Former Brussels journalist ‘reluctant’ to leave Ukraine after mercy trip
Chris White, who is 80, joined other volunteers in a recent UK-based mercy mission to the country where they delivered assorted items, including toys and sweets for young children.
But he says that when it came to returning to his home in Belgium his only thought was to stay in Ukraine to provide further help.
He said: “I wanted nothing more than to stay in Ukraine. I had an overwhelming desire to help.”
White added, “I left with a deep emptiness in my heart for the people of Ukraine. I will never forget the joy on children’s faces as they were shown into the room at a care home to be handed sweets and biscuits. The adults visibly shared my emotion as kids who lost their homes – and in some cases family members – to the violence of war realised what was happening.”
White, formerly of the Daily Mail in the UK, and a small group of helpers endured an exhausting trip by road from the UK to Ukraine, via Belgium, Germany and Poland,to deliver the goods which had been donated by the people of Deal in Kent.
Those involved in the fund raising appeal included Donna Walker and her supporters in the Deal Kent Ukraine Appeal and the White Cliffs Symphony Wind Orchestra, led by Graham Harvey.Advertisement
White says, “Right up to the last minute I was being urged to change my mind but I left with my Ukrainian driver in a four wheel drive vehicle destined for a Ukrainian army unit and loaded with Donna’s latest contributions.
“We drove day and night – the journey itself being funded by Gary Cartwright, publisher of EU Today – with just one stop for a quick nap after crossing into Poland.
We had stopped only to fill the petrol tank and had expected to cross from Poland into Ukraine on Friday morning but then received bad news. The paperwork for the car to cross the border had not been lodged because the army unit was on a mission.
“Delay followed delay as we tried to find another vehicle to transport the sweets and biscuits together with food and wheelchairs for the wounded.
Lacking sleep and food despair grew and then my driver Olexsandr announced that a lady called Olena (English spelling) would meet us at the Polish side of the border and take the car through, load the donations into her own pick-up truck and leave the four wheel drive for the army to collect.”
The group finally made it to an aid centre in Lviv “where we were greeted by the nicest bunch of people one could possibly meet.”
They visited a refugee centre housing mainly children but also families from front line areas who had lost their homes. The group also went to a rehabilitation centre to see a 19 year old British born and raised man of Ukrainian descent who was serving in the army at Bhakmut and lost both legs from just below the knees.
White said, “It was a long drive and I was apprehensive but found him to be a charming Welsh born character.”
“He announced that he would be staying in the army once he was mobile on artificial legs and would be operating drones and suchlike.”
Now safely back home in Belgium White reflects on the experience, saying, “Yes,it is a war zone. As I was told the first morning there were five air raid alerts during the night. Sixteen Iranian-supplied Russian drones flew over Lviv. Eleven were shot down “but several exploded near here”.
“The previous morning I learned that drones “killed five people in this neighbourhood last night”.
He went on, “As I told their national TV interviewer and repeated to them: “Ukraine is fighting for its own survival but also for Western Europe and the free world”.
“No one I met would criticise the EU, they appreciate the help they are giving but I could detect no criticism of my comment that the countries of Europe should be more united about helping Ukraine.”
He paid trip to Donna Walker as “a remarkable person.”
“The day after Putin invaded Ukraine she heard that there was a shortage of female personal items and so she and her business colleague James Defriend drove a load to Ukraine. Donna founded the Deal Kent Ukraine appeal and to date have sent more than 52 loads of aid.”
Donna said, “Me and James are both impetuous and we just got stuck in. We send stuff to help. The worst to date was when we learned that they were out of body bags and having to use bin bags. We contacted undertakers and then Brentford Council gave us their entire stock”.
She says that should anything happen to her she has made arrangements for the appeal to continue.
Her appeal has sent several vans and lorries to Ukraine for over a year now. The appeal has attracted donations to the value of more than £700,000. They have sent 20,000 packs of nappies, 200,000 boxes of medical products and now cover the whole country.
Donna’s father Patrick McNicholas said: “When other support groups struggle we take over”.
In April 2022 a report put the appeal’s Ukrainian contributions at £30,000 a week.
Graham Harvey is a strong supporter of the Donna Walker Deal Kent Ukraine Appeal. A former Royal Marine Band Corps Master he now leads the Deal based White Cliffs Symphonic Wind Orchestra which has raised £50,000 for national and local charities. A recent concert raised £750 for the Ukraine appeal and a decision was made to spend half on treats for children, and the rest on a generator for a school.
Graham said: “When I learned that Donna’s appeal was sending two lorries a week to Ukraine I was amazed. This area is doing something that shows they are caring.”
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