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EDA and Ukraine

 


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Polish border 9th--15th March      Maggie Tookey Ferrying refugees to bus and train stations
Polish Border 13th--20th March      David Hamilton's experiences and findings on the Polish-Ukrainian border
Lviv, Zhyhtomr, Malyn, Kramatorsk 15th--30th March      Maggie and team delivering food and medicines to hard-hit places from Lviv
Kremenchuk end April      Maggie and team Delivering food and medicines in Kremenchuk
Lviv and Zhytomr 17th--20th April      Pete Glasper sourcing supplies, delivering in Lviv, and Zhytomr
Kharkiv      Maggie and team in Kharkiv, and return to Lviv, 7th May
Lviv Area      David Hamilton delivering aid to refuges and shelters vicinity of Lviv
Odesa and Mikolaev 16th May      Maggie and team delivering food & medicines and water near Odessa
No trucks from Edinburgh ?      Why EDA is collecting money, not goods, for Ukraine



Maggie on the Poland-Ukraine Border, March 9th to March 15th

Day 1 Wed 9th March

A day of Unknowns which I hope will soon become the Known - familiar and easy to navigate. However this is unlikely to be the case. Life is never that simple. It wasn't so simple in the case of the Syrian crisis and it won't be here.

I picked up a car in Krakow - a larger one than I ordered and was given the choice of an older model or a brand new one. The older one had been bashed about so I went for that. Less pressure on my driving skills somehow!
POLISH-UKRANIAN BORDER. Medyka. 4pm
I couldn't get near to the actual border crossing in the car. There were police everywhere, many not particularly friendly. I guess they can't be blamed for that. When I arrived on foot it was easy to see what they and the Polish army are dealing with - a line of desperate Ukrainians stretching back as far as the eye could see - women, young children and teenagers, many clutching treasured pets tucked in their jackets.

The police and army have the responsibility of getting these displaced people onto buses or private vehicles to be taken to a Processing/Rest Centre in Przemysl. This takes time - the transport operation is crucial. The Processing Centre is huge - many hundreds of volunteers are there. All appear to get treated with kindness and efficiency so that they can move on with their journeys to friends and relatives in Poland or other EU countries.

I registered today as a driver to bring people from the border queue to the Processing Centre about 12 Km away. I was given a special wristband when my details were taken and this gives me permission to pass the police lines with my car and get to the queue. Trafficking of young Ukrainians is a real worry here so every driver must be checked. I tried the wristband out to see what difference it made to the police. They checked it out and let me through. My first success and not my only one I hope.

Day 2

Every time I go back to the border post at Mydeka (a village on the border, near Przemysyl, about 400 km South of Warsaw and West of Kiev) to pick up my next families, the queue of displaced Ukrainians has got longer - I actually can't see the end of it. The railway station at Mydeka no longer offers a normal service to all parts of Ukraine and Poland. Its now a refugee line and huge numbers of people are suddenly released from the dreaded queue when a train going north into Poland is announced. They need help to get to the train. There's no transport to take them along the road and up a long muddy hill to the waiting train, each carriage guarded by a Polish police officer. They are already exhausted and traumatised before this scrabble begins.
Maggie with Family and Cat
Maggie with Ukrainian Family and Cat


If I'm there I grab bags, babies, cats, dogs - anything to help make their walk easier. Other volunteers do the same. We have to all scramble over many railway tracks and there's a climb up into the train. I throw their bags up to them and pass the babies up! The train can carry several hundred people. It makes no impact on the queue. I stayed late at the border tonight. The queue becomes restless as the temperature drops to well below zero.

The army captain in charge asked me to help marshall the restless front of the queue. - keep them off the road so buses could pull up. After helping with the train passengers and doing some marshalling I swept up a few more into my car - as many as I could cram in - 7 actually - and took them to the Processing Centre. Warmth, food , somewhere to rest, and information. They crave information. Many have no idea where they might go They look so lost. Many are tearful. Their men are fighting. I leave them with a hug. There's nothing more I can do.

I worked in coordination with a German group today who were looking for Ukrainians who wanted to go to Germany.
I found some in the queue and managed to get 4 families plus several animals to a more distant processing centre where the bus picked them up.

Its been a long day today. Tomorrow will be the same. I have my Ukranian notice on my dashboard with an EDA sticker at the top. It's only a little EDA sticker but it's there!

Day 3

My wristband is magic! The police have now got to know me and so have the army who have to deal with the ever expanding queue. I'm waved through without a question. I think smiling broadly makes a big difference and just repeatedly going back and forth to the border queue.

These chaps are working harder than any of the hundreds of volunteer soup kitchen groups and those trying to encourage the queue to take their toiletry offerings. At least in my view. I pushed a barrier aside today to get into the queue to help a poor mother who had many bags, 4 children, an elderly father and a dog. I was mistaken for a refugee and in the space of 20 metres got offered endless chocolate, lots of toiletries, hot pizza and something I didn't recognise! But they are all heroes these volunteers. They are not here for money. They are here because they really want to help and I take my hat off to them. That 's real aid work. Its the same as EDA.

I've transported 6 families today. Each one becomes a treasured possession. I'm with them for maybe one hour. I don't speak Ukranian but it doesn't matter. They are traumatised but at the same time relieved to be on their way to anywhere that doesn't have shelling. I stay with them while they are processed and taken care of. Finally I say goodbye to them to return to the border for more families

Today I've carried families from Erpin and Kharkiv. Tonight my last was a family of 7 plus a large dog. The car was overloaded. The main processing centre had closed because it was too full to function. I collected my last family from the border at 7pm but had to take them to the main station to get a bus to Warsaw. What would I do without Google maps? I'd be lost. I think my driving job is the most valuable right now. There are soup kitchens, clothes tents, pizza tents, toiletry shops in abundance. Transport is key. I'll just carry on driving and learning Ukranian.

Day 4

The Polish authorities have doubled the number of buses from the border on the 12km journey to the Reception Centre so car transport is no longer needed. Cars can no longer keep up with the numbers coming through. I've also noticed the increase in the number of volunteer feeding stations along the 200 metre walkway from the border gate - its now possible to feast on a great variety of food from many countries - almost as many as the average UK high street! Some stop for a hot drink or a bowl of soup but most walk on, lost in a state of anxiety about what might happen next and just intent on joining the queue for a bus to somewhere. This is now their driving ambition.

I'd heard that from one of the drivers in the border queue, that Lviv, a Ukranian town 80km from the Polish border, was now swamped with people flooding in from all parts of Ukraine. Coping with such huge numbers is a big test for this small city. Tomorrow I'll hitch a ride.

Sunday - Ukraine.

Just when Lviv seemed like the safest place to be there was a Russian strike on a military training base not too far away last night. 65 people were killed. Apparently this has caused huge consternation amongst the local Lviv population and absolute panic amongst the thousands who thought that they had at last reached safety. This morning at the front of the border queue, I picked my target vehicle carefully and persuaded the Norwegian driver to give me a lift to Lviv. Despite his initial protests about lack of space I plonked myself on a pile of pampers and within a very short time we were firm friends. Sverre warned me about the bone crunching roads - they were in a grim state indeed but the pampers helped!




EDA in Liv On March 15'th EDA's Maggie Tookey hitched a ride from the Ukraine border to Lvov. In Lvov she first spent some days assisting in a reception centre for mothers and chldren escaping the conflict. Then recruited a group of local volunteers to help and guide her in buying, packing and despatching food and basic medical supplies to the badly hit towns of Zhytomr, the nearby smaller town of Malyn, and by train to Kramatorske in the Eastern Donetsk,
In the course of the next week Maggie and the group bought over £3500 of supplies-- some 10 tons in all. Using a large estate car which Maggie hired in Lviv, they delivered a substantial part of the aid in person to bombed out householders in Zhytomr (some 100 hazardous miles away) and Malyn.

About half of the aid goods were loaded on to a train headed for Kramatorske but it is not as yet known wheter the train reached its destination intact or not. a s Lviv is beautiful. However its most treasured monuments are shrouded in protective scaffolding and some statues have been removed from their bases to be hidden underground I assume. Sverre took me to the women and childrens centre that he supplies with both general aid. Its an inspiring place. Young mothers and their children from many bombed areas arrive at the nearby train station at all hours of the day or night. There's a curfew at 9pm and it's strictly enforced. With special permission it's possible to pick up late arrivals at the station coming from Eastern Ukraine The army battalion here guard and patrol the streets and all important buildings are sandbagged. Not many people are on the streets after around 6pm anyway. Its bitingly cold and we all await the dreaded siren warnings which come mostly at night.

Women's Sanctuary, Lviv

The centre is full to bursting. Its an office building on 2 floors donated by a local businessman. Its run by a loud, full of life Ukranian woman, Lubya and its a place of peace and sanctuary. We wonder for how long. I have noticed the change in these women from when they arrive anxious and often grief stricken, to even just a couple of days later when they've slept for the first time in weeks and received support from the volunteers here. They still cry but they can talk about what they've gone through. The children can talk to a psychologist. I run errands in the car and sit with the women to eat and chat in broken English and use much sign language. Thirty women left for Southern Spain today to start new lives. They expect to be back in Ukraine soon. I wish I could share their faith.

Day 6 &7- Lviv

I really can't believe this is only Day 6 and 7. I can barely remember my former life! The sirens come thick and fast now since the military centre was bombed a few days ago. The whole city seems to be gearing up its defences and there are road blocks and grim looking military men manning them. I've had a phone app put on my Ukranian phone because everyone has it. It's very loud and scary when it goes off and I'm supposed to get into shelter. I was driving today when it went off and I nearly crashed with shock!' I carried on driving hoping for the best. Its Russian drones apparently that pop over Lviv every so often - too often for my liking but I turn my phone app siren off at night. I'm fed up with the lack of sleep. I tried to pick up my rental car from the airport today but the taxi was stopped at a mountainous sand bag and anti tank barrier. We both had to get out and be searched and the commander took my phone and phoned the rental office who had failed to tell me about the changed pick up location! I thought he was pretty stupid having his car rental business at the airport - its the next obvious Russian target. I wasn't that keen to go there myself anyway! I've got several jobs lined up over the next few days Russia permitting of course. Families to be moved to the Polish border and 3 new shelters to be set up for the growing influx of fleeing families. EDA has made funds available to buy some goods for other bigger shelters that urgently need basic supplies. I have a big estate car and an English speaking photographer to help me. Her name is Ira, a local Lviv woman and she's great. We have become good friends. Now I'm hoping for a siren free night before my busy day tomorrow.

Maggie writes: the last 8 days - Lviv and Zhytomr

Just when it seemed things had quietened down here in Lviv, a missile struck close to the airport last week. It hit a helicopter/plane repair centre.
There had been only the occasional siren in recent days and people here had started to relax again after the Training Base bomb a week earlier, killing 35 and which had really spooked the Lviv population. I had booked a rental car on this 2nd explosion day and the pick up point was the as yet untouched airport. \n'
I felt this to be a pretty bad choice of car collection point and doubted I could even reach it by taxi. I couldn't.

The army had erected a huge barrier. They looked grim, apparently fully expecting the airport to be the next target. The missile had been fired from the sea off opdesa. It makes me nervous that these missiles can travel so far. My missile knowledge is very poor. The army captain, after checking ID's, turned us back. I got the car eventually from within the city. '

The numbers of the displaced have just kept flooding into Lviv - by bus, by train by car, some on foot. They seem Ok at first, just focussed on new surroundings, where to go for shelter, which number to call for help, making sure the children are OK or an elderly grandmother - but all without their menfolk. They seem OK until a Ukrainian volunteer speaks to them. Then they crumble. Many of them have endured unimaginable journeys for days on end often in great danger. Many have left elderly or disabled family behind or have been split up on the journey. I can't do much except help to carry bags and offer a sympathetic helping hand.

But my car has made itself very useful. The three new shelters I was helping with are still bogged down in Ukrainian beaurocracy. Buying and delivering fresh food to the many shelters in the city has taken over as an urgent EDA task - there are so many mouths to feed. We also collects hot lunches and evening meals from a special volunteer kitchen outside the city. These are distributed around the shelters so I cover a lot of Lviv with my brilliant translator and right hand woman Ira. The driving in the narrow cobbled streets of the old city is tricky and bone shaking. Driving around the outskirts of the city on the broad Soviet era roads is so much easier. A few days ago I arrived at the shelter in the morning and a new arrival was sitting at the community kitchen table. A lot happens around this table. It's where the displaced families come to make drinks and talk. Although I can't understand what is being said, I can easily recognize the pain but also the catharsis of telling these stories to those with al most identical experiences. The shelter doesn't just provide temporary sanctuary for these displaced families - it provides a huge amount of support amongst the women themselves when they live together in the shelter for a short time.

This new arrival, Irina, was 17 years old. She was withdrawn and alone except for her very young tabby cat which was obviously her most precious possession. Her parents were unaccounted for and none of the women had been able to get anything like a full story from her except that she had come from Cherniv in the North, close to the border with Belarus and an area of extreme danger and constant shelling. She looked so vulnerable. She was travelling on into Poland where arrangements had been made for her in Warsaw. Irina is exactly the sort of vulnerable displaced person at risk of the increasing Human Trafficking problem emerging from this mass movement of people caused by this awful war. I hope her future holds more hope than it appears to hold right now.

On Sunday 20th March our small team, myself, translator and general fixer Ira and Sverre the driver, left on the journey to Zhytomr to the West of Kiev with a large van loaded with food, medicines and a small amount of hygiene goods. Nearly all of this had been purchased in Lviv and was made up of basic long term mixed food eg pasta, rice, bulgar, tea, sugar, flour and a lot of tinned fish, meat and vegetables. We had been around the whole city trying to buy the drug Thyroxin for the tens of thousands of thyroid problems all over Ukraine as a result of the radiation emitted by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. There appeared to be not even one packet of Thyroxin in the entire city and beyond.

The reason for this aid delivery was the result of a request for help received from Zhytomr from one of the hundreds of volunteer associations formed as a response to the war. These volunteer associations are utterly admirable. They face danger at every turn and in the case of Zhytomr it had been shelled and badly damaged fairly recently and was likely to be struck again being not so far from the Russian encirclement and therefore the front line. Many brave drivers supply these associations with what they most urgently need but there are simply not enough volunteer drivers to cover so many areas. Ukraine is a vast country. Hence our large van load of aid was en route to Zhytomr that day. It would be a two day trip - around 7 hours each way.

The drive was long but the roads were wide and empty. Checkpoints were a serious business and Ira our translator, was indispensable. The van was well marked with humanitarian aid and the usual red cross symbol. Documents were scrutininized. Goods are checked. The limit for diesel was 20 litres and many service stations had no fuel. We had 20 litres in cans. We filled the tank at every opportunity. The final checkpoint at the entrance to the city was formidable - a long chicane of high, camouflaged sandbag walls. The main entrance road had originally crossed a bypass but this had been shelled. A strategic bridge had been closed to all traffic so this one entry from western villages was choked with cars.

The city was indeed badly damaged. The association of Zhytomr volunteers were delighted to see us and were at the appointed place to greet, feed us and unload the valuable cargo.

The next two days was spent too often swimming around in a sea of misery. We had brought everything they had asked of us except the Thyroxin but the distribution of aid that we began in the late afternoon to the sick and elderly first, always ended in tears and their re telling of so many upsetting stories, that our energies were sapped and the burden got greater with every visit. I hope we didn't show it but maybe we did.

We visited Valentyna, a widow and her 40 year old son Andriy who is now in the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis. He needs a lot of one particular medication but its difficult to find now and she has very little money. She worries that she can't get him to the basement when the siren goes so they stay in the flat and accept their possible fate. Ira translates all this to me and she is visibly upset. So am I and we promise to scour all the pharmacies in Zhytomr the next day to find the medicine she so desperately needs for Andriy.

The Russians had hit the town quite hard. Almost from tbe moment we arrived the siren had wailed loudly into action.

Before night fell we were shown some of the results of the rocket attacks.
A big secondary school completely wrecked, exercise and text books blasted out into the street. The children had all been kept at home.
The risk of a strike had been too great.
Fortuitous doesn't really do justice to this instinctive action on the part of the parents and authorities. Then an appartment block blown apart.
One death.


Next a group of houses tucked away down a side street where neighbours old and young had lived side by side for several years.
All six houses almost unrecognisable as former dwellings.
Here an elderly couple died along with their four year old grandchild.
Larysa, their neighbour came to talk to us and show us the ruin that was her house and next door that of her daughter and two children.
All were injured and are in hospital.
Larysa was inconsolable.
All normal life had been wiped out in seconds.
She was in no state to think about the future.

This was enough emotionally for us for one day.
We hugged her and she returned to the friends nearby who had provided temporary refuge for her and her husband.


Our refuge for the night was in a very small flat on the top floor of a seven storey block belonging to Helena, one of the Zhytomr volunteers and her husband Igar.
Being in a flat on the top floor would not have been our sleeping place of choice but they'd moved the bed into a sheltered corner of the room away from the window just in case. .

. . The city at night after the 8pm curfew, was in almost total darkness.
Lights from windows incurred a fine.
Subdued lights and thick window covers were the new norm.
I got little sleep.
The room was stuffy from the tightly closed windows and thick curtains and I could hear distant explosions from the Kiev direction. Ira put on an eye mask, stuffed in some ear plugs and took a sleeping pill! It seemed to work for her.
I felt quite envious.
It was a long night.


Since we had met Helena earlier in the day, her phone had never stopped ringing.
All the time people were calling to ask for help.
Food, medicine, nappies for both babies and the elderly and many other requests.
Helena seems constantly run off her feet.
The local government food queue involved a five hour wait - too long and difficult for many.

The next day we scoured the pharmacies as promised for Andriy's medicine.
We tracked down three sources and bought a four month supply.
Delivery of this medicine to Valentyna was one of the more uplifting experiences for myself and Ira.

It was good to make someone happy here.


We managed many deliveries that day joined by another volunteer called Viktor.
He ran around even faster than Helena in his beat up old van.
They cover a lot of kilometres every day at their own expense, rushing from one needy family to another.
We bought fuel for both vehicles and fillled up some cans for them.

We visited eighty five year old Raisa who had taken people into her own home after they'd been made homeless by the rocket attacks. Raisa waved her walking stick towards the sky in anger at what the Russians had done to her city but then began to cry at the terrible injustice of it all. We gave her a big bag of food with more to come.

We bought more food to be sent to the town of Malyn a little further north towards Irpin also very badly hit and featured much on the BBC news recently.
The day was punctuated by the dreaded siren but mostly people didn't rush for the shelters. They'd had a few days with no bombs so were trying to live as normally as possible.

Curfew in Lviv was at 10pm and strictly enforced.
Also travelling at night was something to avoid if possible and we had a seven hour return trip.
Checkpoints can take time.
Documents must be inspected.
Russian saboteur groups hide in many places although the Ukrainians have done a good job of hunting them down apparently.

We managed to slip past the town of Rivna, around two hours from Lviv
but learnt the next day that the town had been hit by rockets an hour after we'd passed by. Information about damage is not given out.

We made the curfew.
The road back had been deserted.
but the last hour was driven in darkness.
Since returning to Lviv we've been receiving many pictures of aid distributions from Helena and the volunteer team in Zhytomr.

The day after the Zhytomr Aid drop we began to prepare for the next one.
Kramatorske in the Donetskt, Eastern Ukraine.

The last Aid push. Tues 22nd - Sat 26th March

Since arriving back from Zhytomr, it's been a mad scramble to put together the biggest EDA consignment of food and medicine that we can both access and afford. This will go East by train to the badly shelled city of Kramatorske, in the Donetskt region and next to the Russian border. These aid drops are organised by Leyla, a dynamic Kramatorske Coordinator who escaped the city just after the first bombing began. She now has a base in Lviv and will stay here to help her home region in whatever way she can. She is passionate and determined. She has a whole network of volunteer Associations throughout Donetskt and although she tries to encourage people to leave she knows that she needs these association groups to stay and bring urgent help to those who need it.

LeylaI arranged a Zoom meeting with the women in Donetsk. They were an impressive bunch. I suppose Leyla wanted to show them that they had active British support. The internet was sporadic and the siren went off but I tried to be my motivational best via Ira's translation skills.

These local associations are a treasure. Without these brave groups EDA could not have done as much as we have in a relatively short time although it feels like I've been here months! I've always worked with local groups in all disaster work with EDA and for me its effective and uplifting.

We had some help with the load from Zhytomr from a contact I'd made with a warehouse on the Polish border. Now their supplies have run very low and we've had to source everything from Lviv. Food is generally rationed in the big supermarkets here but we managed to buy in bulk with an explanation from Ira and me flashing my EDA ID.

Ira has a contact at a pharmaceutical store which distributes to most city pharmacies so we went straight there for the medical supplies - still no thyroxin. However we got all other medicines needed and just about cleared out the store. Then it was shop shop shop. Trip after trip using a van and driver from Donestkt but now settled in Lviv.

The main delay of this job was the many air raid sirens going off af frequent intervals and lasting sometimes two hours or more. Just when we had filled two trolleys to the brim in the supermarket the siren would go and we would have to leave the trolleys in the aisle and clear the store.
On one occasion we came out to to the car park and a military plane flew low over us - actually very alarming. There was no where to run and everyone looked to the sky expecting the worst. It didn't happen. It was Ukranian military.

Finally the food and medicine load was complete - boxed - labelled - weighed and wrapped in plastic on a pallet. 800 kilos of EDA food and medicine to be loaded into a special cargo wagon at the sidings in Lviv. The line had been shelled the day before the train was due to go but it was repaired through that night. Three stations had also been badly damaged - the route the train would take had to be changed but not until just before departure. The route was a closely guarded secret. A number of foreign press and the UN were there to film the occasion.

I have not come across any other international NGO's working in Lviv. I have only seen Ukrainian groups but I have never seen so many press and film crews. More arrive every day.

Now we await news of the train's arrival in Kramatorske. I wished good luck to our load and the other loads being taken and stuck on a final EDA sticker for good measure.

26th March I've just left Lviv for the Polish border - airstrikes hit Lviv as I was in the cafe by the station.
The sirens had gone off but as usual no one took much notice.
Then we heard the explosions and saw the huge fire.
We went into the station and just waited.
It was hard to know what was going on but finally I could board the train.
It was very sad saying goodbye to Ira.
I always find this a problem when I've been working with somsone so closely. '
The train crossed the Polish border late in the evening.
I need a day to wind down.
I have a small hotel in the woods around Przemysl still close to the border.
Hard to relax though but I'll try.
I made a quick trip to the border gates but it was very quiet - just a trickle of Ukranians coming through but still many many volunteers.
A number of foreign fighters, some extremely young were passing into Ukraine.
I was told that many of them will be sent back due to being devoid of any battle experience.
There was also a surprising number of Ukranian women returning back.

I also went to the Reception Centre (Tesco) to see if any changes had taken place.
They had.
It was unrecognisable as the centre to which I had delivered my families a lifetime ago. It was much more organised, far fewer refugees coming in and many countries including the British had dedicated desks for family placements. Good to see.

Now it's a gin and tonic for me tonight and a drive to Krakow tomorrow for my London flight.

Kremenchuk, last week in April

It 's one week since arriving in Ukraine on April 24th to begin EDA's third session in this embattled but extremely resilient country.

The resistance goes on and just about the whole world is here trying to support that resistance. Still there is the belief from all the displaced Ukranians I meet through our EDA distribution programme, that Ukraine simply can't lose this war. We can only hope that they're right.

i 'm now in Kremenchuk in Poltava region - central/eastern Ukraine and probably considered the first reasonably safe place reachable from the hell of Kharkiv, around 200km away. We arrived here - 'we' being Ira, our constant translator and 'fixer' and Knut, our big gentle Norwegian driver with his rusty but trusty Sprinter van, late on Friday night. The journey was long and took us 2 days of fairly non stop driving.

The van is like a Tardis. It just seems to keep holding more and more valuable aid so we just kept filling it until finally Knut said enough! It was overloaded but he thought it would be OK and it was. The last item we loaded as a special request was 150 civilian body bags to help with the numbers of dead in the badly hit city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. It was a sobering request but we had the space so we were able to help - why wouldn't we? The bags would be taken onto Kharkiv from Kremenchuk.

The first portion of the journey was fine - fast on good roads and enough fuel stations to keep the tank topped up even though we were rationed to 20 litres. The second part of the journey which was around a 1000km in total because of diversions for damaged roads etc, was far more challenging - some of it was 'off road' and the rest was over the most pot holed surfaces I've ever experienced. It was so bad that we kept losing various fixtures and fittings off the van - the jarring was endless and exhausting but the main problem was the scarcity of diesel. We begged and pleaded but the little fuel available was reserved for emergency and military vehicles and not even to humble volunteer bringers of aid.

We had bought more fuel containers so could carry around 80 litres of diesel but these were the reserve. We needed to keep the tank reasonably full. On one occasion we were allowed up to the front of the queue but one time we sneaked in through the 'no entry' route on the advice of a local and came to a pump facing the queue. Smiling broadly and constantly and looking dim works wonders as does Ira our translator who probably sheltered us from much Ukranian swearing.

Kremenchuk is a small city of around 75,000 but 22,000 Internally Displaced people have arrived in the city since the beginning of this month. It 's a typical Soviet style place - mostly large blocks of flats and 70% of its population speak Russian. Most of the displaced have fled from Kharkiv and as ever, there are some terrible stories.

The distribution has taken two different pathways. We were supplying the increasing number of IDP shelters springing up out of necessity around the city - the pressure on the Municipality is great so every aid shipment is important. We were able to unload into a big store room here and sort out what is needed for each shelter working with the local volunteer coordinator as our guide. The second pathway involved working with the local priest who helps many individual families in his 'parish', listing their needs and passing these on to anyone who might be able to help. We were royally treated by the priest and his family - they were a delight. We were hugely over fed! Once again the admiration for these volunteers and the support they try to bring to their communities is admirable. Food shortages cause problems for all in Ukraine and although these local volunteers are not enduring constant rocket attacks like Kharkiv and other places, the deprivations of war are suffered by all.

Once again the terrible stories are told when we visit the IDP's in the shelters. Most here are from Kharkiv, some from Donetsk and the Donbas. They are all distressing stories but perhaps none more so than by the elderly who are forced not only to witness death take place in front of them but know that the final years of their lives may never be spent in their own homes again. I find these the hardest to deal with.

One lady of 85, Varanella, from a rural village near Luhanske, came face to face with a Russian soldier when he entered her house as she was trying to escape. He pointed his gun at her chest ready to shoot - terrified she turned and ran into the toilet but he opened fire on her fleeing back -somehow he missed and she bolted the door but he continued firing - the bullets only partially penetrated the metal door and thick walls - she cowered in terror and finally he seemed to get bored and went off to some other house but not before trashing the inside of hers. She stayed there until dark and then managed to get help escaping from the village to a safer town and onto Kremenchuk. She cried constantly through the telling of this story, still reliving the horror. of what happened. Many of her elderly neighbours were not so lucky. She was severely traumatised.

So now she has safety, warmth, support, companionship, and food - what she doesn't have is her beloved home and this is the greatest wish for all those I met in Kremenchuk. We spent 4 days around the shelters and individual families distributing a lot of aid but mostly we talked. I seemed to represent some symbol of hope to them but I felt a fraud. In the end what can I do - listen and hug!

Pete Glasper: Lviv and Zhytomr, 15-28 April

Lviv, 15-4

Bought dry food and hygiene/cleaning products for 3 shelters Rented Kia Sportage for 5 days. 30 Euro per day Distributed dry goods and cleaning products to Wonder Space shelter. ~60pax Dry goods to Fedkovycha St. Office shelter ~ 50 pax Bought shed loads of food from supermarket for Zhymotr trip. More tomorrow then we will take the van to the market and buy veg, fruit, milk products, tea etc. Visited Lviv storage. Secure compound. Shared with other agencies. Putting all our stuff in the small dry store. It will be sufficient for our needs. Medicines to Dormitory shelter Some shelters in Lviv (and elsewhere presumably) are closing because they are commercial spaces and the businesses need to get back to work. More pressure on other shelters in schools and kindergartens etc. Wonder Space Shelter is a commercial space making no money atm. They get enough supplies but need money for utilities etc. Dormitory Shelter probably has greater need for washing machine than Wonder Space Dormitory shelter asked for sheets and pillow cases. And a washing machine. We got a contact with a Polish Monastery who were supplying sheets but they ran out. Might get more.

Lviv 17/04

A good day of intense shopping. Managing to be more efficient and the store room is filling nicely, ready for a trip out of Lviv to another town that is not so well served with aid. No names, just heighten the sense of mystery!

I spent a bit of time in one of the shelters which is next to the store room we are using. I was fed and pampered by people who have been through a living hell. Escaping Mariupol by the skin of their teeth. A nine day journey, passing through Russian checkpoints where others in the convoy were shot, they don't know why. One lady whose arm and leg were broken by a shockwave from a bomb blast then stayed another week in that flat before being able to get out and eventually get treatment. Her arm had to be re-broken and set correctly. Her leg needs much more serious attention. She might have to stay in hospital for 2 months to have it fixed so she doesn't know whether to do it now and be stuck in Lviv or wait until she can get out. Just couple of stories out of the tens of thousands who are suffering now.

Zhytomr 22/04

Road trip to Zhytomr in Kiev region. We took around 3, 500 worth of food and hygiene items which nicely filled an ageing Merc Sprinter driven by Knut. Some of the aid was for Zhytomer and we delivered some items in person to elderly and disabled people in the town. The rest will be delivered by our partners in Zhytomr and also in Sumy and in villages around Kiev. '
Photos from the volunteers who continued the distribution of food aid and some medicines to people in need in the villages around Kiev. It wasn't much, staples like rice, pasta, oil, flour, sugar, salt, some fresh fruit and veg and a paska (Ukrainian Easter bread). Thanks to all of you who contributed. EDA are still there continuing the work so feel free to donate more.

Maggie Tookey: Kharkiv and the return to Lviv 7th May


Now back in Lviv after ten days spent in the Eastern part of Ukraine and awaiting the dreaded date of May 9th, Victory Day, the day that Moscow celebrates victory in the 2nd World War. The view here is that more missile strikes will be unleashed on this day and quite a lot of people have left the city. Certainly there is also a bigger military and police presence on the streets of the city.

But back to the really important and more uplifting things to tell. We were very pleased with our aid drops in Kremenchuk and the villages around as mentioned in Blog 1. We were able to distribute 2.5 tonnes of food, medicines, hygiene goods, and shelter mattresses. The old Sprinter van no longer groaned as it's load gradually diminished.

After completion of this job over four days I sent Ira and Knut back to Lviv and I moved to Poltava, further east into Ukraine to await being picked up by a large food truck and its accompanying protection vehicles for delivery to Kharkiv, one of the most heavily bombed cities in Ukraine apart from Mariupole. I was nervous about doing this. I'm sure bravery is not my strong point but I wanted to make sure our precious cargo was delivered and not left in the hands of three US marines who were with us for protection. I felt that probably the delivery of valuable items of aid wouldn't have been their top priority although they were very caring chaps and not how I imagine US marines to be.

I had a large amount of Thyroxin for a Thyroid specialist doctor in a different location in the city who had asked us for an urgent delivery. I also had some big boxes of wound dressings of all types for the Kharkiv Regional hospital and some specialist eye medication for glaucoma and other serious eye conditions.

We had flak jackets - extremely heavy. The bombing was constant and heavy in the north and east part of the city and we could hear the sound of rockets and shells. Fortunately our aid drop locations were in the west part of the city but the devastation was terrible. The buildings had clearly been beautiful, like here in Lviv but they were now crumbling shells - the Russian border is only 20 miles away so Russia has an easy heavy weapon/tank supply route.

Everything was completed quickly - the huge white food truck would have been quite a target so that was emptied in double quick time. I stayed well away from it! I'm not stupid!

There wasn't time for many pictures but that was OK by me. We returned to Poltava for the night, happy to have got out safely but with the destruction etched in everyones mind. Three tiny kittens had been curled up together in the blasted out basement of an appartment block and they mewed and tried to reach us - one of the marines tried to climb down to get them but it was just too dangerous - that was gut wrenching like so much over these days.

We set off at 5 30am the next morning and drove via Kiev for 18 hours back to Lviv. Around Kiev we were diverted many times around destroyed bridges and highways and we had to take the road to Bucha, the scene of those terrible atrocities shown on worldwide TV just after the Russians had left.

The Bucha road was littered with burnt out Russian tanks still strewn with burnt clothing and cans of dog food - the only food they seem to have to eat. There were other things to be seen but they are not for this blog. I mostly stayed in the van but the marines were interested in all the technical details of the way each tank had been destroyed.

It was enough for me - I tried to close my eyes and sleep and forget much of what I'd seen. Not easy to do.

Odessa and Mykolaev 16th -- 28thMay

LVIV - restocking with aid supplies and FUEL.

Fuel supply desperate all over Ukraine.
No exceptions for Aid deliveries.
Our driver Knut spent several days driving back and forward through the Polish border to fill his tank and fill 120 litres worth of diesel in cans.
He also collected tinned food, hygiene and medical goods from volunteer supplier organisations with whom I had built up contacts.

ODESSA

I'm not of a nervous disposition but the overnight train from Lviv to Odessa caused me a certain level of anxiety during the 14 hour journey. This anxiety was not due to the thunderous snoring and malodorous feet of one of my fellow travellers although that was bad enough, but rather to the awareness that trains are a target in this war and my train always came to a grinding halt when we passed into an area where an air raid siren was sounding. .

Why did it stop? What is the reasoning behind becoming a sitting target? Surely a moving target is less easy to hit? Why weren't we going full throttle to get out of the hit zone instead of sitting still and inviting a strike. This happened many times on this journey - we seemed to have the misfortune of passing from one air raid area to another. Each time I wanted to shout to the engine driver to get his foot down but I kept quiet and hunkered down in my sleeping bag. The compartment window was sealed with tape to prevent glass shattering everywhere and the blind was fully down so not a ray of light could be seen from the outside. I suppose these precautions were the best I could hope for. I just prayed it worked..

A safe arrival in Odessa albeit four hours late due to the train driver's penchant for stopping during an air raid warning. A mystery. I was keen to discover the reasoning behind this but I had to join the loaded van and the rest of the team which was gradually expanding to include an Australian fighter pilot and a Danish firefighter. One meets all sorts in this line of work. .

After around three hours sleep on the stop start train, I felt less than alert but we unloaded at a designated store room and were met by a local military priest, our point of contact and less than an inspiring character. He clearly wanted rid of us so he could get back to whatever priestly duties were engaging him. It was a strange experience and an attitude that we hadn't encountered before. However another priest arrived and fervently asked for our help, having travelled in from his remote parish of Ryasnopil 120 km away north east of Odessa. He needed whatever we could give him. I really wished we could have given him our entire load but it was too late to snatch it back from Rasputin. This new priest, had five parishes to look after with a combined population of around 2000 people. The place is difficult to access for many reasons as we were to find out and also involved a 260 km round trip into uncharted territory. He needed to return with us to his parish but that meant four people crammed into the front of what is, in reality a two person front seat. .

I called on the services of our new temporary EDA volunteers who had their own car. They were keen to help and we had ourselves a small convoy. The main road north east from Odessa was fine but after an hour we veered off onto a minor road, much of it unmade and mostly rough gravel. From here we began to notice signs next to the road warning of land mines and in some places soldiers were busy digging trenches. The pastor explained that the Russians may move west from Kherson over these fields and these preparations were for such an eventuality. Rockets fly over his parishes nightly and the sounds of fierce battles can be heard most nights. There was no traffic on these roads. There was no fuel for hundreds of kilometres. As we came into the village we saw just simple horse and carts - quite a lot of them. The absence of fuel and the war has made life here in these Parishes so much more difficult - the few small shops have closed because no supplies can be brought in - the population has to endure the threat of war at closer proximity here: the priest's two sons are both fighting near Kherson and this must make the terrible explosions at night, so much worse. Many young men from these parishes have gone to the Front..

The church was very small and very pretty; built by the priest himself. We unloaded all that we had to bring - tinned meat and fish, rice, sugar, flour - food basics but so important for this community. Saying goodbye, I felt guilty that we could not do more - we just didn't have the fuel to make another round trip. As it was the van would need to try and get into Moldova to buy the diesel we needed over the next six days. The Priest's wife looked so sad as we left. Her sons were at the Front. When would the next visitors come with help? How long would this dreadful war go on? When would she see her sons again? We had no answers for her..

It was a long drive back. It had been a very long night and day - there seemed to have been no break between the two. .

Knut and Rob the Australian volunteer headed for the Palanca border crossing to Moldova the next day to get fuel. It was a lost cause hoping to pick up any in Odessa. They just made it back before curfew having been refused entry back into Ukraine by rather nasty Ukrainian border guards. We had no eplanation for this attitude..

We spent part of the day with the uninspiring monk- actually not with him because he seemed to have other things to do. However we had a number of vulnerable IDP families to visit, many with very sick people and this took most of the day courtesy of Andreas's car, our Danish assistant..

MYKOLAIV.

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Water Delivery at Mykolaev 2
Water-delivery in Mykolaev (1)


On the trian to Odessa I had met Alexander, a young Ukrainian and his wife, Olga. Alexander spoke good English and told me that he, along with a group of university friends was a volunteer trying to help the situation in Mykolaiv, a frequently shelled and strategic port city further east along the coast towards Kherson which was one of the first cities to come under Russian occupation after a long and bloody fight..

Mykolaiv had lost its drinking water supply two weeks earlier after a Russian bombardment had destroyed much of the water infrastructure actually sited in Kherson. They now had no drinking water, only what they call Technical Water. This is drawn direct from a river and is bright green in colour and full of toxins. This green water even corrodes heating elements in the water heaters used for showers. Imagine what it can do to the skin! The Municipality had tried to use a basic filtration system on the green water but it had barely made any difference.

This young group of volunteers had developed a supply route for drinking water for the residents of Mykolaiv or as many as could access the distribution site as possible. With the help of donors they had purchased a 25, 000 litre flexi tank, fitted it inside a 20 ft steel container and had it bolted onto the back of a flatbed truck. At the distribution site 19 flexi standpipes were ready set up for the arrival of the water truck. Everything must be done with as much speed as possible. The area is vulnerable to shelling. Usually the Russians fire artillery on Mykolaiv frequently during the night but this mostly finishes around 6am. However the first time I got there this week artillery was ongoing. The Russians had obviously not checked their watches that morning. I had a vest on but I didn't feel particularly safe in it. Fortunately it stopped a while later and we were so busy with the distribution, I had something else to focus on..

Apparently the most dangerous risk at the distribution are cluster bombs. They come undetected by radar so there's no warning sirens like with missiles and rockets. I had a crash lesson in what to do when I hear a peculiar buzzing in the sky - run for cover because there's on average 25 seconds until it hits. The shop at the water distribution site had been hit twice but it had been closed at the time. Now its always open during a distribution so people can run inside for shelter. The thing that kills is the shrapnel pieces. To be caught out in the open is to be, at best, badly injured. This was a sobering lesson - its probably the lesson to which I have listened more intently than any other lesson in my entire life!.

So a distribution can be a little tense but the need for clean drinking water overrides everything else for the people in the never ending queue. It's like liquid gold..

Another NGO from France came to see what was happening. Solidarity France had lots of money and were working with the Municipality of Mykolaiv on water and sanitation. The leader of this group was hugely frustrated with the lack of action from them and the fact they seemed embroiled in political leadership spats instead of trying to care for the urgent needs of their population in a dangerous war zone. Like me he was impressed with this operation and felt they could probably support it. I really hope they do. Otherwise the truck can only make the run to Mykolaiv when someone has given the money to do so. Nothing is ever certain for the young team in Odessa and the people of Mykolaiv have no drinking water security.. '
Water Delivery at Mykolaev 3 Water-delivery in Mykolaev (2)


The water pressure obviously drops as the tank empties but still people desperately try to shake the pipes to get the last drops out. At the end of my second distribution, an elderly lady approached desperate to fill her two plastic 3 litre bottles. But it had all gone. There was no drop left for her. She was so upset it was unbearable. I told her to follow me slowly with her bottles, into the shelter shop where water could be bought at what was an exhorbitant price for a local person. I paid for two 3 litre bottles while she waited at the door. When she saw me and realised I was giving her the new bottles she started crying and wouldn't let go of my arms. I finally got her outside the door and Alexander came to translate what she was trying to tell me although it was obvious she was thanking me over and over again..

I don't think its ever been so easy to make someone so happy with something so cheap and simple..

For her I guess it was something not far short of life giving..




Collecting and trucking goods In other crises both past and present, EDA has specialised in collecting and sending, by volunteer-driven truck and by shipping container, clothes, educational goods, hygiene kits,everything, to those who had lost everything, . But in this case the countries of refuge are well-resourced and friendly. Everything can be bought locally: sending UK sourced-goods with attendant costs and paperwork, does not seem the way to go.