Happy Journey

Our sixth transport took place in early October. We were back to Kharkiv, but this time the ride was much smoother than previous transports


On this delivery, we had only two vehicles and two different receiving units: Our pickup – again a Nissan Navara – was proposed for “Vovk”, the brother of Roman, a participant in Michael’s German course in Walldorf. The unit is currently deployed in the east of Ukraine, but they told us at the meeting that they had already been active in many places on the front. 

The second unit received a VW T4 van on short notice, which we had initially scheduled for another receiver, who had fortunately been provided with another vehicle just days before we left. The T4 then went to the 79thIndependent Air Assault Brigade via a contact that Serhiy had given us. 

We were lucky: We were able to assemble the necessary documentation, which was described in detail in our last letter, quickly this time. We had the papers for the pickup well in advance of the trip. The documents for the VW bus were then quickly obtained– despite the change of recipient – thanks to the short-term and intensive support of the Dead Lawyers Society in Kyiv, the charity we work with. 

The vehicles were again well filled this time: 

Rainer and Kati Siebold provided us with bags and boxes full of consumable surgical material, which is urgently needed in the hospitals near the front. In addition, there were specialized wound bandages that avoid scar formation – by coincidence, both provided from the hospitals as well as from a dear SAP colleague. Many thanks to Alex! At a charity concert in Heidelberg, a retired doctor reached out to us. He could give us an external fixation device, a metal construct that allows the stabilization of compound fractures in arms or legs. However, he made the offer under the condition that the necessary “pins” with which the device fixes the bone parts could also be procured, otherwise the instrument would be useless. After his unsuccessful attempts to procure these in Germany, Rainer’s told us that a useful assortment of pins for arms and legs would cost thousands of Euros. The solution was then very innovative and came directly from Ukraine: These pins can be fabricated there, i.e. manufactured by a local metal processing company on request, at a fraction of the price. Thus we could take the fixator along with other instruments and hand them over to the Dead Lawyers Society. Used crutches and walkers that Yuriy was able to procure rounded off the hospital material. At the request of an SAP colleague, Annette had received tools in St. Leon as donation for a mine-clearing team. A whole collection of hygienic duvet and mattress covers was supplied, which we packed for the hospitals. Yuriy, our Ukrainian car checker from Walldorf, gave us a big shopping bag with delicious things for his mother in Lviv. Finally, as a real blessing, we received 15 refurbished Lenovo laptops as a donation from one of Annette’s training colleagues. When we asked the Dead Lawyers Society whether they could use laptops for their hospitals, they answered with a very emotional emoji with shiny eyes – in the sense of “yes, please!” The hospitals that receive our material often have completely outdated IT systems, if any at all. Receiving laptops is an unimaginable stroke of luck for them. The donated devices were not only prepared in Mannheim for use out of the box, but also came with the offer of IT support. Again, special thanks to Patrick! And last but not least: The “Heidelberger Melange” concert, organized by Clarissa, helped finance the vehicles. We received the “cake buffet donations” and many musicians also donated their expense reimbursements.

A heartfelt <thank you> to all who contributed to this successful transport!


The Drive

We should start with a brief postscript to our fifth trip in early August: At that time, one of our vehicles, a Mitsubishi L200, suffered engine damage that could not be repaired at reasonable cost in Germany. Our third driver, Michael Roth, then resolutely drove the L200, overnight, to the Polish-Ukrainian border. Together with the other two vehicles, we took it to Lviv where it was since repaired. Serhiy recently handed it over to the unit that originally requested it. They are very happy.

We started our sixth trip at 5:00 a.m. on Monday, because the first stretch to Radymno in eastern Poland is long, and we like to cover it in one piece. We had two other SAP colleagues, Dietmar and Astrid, as drivers, alongside with Michael and Annette. What can we say about the ride? 

After the German-Polish border right after Görlitz, there is a gas station with a rest area on the Polish side where we always stop over. And, as so often, when we got out of the rest area, there were pickups and other 4×4 vehicles with British license plates at the pumps. We talked to the British drivers. Your goal? Well, Ukraine. Recipients: the Ukrainian Army. 

Five hours later, we were in Radymno, where we wanted to apply for the export documents at the customs agency. Just when we arrived, they had an hour of shift changeover, then a small break afterwards, and then, finally, sometime late in the evening, Michael was allowed to submit our requests and – as always – pick up the documents an hour later. We spent the time with a delicious “borderline” dinner at Dwór Kresowy, which translates roughly as “borderlands court.” Explanation: The Enlish-language menu describes local borderland dishes as “borderline,” to our amusement. 

On Tuesday morning, we drove to the Polish-Ukrainian border. All the passport and customs controls only took 1.5 hours – fantastic! The process was accelerated by thorough preparation of the documents, including all necessary copies—lessons learned on previous trips the hard way. We went on to Lviv and first visited Yuriy’s mother – a lively Ukrainian who received us in her two-story, somewhat labyrinthine apartment in an old Lviv town house. She offered us tea, cake, cheese and homemade cherry liqueur. Thank you for the hospitality – and for the honey! In the evening, we met Anton, an SAP colleague, at whose request we brought a vehicle to Lviv in August, which was then handed over to an unspecified army unit. At the time, Anton was sick – so, we were all the happier to be able to meet him in person now. Of course, with the most delicious cheesecake that Lviv has to offer.Dietmar and Astrid spent some time in Lviv on the next day before they took the train back to Poland and flew on to Germany. Michael and Annette set out for Kyiv. The stretch from Lviv to Kyiv is only half as long as the first leg from home to Radymno and was therefore easy to handle with one driver per car. In addition, the first night in Ukraine was quiet, with no air raid alert, so we were well rested. 

Meetings in Kyiv

In Kyiv, we first met a friend of Roman‘s who gave us more things for Roman‘s brother, including a camouflage net made of fishing nets and strips of fabric, to be used to disguise the pickup. Then we drove to our lodging, close to the city center. It is always difficult to find suitable parking there, so we are glad to have found a kind of short-term rental that offers space in their backyard. However, not necessarily for two large vehicles, such as a pickup and a VW bus. After a bit of discussion with other car owners, we could at least accommodate the van. Later we exchanged the cars, parked the pickup into the yard and drove the bus, filled with the hospital materials, to the Dead Lawyers Society. We met Nadia and Mariia there and handed over the materials. What a joy! That evening, we were had a delicious dinner together with Mariia and Vasyl, an SAP legal colleague of Annette. Vasyl speaks not only English, but is also quite fluent in German, which we only found out later in the conversation. Again, the first night in Kyiv was quiet.

On Thursday morning, during breakfast at a café on the Khreshchatyk, the central boulevard in Kyiv, we got into a conversation with two Brits sitting at the next table. They told us that they, too, hand over donation-financed vehicles to the Ukrainian army and use them to bring donated materials to schools, orphanages, and to other social facilities. We are glad to see that there are people everywhere who, like us, support the Ukrainian forces and view their struggle as our common cause.

We then went to see Elena, an SAP colleague, who always helps us organize the return journey. We were able to give her the donated tool collection for the mine clearance unit. Still on their wish list: a welding machine…

In the afternoon, Mariia took us on a long walk and showed us some rather hidden corners of Kyiv. She told us about her work as a lawyer—she’s not just volunteering for the Dead Lawyers Society, but actually has a full-time job. She specializes in human rights, the rule of law and the fight against corruption. This is probably one of the most burdensome professions that you can currently have in Ukraine, comparable to that of soldiers, doctors or paramedics. As a lawyer, she supports, among other things, victims of war crimes and other acts of terror within or on the borders of the occupied territories. One could tell that she is not untouched by the confrontation with the personal experiences of those affected. Referring to the name of the organization “Dead Lawyers Society” she said in between “I am alive, yes, but I am dead inside.” At moments like that, all you can do is hug each other and hope that the pain will eventually end.

In the evening, we met the father of the three children Annette’s family had taken in for four months last year after the war broke out. The daughters joined us while the son was “chilling” at home. We had a very delicious dinner at a vegan restaurant. The eldest daughter shared that she was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Switzerland in summer, at a Ukrainian youth camp. A few things made this camp different from a typical summer camp. It was forbidden to speak Russian because it might “trigger” participants who had experienced Russian occupation. Pricing varied according to the participant’s status: Regular participants paid the full amount, those with a parent in the Ukrainian army paid only half, and those who had already lost a parent in the war were allowed to attend for free. She described this in a matter-of-fact way. We were speechless for a while. 

Handover in Kharkiv

We set out to Kharkiv at 5:00 a.m. on Friday morning. Serhiy, who joined us last time, was  unavailable, since he was traveling with photojournalists. We felt, however, confident driving on our own. We had agreed to organize the handover at a convenient location. Looking back, the third night in Ukraine had also passed without any air raid alert. We still had to take a second break on the journey to Kharkiv, getting some fresh air and tea to stay alert. Sometimes you underestimate how much energy is consumed by constant subliminal tension. Try to imagine how the Ukrainian population is doing after over 600 days of war and terror and disturbed nights.

The parking lot where we had agreed to meet was a kind of crossroads for various groups of travellers. Our vehicles were eyed from all sides. The contacts from the two receiving units arrived almost at the same time. We showed them the vehicles, the papers, then took pictures with autographed flags in the foreground, and had them sign some more flags. Then we went to have a coffee together. When asked how they were doing, one of the soldiers with the call sign “Moryak” (seaman) said that he had gone to sea in civilian life, and now has a different temporary occupation. He aims and shoots. As long as it takes, and then he will go back to sea. 

After a while, we removed our backpacks from the van, and the end-user teams drove – now each with two vehicles – back to their places of operation.

We walked to the Kharkiv train station and, on the square in the sun, enjoyed the remaining pyrizhki from Kyiv. We were able to store our large backpacks in the luggage storage, and then decided to spend some time in the city center, to visit the “Constitution Square.” Just when we were back in front of the station building, the air raid alert went off – the first one we experienced on our October transport. Until then, it had been really quiet. We watched the people in the square for a moment and listened to the sirens, then we went into the subway station together with many other people. We wanted to take the metro anyway… We were lucky, there were no rockets this time. Now, while I am writing this, I am reminded of the people that were killed or injured by a Russian missile that hit a parcel distribution center near Kharkiv on the weekend, just a few seconds after the start of the air raid alert. 

We spent some time underground in the metro, as we initially rode in the wrong direction. When we finally re-surfaced on Constitution Square, the air raid alert was fortunately over. All around the square you see damaged or destroyed buildings. Kharkiv has been and still is affected by the war in a very different way than Kyiv or Lviv. 

Travel home

On Friday evening, our train left Kharkiv going westward. We had a stopover in the middle of the night, from midnight till 2:30 in the morning. For about 1 EUR we were able to avoid the common, loud waiting room with steep wooden seats, and instead change to the “Lyux” waiting area. We had it completely to ourselves, sofas, tables and stucco ceiling included. The train to Przemyśl arrived on time, and we sneaked quietly into the berths in our compartment. The next morning, we got to know our fellow travelers: a mother with her daughter, both from Zaporizhzhya, now on their way to Krakow, to spend some time relaxing. They told about life close to the frontlines. For example, the school has been completely online since the start of the Russian aggression. You stay in your apartment or in the shelter because you never know how safe it is outside.

On the train, our large backpacks were once again searched by the Ukrainian border guards. When checking “volunteers” returning from Ukraine, they are looking for “trophies,” which we suspect means weapons.

To be on the safe side, we had planned a buffer day in Krakow – it was cold but sunny. At first, we walked through Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter. We visited a Jewish cemetery and a small synagogue. Then we met Juan, one of Annette’s EMBA study colleagues, for a coffee / a really thick hot chocolate. He is married to Kasia from Poland. At present, they both live in Stuttgart, but it was very important to Kasia to participate in the Polish elections on Sunday in person. Kasia did not trust voting by mail. The outcome of the elections made the right-wing populists lose their absolute majority, and they cannot find any real coalition partners in Poland. Therefore, we hope that Polish support for Ukraine will not diminish, and Poland will continue to support the common European cause.

Our work for Ukraine continues. After our return last Monday afternoon, we found the next pickup truck offering only three days later. We bought the vehicle on Saturday and drove it to St.Leon. We are currently planning trip number 7, either this year, or early January 2024 at the latest.

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