A further Ambulance set off from Towcester on Sunday 4th June, initially driven by Oleh Naida, a Ukraine national now living in Towcester, and Alex Donaldson from St Lawrence Church. The ambulance purchase and travel costs were predominately driver funded, and filled with donated medical and rehabilitation items. The ambulance was destined to be donated to frontline paramedics, whilst its contents would be donated to a hospital in Dnipro to assist with the rehabilitation of those wounded as a result of the latest invasion.
Steve Challen and Alan Gilbert joined the ambulance from Poland on the Tuesday morning, where Steve drove the 4 hours to the Ukraine border. The team then passed through customs in 2hrs before driving a further couple of hours to Lviv to meet that evening, Julia Stadnytska, a psychotherapist who provides voluntary help to those affected by the trauma of the war. The team then handed over the ambulance to volunteer contact Iryna Vovk with whom the Tove Benefice has worked with since October. After an extremely long and busy day, they then had to quickly find a late evening meal before the night time curfew kicked in. The team were then thankful to grab a few hours’ sleep at Oleh’s apartment in Lviv, without interruption.
teve said “there were just a few signs of the war this far west of the frontline: some military checkpoints on our way to / from the border; semi-redundant anti-tank defences at the entrance to the city; boarding across some historic windows; sandbags protecting windows to basements being used as bomb shelters; and a few young soldiers walking the streets going about their own personal business. I am sure it would have felt very different for us the night previous to our arrival when the air alarms had sounded”.
The next morning, the team visited the new military cemetery in Lviv which they all found to be very moving - apparently it has almost doubled in size since the team visited a couple of months earlier. Sadly, authorities were seen levelling a large new area ready for even more graves. Oleh had told that this was a small cemetery compared to some towns / cities. Steve said “It was very poignant seeing all the flags blowing in the wind, the broad range of ages with the youngest I spotted being 22, the sheer number of graves (circa 350 to 400), and how fresh they all were with some just a few weeks old and not yet enclosed by wood. It was all just so new, with so many fresh flowers and the photos of lost ones making the graves so unique and moving”.
The team then managed a brief tour of Lviv old town, at which point the air raid sirens went off. Life however carried on as normal, with Oleh informing the team it was just hostile jets going up into the skies beyond the Ukraine borders in an attempt to intimidate people, and not the endangering cruise missiles being launched. Thankfully the sirens only lasted perhaps half an hour and then ceased. The team visited a number of churches, and thanks to Iryna, they were given a private tour by the Chaplin of the second largest church in Lviv - now the military church. This 16th Century church holds special memories Oleh as it is where their youngest was baptised before evacuating, and where two friends had recently had their funerals – casualties of the war. The church is currently being restored after falling into disrepair and the team had the privileged of visiting some private areas including the restoration team who were repairing some of the ornate carvings.
After a fairly rapid traditional Ukraine lunch was had in a dug out “resistance “style restaurant, which was a unique experience once again, and a run in and out of one of the chocolate shops which makes Lviv famous, the team headed to the bus station to make their way home via Poland – just a day after their arrival. Once on the bus, the ride was relatively straightforward save for a few new military passport checkpoints before the border, and enduring 5 hours to clear through both customs and enter Poland. The team finally arrived at their hotel in Krakow at circa 2am. But given their purpose and what had been experienced in the past 24 hours they all felt there was nothing for them to grumble about!
Steve said “It was without a doubt a very full and surreal couple of days after all our aid efforts these past 15 months, but also a very important journey for me to finally accomplish personally after supporting all the previous local aid efforts and drives. A huge personal accomplishment and reinforcement that the help we have given is going to those who really need it. Words cannot fully describe what has just been experienced, nor the humbling privilege it has been to stay in the apartment of a family who fled with 3 young children and just two hold-all bags a little over a year, and who are yet to return. Oleh had sighed when he pointed out to me the baby cot their youngest has now grown out of since she left….so very poignant that they have been away so long and are yet to return home as a family for fear of what may happen next. It was a privilege also to meet some of those whom we have sought to provide aid through for so many months - amazing people working so very hard and driving aid to frontline locations at great personal risk, whilst the world around them seeks to carry on in relative normality. Lots to process and reflect upon when recharged and rested. I would like to thank all those who have given their support to our friends in Ukraine”.
During this extremely brief visit, the Kakhovka Dam was breached flooding over 200 square miles of land and displacing thousands of Ukrainians. Sadly also, within a day of the team’s return, Oleh and Uliana’s brother-in-law was lost in the fighting – one of thousands of civilians who have lost their lives having been called up and retrained to defend his county.
As always, our thoughts and prayers remain with those in Ukraine, and displaced around the world.