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In the first week of the Russian invasion, Ciaran the Van Driver and I were chatting on messenger about our mutual friend Paolo who was already taking supplies to the Ukrainian border. “We could do that.” A few days later, UK4UKR was born.
It’s not been easy, and sometimes it feels like everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
The first stumbling block was GoFundMe. With all of the Ukraine relief funds being set up, they had to be hyper-vigilant about fraudsters abusing their platform. Understandable, but it meant that new crowdfunders with anything to do with Ukraine in the blurb had a 5 day wait to go live.
Being both impatient and tech savvy (kinda) I built https://UK4UKR.com in record speed, slightly amazed that the url wasn’t already taken.
Ciaran tweeted about the fundraiser and, since he’s the nicest guy in the world, the whole thing went bananas, with us taking well over £15k in a matter of days… our original target (which I thought was a bit ambitious) was £5k.
Absolutely floored by the generosity of our friends and followers, we originally planned to leave the UK on Wednesday 9th March, but through no fault of his, Ciaran’s van was unavailable. We hastily rescheduled for Monday 21st, which was 5 days ago. In the meantime, the GoFundMe went live and we took another £3k.
This opened the possibility of multiple trips over to Poland with aid.
Then last week I got a message from Ciaran saying he wasn’t feeling well, and a big drive to Poland would be out of the question, at least for the time being.
No Ciaran = no van. It was time to suss out Plan B. By this time I had been included in a WhatsApp group with a British doctor stationed on the Ukrainian border and so had a much better idea of what was needed to take over. The “shopping list” looked a lot like this:
After several hours spent sussing out how I could get my hands on all this stuff, I spoke to Paolo, who by this stage had already done two trips to the border. Paolo put me onto a mate of his called Bear, who is licenced to drive pretty much everything. I thought to myself “would I be okay going to the border of a frikkin’ warzone with a guy called Bear?” Oh come on, like I’m going to say no to an offer like that.
I got in touch with Bear and he was very much up for being my co-driver.
So that was the shopping and the co-driver, now I just needed the van. I originally got in touch with the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB) via Andy Cross, whom I worked on the Manchester anti-Brexit rally back in 2019. They were awesome and super helpful, but they had HGVs leaving for Poland, which was a bit out of our otherwise impressive budget.
Bear got onto a van hire company (who shall remain nameless in case we call on them in the future) and they offered us a great deal on a van, but you know what’s even better than something that’s even lower cost? Something that’s free! And that’s what my mate Chef Dave Critchley offered. The only snag was that it would mean me hauling my sorry arse over to Liverpool on the train from my home in Durham to pick it up.
But by Thursday 24th, it seemed I had the kit, a co-driver and a van. I had loads of stuff delivered to my parents’ home in Liverpool, and I’d only have to take the oxygen concentrator, defibrillator and a super large pack of dressings on the train. But then this morning, through no fault of Dave’s, the Liverpool van option fell through.
No worries… I called the van hire company to say I wanted the van (I figured I’d pick it up in Durham, drive it to Liverpool and get the rest of the medical gear)… only to be told that because we’d be taking it out of the country, we have to give 72 hours notice. And with the weekend coming up, we could be waiting until next Wednesday before we got out.
In the words of Douglas Adams… Don’t Panic! By this afternoon, Dave had a back-up of the back-up plan… we could hire a camper van from a friend of his in Liverpool. Not ideal in terms of capacity, but it would mean we could bring a few refugees with us when we left the border. After a few panicky messages, it was past 6pm before I got it confirmed.
Okay then. All I had to do was get all my stuff together, print out a bunch of receipts and an inventory just in case we get stopped at the border and Kat could drop me at the train station with the surprisingly heavy equipment that had already arrived in Durham.
But that would be too easy! Of course, it would be today of all days that Kat’s car would have a flat tyre.
So an Uber then. Kat, being an angel, helped me carry the several boxes of medical equipment onto the train and my mum, being another angel, picked me up from Lime Street Station. I’ll be getting up in the morning at 6am… I’ve got a looooong day ahead. What a palaver!
But you know what? This is NOTHING compared with what the good people of Ukraine have had to put up with over the last month. And that’s why we do what we can.
You can donate directly via PayPal, Visa/Visa Debit/Visa Electron, Mastercard, American Express, Discover and Maestro using our Eärendil’s Star account, or you can donate via our GoFundMe page.
There has been an absolutely amazing response to this crowdfunder… so much so that we’ve already hit our original target of £5,000! We have therefore added a stretch target of an additional £15,000… all of which will go directly towards helping people caught up in this dreadful war.
Please share this crowdfunder