Pickup4Ukraine – Unterstützung für Kriegsopfer der Ukraine e.V. Updates Our 10th Transport – Kharkiv and Donetsk Regions, May 27 to June 5 2024

Our 10th Transport – Kharkiv and Donetsk Regions, May 27 to June 5 2024

After our 9th transport, with the largest number of vehicles to date, the 10th transport was “small” again, but no less challenging – for different reasons. Of the seven vehicles we delivered in May, three had since been converted and painted but had not yet been handed over to the receiving units. Our friends and partners from “Lawyers’ Move” (until recently “Dead Lawyers Society”) had been planning the delivery of these remaining vehicles. We had previously only seen this final stage in pictures or videos, and this time they kindly asked us if we could support them and show our solidarity. However, “Lawyers’ Move” typically travels much closer to the frontline areas than we do. We therefore planned a joint delivery. Our delivery locations were east of Kharkiv and in Donbas.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Michael and Annette drove just one vehicle this time, but it was urgently needed. It was again a VW T5 Transporter, one of the coveted ones with four-wheel drive, and fully loaded with the donated hospital supplies organized by Kati and Rainer. On Monday morning, Michael left Speyer at 04:30, picked up Annette at 05:00, and we were already in Radymno just under 12 hours later thanks to light traffic and a smooth VW diesel engine. Even the customs agency was no problem this time. This gave us a little more time in the evening and we were able to see the actual town of Radymno for the first time. There is a “Tartar sign” there, which we were looking for and almost missed, and then – right on the market square – a former synagogue. It now houses several stores and small businesses. However, you can still make out the round mizrach window hidden by the plaster and inscriptions on the façade.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

We arrived at the Polish-Ukrainian border early, the border controls were record-breakingly fast, and so we arrived in Lviv shortly before 12:00 local time (i. e. 11:00 Polish time). The city was – even more than usual – full of people enjoying the good weather (no rain in Lviv this time). We used the time we had been given to explore Lviv and in particular the Lykhakivskyy Cemetery, where there are graves with inscriptions in Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and German.

Wednesday, May 29 2024

We set off early at 06:00 towards Kyiv. We had parked under the lime trees in Lviv, so we weren’t worried at first when we noticed during the journey that the rear window was a little “opaque”. The rear wiper removed the dirt, but shortly afterwards the window was fogged up again. Annette suspected that wiper fluid was leaking from above. We made good progress until shortly before Zhytomyr, when the engine died in the middle of the journey and could no longer be started. Michael also noticed that the fuel level had sunk rapidly. With the hazard warning lights switched on, Annette steered the car onto the hard shoulder at the remaining speed and stopped it there. Fortunately, we were right next to rest stop.

We got out of the car. Fuel was leaking from the bottom, and the van reeked of diesel. The entire rear was covered in diesel spray, which explained the opaque rear window. We wrote to all our friends in Ukraine to find out how best to proceed. In the end, Elena, our SAP colleague, wanted to organize an “evacuator”, i.e. a towing service, to take us to Kyiv. We sat down at the edge of the rest area under some trees in the shade.

While we were waiting for the towing service, three car carriers suddenly stopped on the hard shoulder and in the rest area parking lot. The drivers got out,  so we walked up to them and we got talking. Apparently, someone had seen our car standing on the side, saw the “humanitarian aid” sign in the windshield and called these people,  asking them to help us. They really wanted to help. Unfortunately, they couldn’t just load us up and take us with them because their trailers were full. But they took a long, hard look at the situation in the engine compartment and came to the conclusion that the fuel line was probably broken. Damaged, porous, disconnected, who knows. Their suggestion was to bridge the diesel supply to the engine with an improvised small fuel tank and two hoses, and accompany us to Kyiv. In the meantime, however, Elena had managed to organize a tow truck, so we chose this as the safer option.

Three hours late, we arrived in Kyiv at the garage that Ruslan had indicated. Ruslan and Elena were waiting for us there. The car was immediately pushed into the garage and we drove with Ruslan to the “Hub”, the premises of our partners “Lawyers’ Move”. There we helped him clean the three vehicles (the ambulance, the Citroën donated by Dirk and the VW bus) that were there from the last transport, and prepared them for the handover. All three had been repainted and – where necessary – repaired. The ambulance had been equipped with everything an ambulance needs inside: a stretcher on wheels and various medical devices, and the lighting and auxiliary heating had been repaired.

In the evening, Lawyers’ Move had prepared an event. We brought the three vehicles there. Nadia had invited other partners of her law firm, clients, and also the unit that was to receive the repainted Citroën that had been equipped for logistics purposes. First, we took photos and videos of the Citroën handover, and Ruslan showed the interior of the ambulance. Nadia then organized a film screening. In the film “Standing Our Ground”, a camera team visits various army units on the front line or after their deployment and soldiers explain how humor helps them to cope with the situation and deal with what they have experienced. In addition to interviews with soldiers and medics, clips of their “work” and of their own footage from their everyday lives were shown. The humor was sometimes understandably dark, acting as a relief and an outlet for the unbearable.

Mariia then explained the medical materials on display that we were to take with us on the upcoming transport to the Kharkiv / Donetsk regions, including a whole box full of high-quality Ukrainian tourniquets, a device for regulating the temperature of  blood supplies, and an inverter that allows regular electrical devices to be supplied with electricity from a battery while on the road. Lawyers’ Move was able to procure all of this, as well as the equipment for the vehicles, with donations gathered there in Kyiv. Ultimately, the vehicles themselves account for 90% of the value, we were told.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

There was an air raid alert early in the morning and, after a short stay in the hallway of our rental, we took our sleeping mats and bags and moved “underground” into a nearby underpass because missiles had been announced for Kyiv region. During the day, we had time to visit the “Mother Ukraine” statue. It stands south of the city center, high above the banks of the Dnipro, and is Europe’s tallest statue at 62m high. Last year, the Soviet Union’s coat of arms with hammer and sickle was replaced by the Ukrainian trident on the shield that she holds up with her left hand. We then met Anna, the Managing Director of SAP Ukraine, and other SAP colleagues at the entrance to the Kyiv Cave Monastery (Pechersk Lavra). Part of the complex is open to visitors, but the part where monks still live is not. With Anna’s guidance, we visited several different churches and chapels where we could admire the different architectural styles. Some parts of the buildings date back to the 11th century. We climbed the bell tower, from where you have a wonderful view of Kyiv. In the evening, Anna had organized for us to take part in a wonderful dinner. The chef, who achieved the inclusion of borshch in the Unesco World Heritage List, offered an evening with food “all in white”, where the ingredients of the dishes had to be guessed. At the same time, embroidered Vyshyvanka blouses and dresses by a designer were shown and the embroidery patterns explained. A unique experience.

Friday, May 31, 2024

At night and early in the morning there were two air raid alerts in succession. This time we were able to stay in the hallway of our accommodation, protected by two thick walls, because there were ultimately no missiles on their way to Kyiv. Nevertheless, we made up for the lack of sleep and had a late breakfast. In the course of the morning, we learned that the T5 we had bought would not be repaired in time for the weekend. According mechanic, a previous owner had made modifications that first had to be removed in order to continue the search for the cause of the defect.

Serhiy met up with us and we talked about the upcoming weekend transport. He had a lot of advice and rules of conduct for us in case conditions “changed quickly” en route:

  • always bear in mind where west and north are. If in doubt, that’s where you want to go, away from the frontlines;
  • always park the vehicle in reverse so that you can drive away quickly if necessary.

To anticipate this: We learned more rules on the spot. “Donetsk parking style” means: Always park under leafy trees, because that makes it harder for drones to spot you from the air. Parking several vehicles in front of a military facility is also “a bad idea” because it attracts attention.

Nadia had organized a refresher course in “Stop the Bleed” for us on Friday afternoon. You learn how to deal with life-threatening bleeding injuries. We had already attended a first course of this kind in Mannheim, but the refresher was very helpful. Some rules were also prioritized differently in Kyiv. Above all, however, the course was “hands-on”. We were able to practice the respective techniques and the handling of the materials and test them on training equipment. To illustrate: instead of real blood, we had 1.5 liters of rooibos tea. We say thank you to Denyis and Lira from “Vovchok” – an organization comparable to the German typ “Volkshochschule”.

In the evening, we helped Mariia, Nadia and Ruslan with the final preparations at the Hub. We hoped for a quiet night, but the Russians woke us up again at 02:47, and then an hour later sent us for shelter back into the underpass. Better safe than sorry, and it’s more sheltered underground than up in the building.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

All the drivers arrived at the Hub a little late. We loaded the last packages into the vehicles and met Ihor again. He works for an American aid organization that supports and advises local charities. He joined us on the transport. We drove off in the direction of Kharkiv, or as some highway signs said “in the direction of Belgorod” ….

The journey was smooth, though the ambulance was a little slow. For breakfast we had hot dogs at a petrol station – probably an established ritual on the transports of our Kyiv friends. For Annette, it was the first hot dog breakfast of her life. Great. With all three mustard, mayonnaise, and ketchup!

We noticed that there were now more checkpoints on the roads and that some even wanted to inspect documents and/or ask what we were doing. The further south-east we went, more questions were asked.

We handed over the ambulance to a medical unit a little south-east of Kharkiv. They are housed in a vacant building, at one time a kindergarten.

There were hardly any soldiers to be seen, as they were all on a rescue mission at a burning warehouse. The warm hospitality meant that we were served lunch on children’s dishes.

The journey then continued south through the Kharkiv region to the Donetsk region. The area we were driving through belonged to the areas that were occupied by the Russians in 2022 and subsequently liberated by the Ukrainians. You drive through towns and villages with a lots of destroyed buildings, and for kilometers past fields that are mined. Large signs followed by rows of marker poles at the side of the road warn of the danger. You don’t leave the roads.

We drove through Kramatorsk, Mariia’s home town, and a little further south to the village of Druzhkivka. There we handed over the T5 we had delivered in April, together with drone equipment that Nadia had procured in Kyiv with Ukrainian donations. On the door of one of the barracks, we saw childrens’ drawings that had been pinned there, that clearly had been sent to the unit for moral support. On the way back to Kramatorsk, we couldn’t believe our eyes. There was a black Nissan Navara pickup on the side of the road – with a Speyer license plate. It was the vehicle that we had handed over to Roman’s brother’s unit in October. We spontaneously sent them a photo of us and the vehicle. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to meet in person.

In Kramatorsk, we had a short time to make a detour into the city center. Maria showed us the central square with the roses that are typical in the Donetsk region. They were lovingly planted in flower beds and were in full bloom.

We spent the evening with Mariia’s family. Her parents had prepared a wonderful meal for us and we sat outside in the arbor of a neighbouring house whose owner had moved to Kyiv. sat outside in the arbor of a neighbouring house whose owner had moved to Kyiv. When the air alert sounded, we stayed put. There are no cellars or basements, no underpasses and no metro stations. We were also told that the attacks were currently flying over the region to hit power stations and other critical infrastructure further inland. We heard muffled rumbling from a distance, like thunder – presumably air defense against this very attack. We spent the night in Kramatorsk in this neighbor’s house.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

On Sunday morning, Mariia’s parents treated us with breakfast – Ukrainian-style with lots of leftovers from dinner, but also muesli with yoghurt. And: with Mövenpick instant coffee from Germany.

Our transport took us to another handover in Pokrovsk and then to a district hospital just outside Dnipro. Many injured civilians and wounded soldiers from all over the south-east are treated there and, if necessary, then transported on to more specialized hospitals. With the help of donations, Mariia had been able to procure instruments for laparoscopic operations for the surgeons there. This allows to perform minimally invasive operations on patients, which reduces their recovery time from several weeks to just a few days. The surgeon showed us the different areas and explained a lot about the possibilities of patient treatment. Mariia was able to film several short documentaries, which are important for fundraising. Surprisingly, the way back to Kyiv was not via the main roads. For some unknown reason, the navigation system sent us mainly over back roads.

Monday/Tuesday, June 3/4, 2024

On Monday we were able to meet Sasha and his wife in Kyiv. After a few months on the countryside with their young son Ostap, they are now also in Kyiv. In the evening, we boarded the train to Poland and arrived in Kraków on Tuesday afternoon. Poland was observing June 4 to commemorate the peaceful revolution. On this day in 1989, the first partially democratic parliamentary elections were held in a communist country in Eastern Europe. Accordingly, there was an event on the market square in Kraków with music, dancing, speeches and lots of stickers with the Polish flag and Solidarność lettering.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Today our flight went back to Frankfurt. Thanks to Yuriy for picking us up at the airport!

Donbas sunset

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