Ukraine - 4th and, probably, final run

KeithDavies 100

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PART 1 OF 3 - OUTBOUND

Another Tuesday, another gathering of vehicles and volunteers at Troels’ place outside Oxford, late Tuesday morning. Trip 28 since EdenAid started these over 6 months ago.

This was to be my fourth trip, and my final trip. The group as a whole will do its last run of the year in the first week in November. After that, the weather gets too bad and/or too unpredictable. I made the case with Troels for continuing further into the winter, declaring my preparedness for driving in bad weather. He made the crucial point that however prepared we might be to put with driving in bad weather, the more important point is whether we can guarantee our arrival. The refugees we pick up to bring back leave the only secure accommodation they have, with every possession they now own, and make their way to the pick-up point we’ve given them. The stakes are so high, for them, that we’re into the realms of that Yoda quote – there is no try; there is only do.

So, sadly, for this year at least and perhaps forever, this was the last time I would do this.

It’s exciting, all gathering for the departure. There are some people you’ve met and worked with before – Troels was leading this drive, and one of my previous co-drivers, Sylvie, was also on the team – but there were also a lot of first timers.

For the first-timers – I remember from my own – there’s a combination of excitement and apprehensive nervousness. One of them referred to me as a veteran. I said: “You gain that status frighteningly quickly!”

As ever, Troels’ wife Helene had prepared for us blocks of tiffin. For those unfamiliar – I’d never come across it before this – it’s a rich chocolate cake, a bit like a brownie but with a biscuit base. Absolutely wonderful as an energy boost in the middle of the night.

This being my last trip I was moved to suggest I may therefore never again taste a lady’s tiffin. This was misinterpreted by some people, but I don’t think I can be held responsible for that.

My co-driver this trip was Andy. I hadn’t met him before, but he’s been a constant off-stage presence on my previous trips. He and Troels have known each other for about twenty years, and did the first of our group’s trips, earlier in the year. Like most of us, he’s passionate, energetic, and cares deeply about the people we’re trying to help.

We were driving a Polish rental minibus – so left-hand drive, which is more comfortable once we’re on the continent, which is obviously the bulk of the drive.

We set off just ahead of time, at about 1:20, with all the of the minibuses packed to bursting with donated aid. I travel light on these trips – you’ve only got one night in a hotel, after all – but still my small rucksack, and Andy’s had to squeeze into the cab with us as there was literally no spare room in the back.

The drive down to Folkestone was slow. Heavy traffic on the M25, and then roadworks and diversions after that. By the time we were at the Channel Tunnel check-in we were about an hour behind where we wanted to be.

First-timers Pip and Nick were experiencing problems with their minibus, a British-hired Mercedes with automatic transmission. It seemed to keep coughing and then recovering, which doesn’t bode well when you’ve got 2,000 miles to go. Still, let’s stay positive. As Troels would say: “What could possibly go wrong?” (This crops up as WCPGW repeatedly on our WhatsApp comms!)

On the French side, Andy took over the driving, a couple of hours of heavy rain through France and Belgium.

At a rest stop near Antwerp late that evening, I spoke to one of the first timers, a woman called Lizzie. She appeared, bluntly, terrified of what was coming!

Lizzie was a friend of first-timer pair Libby and Sal. A day or so before we set off someone pulled out and we needed to find an additional driver. Libby and Sal persuaded Lizzie to jump in at short notice.

Lizzie has two adult children, and is comparatively recently divorced. Apparently the consensus view of her children and her ex-husband was that she wouldn’t be able to do this. “You don’t even like driving on the motorway.”



We changed drivers and carried on into the rainy night. Two hours later, at the next driver swap, I checked on Lizzie and she was doing fine.

Our destination on this trip was Poznan, west of Warsaw. There is a refugee shop and aid distribution centre there. Despite the bad weather, our late arrival at Folkestone, and the awkward Mercedes, we got there about on schedule, about 9:30 am.

It basically looks like a charity shop – which is what it is, I guess – but it has a basement, and a rabbit warren of store rooms at the back.

There was a big crowd of refugees waiting outside the place – inevitably, all women or older men. We backed up all the minibuses and unloaded them one at a time, with refugees forming a chain to pass boxes hand to hand over the pavement, through the narrow door, down through the shop to the basement stairs, and down. The whole 9 tons was emptied in only about 20-30 minutes.

Troels then called us, and the women who ran the shop, to line up for a photo in front of the buses. As we were gathering, a woman tried to say something to me in a language I didn’t understand. Polish or Ukrainian, I guessed, but it could have been anything. I smiled and said I didn’t understand, and she repeated it, clearly exasperated, and more emphatically. She had about three goes at it, but I speak not a word so that was that.

We took the photo, and then moved to board the minibuses to head to the hotel, but the woman grabbed my arm and called over one of the women who ran the shop, and who spoke some English. Another few women gathered around me as well, as the woman searched for something on her phone and spoke with ever greater emphasis to the woman who spoke some English.

Finally the woman held up her phone for me. A photograph of two men, arms around each other's shoulders, in full combat gear, smiling at the camera. The brother and husband of the woman who was trying to communicate with me. The woman who spoke a little English translated. The message basically, was thank you, and this is very important.

I was quite moved. Not just by what she had wanted to communicate but by how desperate she had been that I did understand that this was what she wanted to say to me.

I said that this was all I could offer by way of help, and that if I could do more I would. The translator said: “But what you do here is so important. For her brother and her husband. And for this woman’s son, and this woman’s brother, and this woman’s husband,” gesturing to the other women that had surrounded us.

Well, I was in tears by this point, as were they.

We go off on these drives and it’s a great adventure. Then you get over there and there is always something like this that reminds you, it’s not all just a big adventure for them.

Those women – hopefully most of them will be reunited with their menfolk in due course, and their lives can continue. But they won’t all be, will they? That’s not how war works.

I hugged women I will never see again, and we got back in the minibuses. Andy was driving this leg, which was just as well really because I needed a bit of time.

In the photo below, I’m in the pale blue hoodie, towards the left of the pic. The woman who so desperately wanted to communicate her thanks is in the black-and-white check coat beside me. The woman who spoke a little English is a couple to my right, in the dark red cardigan. The other women who gathered round me were all the women at that end of the line-up.

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The guy kneeling, in the EdenAid T-shirt is Andy, my co-driver. Pip and Nick, driving the troublesome Mercedes, far right, with Troels just behind them, and Troels’ co-driver, John, kneeling.

We left Poznan and headed for Lodz, where we had a hotel for the night. This is a much shorter drive than many previous runs. We were at the hotel by about 1:30pm, whereas previous runs have had us still on the road well into the evening. We all had a nap, and then headed out for a beer and a meal about 4pm. It’s always good to relax, talk and laugh about the previous 24 hours, get a proper meal, and then it’s back to the hotel and get some proper sleep. I think I was in bed and asleep by about 9:30!
 
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KeithDavies 100

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PART 2 OF 3 - HEADING BACK

Thursday morning, up early. Breakfast and coffee.

Five refugees scheduled to be picked up today would not be joining us as they’d tested positive for Covid. This was frustrating. It was too late to replace them at this point, and “wasted” five seats – almost a whole minibus. As it happens, though, this would work to our advantage later.

Because the seats are folded down for carrying the aid on the way out, they need to be put back up to accommodate passengers. This is generally straightforward, but we battled for a very frustrating half hour or so with one of the minibuses before we finally got it sorted.

Pip and Nick had experienced problems with the Merc all the way across Europe, so Troels and John took that minibus for the return trip, and the UK team were trying to find an accommodating Mercedes dealership on the route back that might be prepared to take a look at it for us. We found one back near Poznan, so we decided we pick up refugees, head to near Poznan for a group McDonalds, and Troels and John would divert off and try and get the Merc fixed.

We were delayed a little leaving Warsaw – a couple of families were unable to get there on time. Finally, though we got going, six minibuses carrying 36 refugees, 3 dogs, a cat and 2 pet rats. Yes, seriously.

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I was driving this leg, and Andy chatted to the passengers. To say he spoke barely a word of Ukrainian and they spoke hardly a word of English, he did brilliantly. He clearly just has a gift for talking with people – he’s waaaaay better at that side of this stuff than I am.

We had a family from Chernobyl, and people from Zaporizhzhia. At that moment, Zapoizhzhia was only familiar to me as being one of the areas Putin had just declared annexed to Russia. By the following day, of course, it was the scene of a rocket attack on a civilian convoy aiming to help Ukrainians leave the area. Thirty civilians were killed and dozens injured.

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Our passengers, including Grace, the dog!

At our McDonalds stop, Troels and John headed off as planned to the Mercedes dealership while we fed the refugees. They were back an hour later. The Merc required a bigger repair than was possible at short notice, but it should be fine getting back to the UK.

Eager to get going after that delay, we all mounted back up and set off, and two vehicles immediately went wrong on the roundabout outside the McDonalds. Since the UK, Andy and I had been the rear vehicle, tasked with ensuring we’re all together and no-one gets lost, so I messaged them and Andy drove us round and round the roundabout till they doubled back and rejoined us, and then we set off to catch up with the others. It was about 4 or 5 in the afternoon by this point.

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Chasing sunset, western Poland, Thursday evening.

By about 8pm, we were in Germany. The border crossing, Poland into Germany, is a beautiful point on the Oder River. We crossed that as the sun was setting, but by 8pm it was dark. We were racing along the autobahn at around 80-85mph, when the troublesome Merc lost all power and John had to get it to the hard shoulder. Scary, with a load of vulnerable passengers on board.

The rest of us went on to the next service stop. Andy and I emptied our minibus of both passengers and luggage and Andy headed on to the next junction, to double-back for the stranded vehicle. He picked up all their passengers and luggage and brought them back to where we were now all in a diner.

Because 5 passengers had pulled out with Covid, we thought we could cram everyone in the remaining vehicles. It would be tight, but it should just about work. We had miscounted by one!

We explored every option we could think of, but finally – and reluctantly – had to ask one woman travelling alone to agree to be taken back to the stranded minibus, to travel to the UK with Troels and John, however that ended up happening.

The woman in question was Anastasia. She spoke no English, so I can’t imagine how daunting this must have been. In the minibuses, or in the group as a whole, there are generally one or two Ukrainians that speak a little English and can do some translating, but Anastasia would now be on her own.

Andy and I drove her back. Andy was really anxious that we minimise our time parked on the hard shoulder, and that I get her away from the vehicles as soon as we stopped. Hard shoulders are a really dangerous place to be, especially in the dark.

We got there, pulled up and I jumped out. I slid open the door to the back and helped Anastasia out. As I started to lead her away though, into long grass and darkness, I felt her resisting. Who wouldn’t?!

I pulled out my phone and used Google Translate to say “we need you away from the vehicles where you’re safe”, and then she was fine. I took her hand again, and passed her to Troels in the dark. John had grabbed her luggage. I waved goodbye to shadows, jumped back in, and Andy took off.

Back at the diner, we had ten minutes till closing time! We loaded passengers and luggage back up, inevitably separating some family groups to squeeze everyone in. Some passengers were helpful and co-operative – Anastasia had been brilliant – but some just rigidly would not move from the seats they had got into back in Poznan.

Soon, though, we were underway again. With Troels and John stranded with the Merc, Andy and I took over convoy lead, and assigned Martin and Richard the task of bringing up the rear.

A driver back in the UK sent an encouraging message about that time, and asked how the troublesome minibus was holding up. I sent back: “Funny you should mention that…”, and a photo of it being hauled onto a tow-truck.

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As a result of experience gained over the last six months, Troels now insists on the whole convoy stopping for a couple of hours near Dortmund to rest properly before continuing onward.

However, the breakdown had put us behind schedule, but also woken everyone up. Stopping for two hours would now mean that we would hit horrendous morning rush hour traffic around Antwerp – already a nightmare because of extensive roadworks – and again at Gent.

Unanimously, we decided to forego that stop, and drive straight through to Calais, and sleep there if we needed it instead.

With a series of rapid driver changes through the night, we made it to Calais for about 7:45. Even at 4:30 am the traffic around Antwerp was horrendous. It would have been so much worse two hours later.

At Calais, we checked in, and then went for well-earned croissants and coffee. We’re all but home by that point, so a little rest and relaxation seems reasonable.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on UK customs.

Normally, we move through customs fairly smoothly. Sure, there are 35 or so people to check, so it takes a little while, but it’s generally straightforward enough. This time, though, there was some problem and we were held there for 3 ½ hours. They don’t tell you what the problem is, perhaps because that would allow you to make up answers or information. They just keep asking questions and you have no idea what they’re looking for, or worried about.

We had a passenger whose personal history could have been causing concern. One of her children was the son of her ex-husband, a Russian man now fighting on the Russian side. (You couldn’t make this up.) Were they concerned that she might be some sort of infiltrator? We had no idea.

Eventually, it turned out to be no more mundane than that they hadn’t opened an email our support team had sent the week before, and were therefore missing some documentary evidence. There was perhaps a funny side to this, but we were suffering fatigue-induced collective sense of humour failure by this point!

As we were queueing to board, I checked my phone and saw the news of the rocket attack on the civilian convoy. After everything, it just felt too much and I needed to move away from the vehicles a bit while I got myself together.

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Libby and Sal, slightly giddy that we’re finally through customs!

On the UK side of the Tunnel, we drove to Ashford International rail station, where the majority of the refugees leave the convoy for a train to St Pancras in London, where they’re met by Ukrainian volunteers and guided on to the correct trains for the rest of their journey, with appropriate liaison with their hosts about where to meet them.

As previously, I rode up to London on the train with them. It gives them an escort, and gets me home significantly earlier than if I stayed with the vehicles all the way back to Oxford.

One refugee, Yulia, turned out to be going to Cambridge, where I live, so I took her on with me on the train – one less for the Ukrainian volunteers to sort out.

Waiting for the train to Cambridge, I explained to her how we had left Oxford on Tuesday, driven through the night, dropped aid at Poznan, slept at Lodz, picked them up and driven back.

Her own journey had begun in Zapoizhzhia. She had spent 22 hours on a bus to Lviv, then 16 hours on a bus to Warsaw, then 24 hours on a bus with us. And everything she now owns is in a small suitcase you could use as hand luggage.

She will go back, she insists. She just doesn’t know what she’ll go back to.

Every one of these trips ends with a big group photograph, either at the customs point in Calais or else at the Ashford International Rail Station car park. Whether it was the delays, the breakdown, the long hold-up at customs – I don’t know, but somehow we forgot to take that photo.

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Sylvie, far left, my co-driver on an earlier run. Lizzie, in the pink top, whose family and ex-husband said she couldn’t do it. Here’s to the doubters…

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My co-driver, Andy, with the youngest of our passengers, his final drop-off at the end of the journey.

So that’s my last of these drives.

I will miss it terribly. The camaraderie and teamwork are unlike anything I’ve ever done before. The emotional highs and lows are incredible. I said to Troels over dinner on Wednesday night that one of the ways this messes with my head is that I feel guilty for enjoying it. Surely I shouldn’t be enjoying something that is only required, or possible, because of the immense suffering and devastation being suffered by a whole people. His response was simple, and astute. “But if you didn’t enjoy it, Keith, you wouldn’t do it. And it needs doing.” I guess that’s it.

Collectively, the group has brought 640 refugees to the UK, with five runs still to go. Of those, I’ve brought 21.


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KeithDavies 100

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PART 3 OF 3 - SO WHAT ABOUT TROELS, JOHN AND ANASTASIA?!


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Well, early reports were that the UK team were able to book them on a 6:30 flight the following morning from Berlin. That would get them back to the UK before the rest of us.

Unfortunately, those seats then disappeared, so the three of them spent the day touring European airports, sending selfies from an apparently never-ending stream of queues and airport bars. They flew Berlin – Hanover – Frankfurt – Venice – London Gatwick, arriving back in the UK Friday evening!

Hanover…

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Venice…

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On-board at Venice, but missed a take-off slot, so a 90-minute wait on the plane:

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At last, on the ground at Gatwick, and only UK customs to deal with…

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And finally home…

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Troels, incidentally, is back out there this week, leading the convoy again.

He’s been an amazing person to work with. Apparently limitless energy and positivity!
 

Kandinskyesque

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I'm blown away by these stories.
The work, the effort, the dedication and selflessness of just your group to bring 640 people to safety.
Then add to that what goes into putting a roof over each of those heads (I've a friend in London who works tirelessly for a brain injury charity doing just that for two Ukrainian sisters).

It all goes to help restore some faith in human nature among some of the cynical among us (myself included).

Despite the worst the four horsemen can throw at us, there's always some kind and selfless human souls willing to step up and show us the better part of our nature.

Just reading these accounts has gone a long way in helping me realise this.

Thanks for posting them, Keith, I'm grateful.
 

stxrus

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I read this yesterday but didn’t have time to respond
What you and “the group” have done is truly inspiring in so many ways.
The word hero gets bantered around so much these days that I consider what y’all have done is above “hero”.
The group and you Keith have my eternal admiration for work and the lives you have made a difference in.

When I saw the images of the shot up vehicles the other day I too had a moment of fear.

Again, thank you and the group for all you’ve done. It does restore a bit of faith in humanity.
 

KeithDavies 100

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I read this yesterday but didn’t have time to respond
What you and “the group” have done is truly inspiring in so many ways.
The word hero gets bantered around so much these days that I consider what y’all have done is above “hero”.
The group and you Keith have my eternal admiration for work and the lives you have made a difference in.

When I saw the images of the shot up vehicles the other day I too had a moment of fear.

Again, thank you and the group for all you’ve done. It does restore a bit of faith in humanity.
The rocket attack was just awful.

We've been nowhere near there - we've stayed in the Polish side of the border throughout - but I did feel some sort of connection to a convoy of civilians setting out together to try and bring others to safety. For them to be targeted that way was just sickening. Now they were heroic, I think.

It's been nice to discover I'm still useful at this age though! Makes me wonder what lies ahead.
 

Toto'sDad

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PART 2 OF 3 - HEADING BACK

Thursday morning, up early. Breakfast and coffee.

Five refugees scheduled to be picked up today would not be joining us as they’d tested positive for Covid. This was frustrating. It was too late to replace them at this point, and “wasted” five seats – almost a whole minibus. As it happens, though, this would work to our advantage later.

Because the seats are folded down for carrying the aid on the way out, they need to be put back up to accommodate passengers. This is generally straightforward, but we battled for a very frustrating half hour or so with one of the minibuses before we finally got it sorted.

Pip and Nick had experienced problems with the Merc all the way across Europe, so Troels and John took that minibus for the return trip, and the UK team were trying to find an accommodating Mercedes dealership on the route back that might be prepared to take a look at it for us. We found one back near Poznan, so we decided we pick up refugees, head to near Poznan for a group McDonalds, and Troels and John would divert off and try and get the Merc fixed.

We were delayed a little leaving Warsaw – a couple of families were unable to get there on time. Finally, though we got going, six minibuses carrying 36 refugees, 3 dogs, a cat and 2 pet rats. Yes, seriously.

View attachment 1036908

I was driving this leg, and Andy chatted to the passengers. To say he spoke barely a word of Ukrainian and they spoke hardly a word of English, he did brilliantly. He clearly just has a gift for talking with people – he’s waaaaay better at that side of this stuff than I am.

We had a family from Chernobyl, and people from Zaporizhzhia. At that moment, Zapoizhzhia was only familiar to me as being one of the areas Putin had just declared annexed to Russia. By the following day, of course, it was the scene of a rocket attack on a civilian convoy aiming to help Ukrainians leave the area. Thirty civilians were killed and dozens injured.

View attachment 1036909

Our passengers, including Grace, the dog!

At our McDonalds stop, Troels and John headed off as planned to the Mercedes dealership while we fed the refugees. They were back an hour later. The Merc required a bigger repair than was possible at short notice, but it should be fine getting back to the UK.

Eager to get going after that delay, we all mounted back up and set off, and two vehicles immediately went wrong on the roundabout outside the McDonalds. Since the UK, Andy and I had been the rear vehicle, tasked with ensuring we’re all together and no-one gets lost, so I messaged them and Andy drove us round and round the roundabout till they doubled back and rejoined us, and then we set off to catch up with the others. It was about 4 or 5 in the afternoon by this point.

View attachment 1036910

Chasing sunset, western Poland, Thursday evening.

By about 8pm, we were in Germany. The border crossing, Poland into Germany, is a beautiful point on the Oder River. We crossed that as the sun was setting, but by 8pm it was dark. We were racing along the autobahn at around 80-85mph, when the troublesome Merc lost all power and John had to get it to the hard shoulder. Scary, with a load of vulnerable passengers on board.

The rest of us went on to the next service stop. Andy and I emptied our minibus of both passengers and luggage and Andy headed on to the next junction, to double-back for the stranded vehicle. He picked up all their passengers and luggage and brought them back to where we were now all in a diner.

Because 5 passengers had pulled out with Covid, we thought we could cram everyone in the remaining vehicles. It would be tight, but it should just about work. We had miscounted by one!

We explored every option we could think of, but finally – and reluctantly – had to ask one woman travelling alone to agree to be taken back to the stranded minibus, to travel to the UK with Troels and John, however that ended up happening.

The woman in question was Anastasia. She spoke no English, so I can’t imagine how daunting this must have been. In the minibuses, or in the group as a whole, there are generally one or two Ukrainians that speak a little English and can do some translating, but Anastasia would now be on her own.

Andy and I drove her back. Andy was really anxious that we minimise our time parked on the hard shoulder, and that I get her away from the vehicles as soon as we stopped. Hard shoulders are a really dangerous place to be, especially in the dark.

We got there, pulled up and I jumped out. I slid open the door to the back and helped Anastasia out. As I started to lead her away though, into long grass and darkness, I felt her resisting. Who wouldn’t?!

I pulled out my phone and used Google Translate to say “we need you away from the vehicles where you’re safe”, and then she was fine. I took her hand again, and passed her to Troels in the dark. John had grabbed her luggage. I waved goodbye to shadows, jumped back in, and Andy took off.

Back at the diner, we had ten minutes till closing time! We loaded passengers and luggage back up, inevitably separating some family groups to squeeze everyone in. Some passengers were helpful and co-operative – Anastasia had been brilliant – but some just rigidly would not move from the seats they had got into back in Poznan.

Soon, though, we were underway again. With Troels and John stranded with the Merc, Andy and I took over convoy lead, and assigned Martin and Richard the task of bringing up the rear.

A driver back in the UK sent an encouraging message about that time, and asked how the troublesome minibus was holding up. I sent back: “Funny you should mention that…”, and a photo of it being hauled onto a tow-truck.

View attachment 1036911

As a result of experience gained over the last six months, Troels now insists on the whole convoy stopping for a couple of hours near Dortmund to rest properly before continuing onward.

However, the breakdown had put us behind schedule, but also woken everyone up. Stopping for two hours would now mean that we would hit horrendous morning rush hour traffic around Antwerp – already a nightmare because of extensive roadworks – and again at Gent.

Unanimously, we decided to forego that stop, and drive straight through to Calais, and sleep there if we needed it instead.

With a series of rapid driver changes through the night, we made it to Calais for about 7:45. Even at 4:30 am the traffic around Antwerp was horrendous. It would have been so much worse two hours later.

At Calais, we checked in, and then went for well-earned croissants and coffee. We’re all but home by that point, so a little rest and relaxation seems reasonable.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on UK customs.

Normally, we move through customs fairly smoothly. Sure, there are 35 or so people to check, so it takes a little while, but it’s generally straightforward enough. This time, though, there was some problem and we were held there for 3 ½ hours. They don’t tell you what the problem is, perhaps because that would allow you to make up answers or information. They just keep asking questions and you have no idea what they’re looking for, or worried about.

We had a passenger whose personal history could have been causing concern. One of her children was the son of her ex-husband, a Russian man now fighting on the Russian side. (You couldn’t make this up.) Were they concerned that she might be some sort of infiltrator? We had no idea.

Eventually, it turned out to be no more mundane than that they hadn’t opened an email our support team had sent the week before, and were therefore missing some documentary evidence. There was perhaps a funny side to this, but we were suffering fatigue-induced collective sense of humour failure by this point!

As we were queueing to board, I checked my phone and saw the news of the rocket attack on the civilian convoy. After everything, it just felt too much and I needed to move away from the vehicles a bit while I got myself together.

View attachment 1036912

Libby and Sal, slightly giddy that we’re finally through customs!

On the UK side of the Tunnel, we drove to Ashford International rail station, where the majority of the refugees leave the convoy for a train to St Pancras in London, where they’re met by Ukrainian volunteers and guided on to the correct trains for the rest of their journey, with appropriate liaison with their hosts about where to meet them.

As previously, I rode up to London on the train with them. It gives them an escort, and gets me home significantly earlier than if I stayed with the vehicles all the way back to Oxford.

One refugee, Yulia, turned out to be going to Cambridge, where I live, so I took her on with me on the train – one less for the Ukrainian volunteers to sort out.

Waiting for the train to Cambridge, I explained to her how we had left Oxford on Tuesday, driven through the night, dropped aid at Poznan, slept at Lodz, picked them up and driven back.

Her own journey had begun in Zapoizhzhia. She had spent 22 hours on a bus to Lviv, then 16 hours on a bus to Warsaw, then 24 hours on a bus with us. And everything she now owns is in a small suitcase you could use as hand luggage.

She will go back, she insists. She just doesn’t know what she’ll go back to.

Every one of these trips ends with a big group photograph, either at the customs point in Calais or else at the Ashford International Rail Station car park. Whether it was the delays, the breakdown, the long hold-up at customs – I don’t know, but somehow we forgot to take that photo.

View attachment 1036913

Sylvie, far left, my co-driver on an earlier run. Lizzie, in the pink top, whose family and ex-husband said she couldn’t do it. Here’s to the doubters…

View attachment 1036914

My co-driver, Andy, with the youngest of our passengers, his final drop-off at the end of the journey.

So that’s my last of these drives.

I will miss it terribly. The camaraderie and teamwork are unlike anything I’ve ever done before. The emotional highs and lows are incredible. I said to Troels over dinner on Wednesday night that one of the ways this messes with my head is that I feel guilty for enjoying it. Surely I shouldn’t be enjoying something that is only required, or possible, because of the immense suffering and devastation being suffered by a whole people. His response was simple, and astute. “But if you didn’t enjoy it, Keith, you wouldn’t do it. And it needs doing.” I guess that’s it.

Collectively, the group has brought 640 refugees to the UK, with five runs still to go. Of those, I’ve brought 21.


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To paraphrase a quote from Bobby Jones the golfer, if your life contained nothing but the work you have done for the people of Ukraine, your life would lack nothing! What a decent human being you are, a real-life hero!
 

Tonetele

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Jun 2, 2009
Posts
10,500
Location
South Australia
To paraphrase a quote from Bobby Jones the golfer, if your life contained nothing but the work you have done for the people of Ukraine, your life would lack nothing! What a decent human being you are, a real-life hero!
Thanks TD. My mum had to escape from there in 1942 as a 21 yr.old girl. Her father, the only one left of a family of 5, told her " Get out of here" wanting her to have a better life elsewhere. Her journey here was epic, that's all I can say. Norm from the Rare Guitars in L A did a video as his father came from the Crimean Peninsula said" Nobody gains anything in the end." He's right. Hope I have not breached politicising rules here, speaking on a humanitarian basis only.
 




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