainian instrument. Outside, a large crowd had been expecting us and we handed out all of our food. An amazing thing to do when you see their faces and one man insisted that we wait while he ran upstairs to a high floor in this apartment block to get us a present. He came back with Ukrainian hats, scarves and flip flops and happily posed for a picture. Our last stop in Chernihiv was with a particularly lovely gentleman who was the grandfather of a young man called Yevhen that we first met in Lviv in April last year on our first trip. His grandson now lives with my sister in the UK and he wanted us to have lunch to thank us for our help. Again, a person with very little who still insisted he had to share what he had.
As we left Chernihiv to head to Kyiv and then return to the Polish border, we learned that most of Ukraine was expecting missile or drone attacks and many had already been launched. The reality of this was bought home to us as we travelled under a bridge where two Ukrainian soldiers were waiting with surface to air missile launchers. It seems that Russia had launched its 14th mass missile strike with dozens of cruise missiles launched at Kyiv as well as Kherson where we had been previously and Lviv where we were headed next! However, a safe, uneventful but long journey saw us end our day in Lviv at 10pm that evening. The next morning, we did the last two hours back to Medyka, walked through both border checkpoints and collected our car. From there, a four hour drive took us to our hotel in Warsaw where we had a well earned beer.
Our fifth trip
As you may have seen, all of our aid trips are in memory and honour of Jordan Gatley, a brave English soldier who died in Ukraine whilst fighting for the freedom of that country. Jordan’s mum and dad, Sally and Dean, have become great supporters of our aid efforts and Dean joined us for this trip.
We set off from Birmingham to fly to Warsaw and again, drove a hire car 285 miles (460 km) to Medyka at the border with Ukraine. We walked across the border to meet with Igor and started the long journey to Kyiv. Although the weather was far better this time, other traffic and accidents meant we couldn’t reach Kyiv before the midnight curfew. We stayed in a familiar hotel near Korostyshiv and made the rest of the journey to Kyiv on the Wednesday morning.
Our first visit was to deliver some goods to Tania & Dima Malinovski who had originally left Ukraine once the war started. Dima had suffered kidney failure in the past and now needs dialysis every two days. Only in the last two weeks, did he receive the assurance that this could be carried out in Ukraine and he and Tania returned. Although they had very little, they insisted that we had coffee and food and then Tania showed us her superb singing voice.
From there, we went shopping, filled well over a hundred bags with food and then met with another Dima, our Army friend. He had arranged for us to take food to remote villages north of Kharkiv. Again, we would be in an unsafe area and he supplied all four of us with helmets and body armour. Before we went, he presented us with a plaque as a thank you from the Chaplain Patrol. We left Dima and headed East to Kharkiv. Another long drive of well over 6 hours and around 500 kilometres before we reached our hotel. As usual, it was too late for dinner and, to make us feel we’re in Ukraine, the normal air raid siren too!
The next morning, we drove to a town called Derhachi to meet with Svetlana from the local government office who would arrange for us to go further north. For the first time, we were told we needed a permit from the military to enter a conflict zone and, after some waiting, we received this. A picture is here together with the translation kindly done by a Facebook friend.
Svetlana led the way in her car, saying we must follow her and not vary from her path due to mines. We headed North East to two villages and on the way, passed soldiers on mine clearing duties and saw some of the most devastated landscapes we had experienced. It was clear from the damage that theis area had seen some fierce fighting. The first village we reached was Mali Prokhody and it was here that we realised just how close we were to the Russian border. The artillery fire sounded much closer than we experienced last time and my phone received a text message saying ‘Hi from EE. Welcome to Russia’! When we looked at the map, Russia was less than 10km (6 miles) away! Mali Prokhody was occupied on the second day of the Russian invasion and lost their electricity supply that day. They were liberated in September but still, fourteen months after being attacked, they have no electricity.Two generators, shared between the village, are all they have to charge mobile phones and the mobile coverage is patchy too. We gave out food to all of the villagers there and travelled to the larger village of Velyki Prokhody.
At Velyki Prokhody, they had suffered badly. Cars were defaced with the Russian Z symbol and most buildings were destroyed, including a medical centre that was brand new and due to open five days later. Instead of protecting it in case they could use it themselves, the Russians destroyed it, then used a nearby school as their base. We were shown the school by Svetlana and it was tragic to see all of the childrens things but with most of them destroyed and defaced. The school theatre was still full of Russian ammunition boxes, uniforms and helmets and we then saw the sports hall with where the Russians had even driven tanks inside. In September, when the Ukrainians liberated the village, many of the Russian soldiers were killed and we were shown the basement where they holed up for their final battle. All quite disturbing. On a blackboard in a classroom, written by a Russian soldier, was the message that translates into “Forgive Us”.
With all of our food given out, we started the drive back to Kyiv. Because Dean was with us, we were asked to join members of the International Legion of Ukraine for dinner. These were Jordan Gatley’s comrades and friends and the hours we spent with them that evening will stay in my mind. Many stories and many words of affection for Jordan and we also learned that the small pack of Jordan’s ashes are with one of the Legion every time they go on a mission. A quite amazing bunch of men and many could be earning much more money doing other security roles elsewhere in the world but all choose to be here for the right thing. At the end of the evening, two representatives of the Internation Legion of Ukraine Memorial arrived. They presented Dean with a medal to honour Jordan and presented us with one to say thank you for all of our efforts so far.
The next day, Dean stayed with Jordan’s former commander and Dave, Igor and I went shopping again, this time for the familiar ‘big’ shop. We spent a few thousand pounds on food and took it to the Army church for them to bag it and distribute it closer to the frontline. Once we had unloaded, we returned for more shopping, this time bagging it all up in the car park in the normal way. It’s interesting to note that when we first started, we were spending around £20 per bag to provide 14 items. This time, taking care to find every special offer and discount, we manage to fill a bag with 17 items for just under £18.
It was getting late by the time we finished the packing and we called it a day. The next day, we returned to a village we last visited in August of last year, Velyka Dymerka. Some things had changed here, with some people managing to start rebuilding their homes but others were not so lucky. There were one or two heart warming moments though. In August last year, we met a lovely lady who cried because she was on her own and all her family were in Germany. This time, her house was full and all of her family were there, including children and grandchildren. We also paid a surprise visit to the home of a wonderful young lady called Angelina. We met her on our very first trip when she was helping in a mission that we stayed at in the town of Ternopil. She was home with her parents and delighted to see us. The opposite end of the scale of emotions was meeting a lady who watched as the Russians threw a hand grenade into an outside store where her son was hiding. He died and, not longer after, her husband had a heart attack and died. She cried when she told us that she had buried them both in the same cemetery.
By now, the money was spent and we decided to start the long journey back to the Polish border, breaking it overnight at Pantaliya, near Rivne. The next day, we finished up at Medyka around lunchtime, had the customary farewell photo with Igor and crossed the border back to the car before driving to Warsaw.
The next day was our last day and we struck lucky. It was a National holiday in Poland and the main street of the part of Warsaw we were in was turned into one massive street party. An amazing day, with music, great weather, people partying and lots of fun but ironic that we were enjoying this whilst the neighbouring country was fighting a war.
If you donated, thank you so much. You did something good and we’re grateful. We now start planning for our sixth trip in two months time.
None of this would be possible without the donations we have received so thank you so much. Every £20 allows us to buy a decent bag of food that will feed a person for a week. We know we have done some great stuff on this trip as well as all of the others and will continue to do so, with our next trip which will be at the end of July. We have now spent £41,000 and aim to raise at least another £9,000 for the next visit.
Our sixth trip
OUR SIXTH TRIP WAS A LITTLE DIFFERENT!
This time, we took a car to donate to the Ukrainian Army. We set off at 6.30 pm on Thursday 24th August. We stayed in Belgium for the first night, Germany on the second night and made it to Lviv in Ukraine for Saturday night, finishing in Kyiv at 3.30pm on Sunday 27th with a total of around 1,750 miles. We met with our friend Igor at a Metro cash and carry and went shopping, then packed over 100 bags of food to deliver the next day.
We then took the car to the Army church and handed it over and got to bed.
The next day, Monday 28th, we headed to Chernihiv, on the way filling up a fuel station that looked half derelict! In Chernihiv, just a week or so ago, there was a missile strike on the local theatre with several killed and over 120 injured. When we arrived, the clean up operation was still going on. I can't show you here but some of the photos are sickening. Just outside the city, a party of around 100 people were waiting for us and we were given such a warm greeting! W handed out 100 bags that we packed yesterday and gave two children some knitted gifts from Ann Eastes , part of the amazing Nutty Knitters group in Nantwich. With that done, we headed back to Kyiv to buy more food and packed another 100 bags for the next day when we visit a place we haven't seen before.
Tuesday was another long day. Drove back to Chernihiv to pick up Anton, a new guide and then drove north for a further three hours, along terrible roads, to Orlivka, a village close to both the Belarus and the Russian borders. At the village church, people were waiting for us and, after a short introduction and a prayer, we handed out food. Once finished, the pastors insisted we stay for lunch. Simple but tasty and very good of them. The drive back was the same five hours and no time to shop for tomorrow so an early start for us in the morning.
Wednesday morning, around 5.00am, Kyiv came under attack again, with a missile hitting a supermarket around 2.5 miles from our hotel. Probably the closest we have come to anything and I managed to sleep through it all! Out for early shopping before heading off to a village called Dymer. On the way, we stopped at Sirius Dog Rescue, dropping an item off for someone and giving them two bags of dog food. A warm welcome from everyone at Dymer and again, all of our food was given out. Back at the hotel that evening, we were visited by a gentleman called Marss from the Legion of Volunteers. A really good man that we have met before and he presented us with embroidered patches.
No drama on the Wednesday night and, after an early food shop and delivery, we took the eight hour drive from Kyiv to the Polish border. We walked across the border and, instead of getting in a hire car to return to Warsaw, we took a taxi to a hotel and the next day, took a six hour train trip to Warsaw, ending up there at 4.30pm before flying home the next day.
Our seventh trip
Details of the seventh trip will be here shortly.
If you donated, thank you. You have helped us do something amazing!
In the seven trips, here’s some interesting statistics:
We’ve travelled 26,295 miles (12,405 miles flying, 13,264 driving and 626 miles by train)
We’ve purchased around £62,000 of food
We’ve packed over 3,000 bags of food.
We’ve bought and delivered over 18 tonnes of food
We’re very proud of this and couldn’t do it without your donations.
Now we start fund raising for our eighth trip which will be in May and we aim to reach £72,000, giving us £9,000 to spend.
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- 1 month ago
Gary Fear1 month ago
Just three days to go and we smashed our target of £60,000! We have spent £51,000 so far meaning we should have had £9,000 to spend. Now, with an extra £3,000 we can do so much. Included in this is a huge donation from one of The Soroptomists in Nantwich and they would like us to buy a generator for a village and we'll be delighted to do that and deliver it too. Thanks so much if you donated something. If it was fiver, a tenner, twenty quid or more, it has been invaluable and we can't do this without your help. You've all been amazing.
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- 2 months ago
Gary Fear2 months ago
We're just 17 days away from our next trip and it looks like the weather will be like this. Snow everywhere and, in the northern areas towards Kharkiv, the temperatues are dropping close to -20°C. Amazingly, with what we have been promised, we only need to raise another £55 per day to get to a grand total of £60,000. With us spending £51,000 on the first six trips, this will give us £9,000 to spend. Thanks if you have donated. Your money has allowed us to do some amazing things and we'll continue to do whatever we can.
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- 2 months ago
Gary Fear2 months ago
I was really fortunate to be invited to give an interview to BBC Radio Stoke at the beginning of December. It gives an insight into what we have done so far. Our next trip is on the 24th of January 2024 and we're working hard to secure the funds for this. If you've donated so far, thank you. You've helped us do something.
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Feb 25, 2024
Good luck and thank you
Feb 25, 2024
From the kind people who donated in Morrisons on Saturday 24th February 2024. Thank you all so much.
Feb 24, 2024
Feb 24, 2024
Top work Gary.
Feb 24, 2024
As the 2 year anniversary is upon us, so sad that there are so many people in desperate need. Thank you for all you do.
Feb 24, 2024
Feb 24, 2024
Good luck guys. Safe travel
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About the fundraiser
A bit of an avid fund raiser, having done Lands End to John O'Groats on a bike, The Ben Bevis Challenge, a Macmillan Mighty Hike and walked 100 miles in Fancy Dress for the NHS. This is my biggest challenge and my biggest opportunity to help people directly. Please help me too!