Pickup4Ukraine – Unterstützung für Kriegsopfer der Ukraine e.V. Updates Our 9th Transport: Lviv-Kyiv-Dnipro and back, April 21 to 28 2024

Our 9th Transport: Lviv-Kyiv-Dnipro and back, April 21 to 28 2024


This trip was our largest transport to date, with a total of seven vehicles.

Shortly after our eighth trip in February (we reported), we started planning the next delivery. We had a long wish list from our Ukrainian friends, including frontline medicine again. Fortunately, our colleague Dave was traveling to the USA, so we were able to place a new order directly there, which he then brought with him on the return flight. The vehicles procured were very diverse this time: a VW Crafter flatbed truck, two Mercedes Sprinters (one of which is an ambulance), a VW T4, a Ford Ranger and a Mitsubishi L200 – no Pickup4Ukraine without pickups. A Citroen minivan was donated by Dirk from the Berlin area. Dave and Yuriy supported the inspection and selection of vehicles with their expert knowledge. The “crew” was also diverse this time – hardly surprising with 12 drivers for the first leg to the Polish-Ukrainian border! We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who drove with us: Daniela, Georg, Markus, and Stephan, who supported us on the first leg to Radymno, and Heinz, who drove on to Lviv with us. Kay and Gary were with us until Kyiv, while Andreas, Ruslana, David, Michael and Annette drove all the way to the handover in Dnipro. Thank you so much! We only get all of this done together!

The financial donations exceeded all previous levels. Very large donations were transferred from Heilbronn, from St.Leon-Rot, but also from the Cologne area, and the combo Krempl from Speyer gave a wonderful charity concert for us in Speyer on the Friday evening right before our departure. We presented our work to the audience and were grateful that their donations enabled us to buy the frontline medicine that is so urgently needed.

The material donations were also extensive this time. Michael and Annette picked up an dental X-ray machine in Stuttgart in early March. Large quantities of surgical consumables were donated and then sorted and loaded together. Many thanks at this point to Georg and Heinz, who actively supported our sorting campaign. On this occasion, we received a visit from RON TV, the regional TV station of RTL, who broadcasted a short film report about this activity and our charity in general on April 19, 2024. We also received a number of walking aids and a VW bus full of camping toilets with accessories from disaster relief stocks. An surgical chair for ophthalmological surgery and an ECG machine were donated at short notice in Heilbronn, alongside with two boxes of elastic bandages. We are grateful for these donations! Yuliia and other Ukrainian refugees in Walldorf had again made boxes full of trench candles – thank you to the Walldorf Begegnungshaus for allowing them to use the kitchen. The the tin cans come from the Walldorf animal shelter, among others, and the leftover candles were collected in Walldorf, at SAP, in the vicinity and – this time – also in Cologne. Boxes of medicine donations were handed over in Speyer, hygienic bed sheets and bedding in St. Leon-Rot, as well as a collection of crutches with chocolate bags from an estate, a DJI drone – and last but not least, over 10 kg of chocolate. The German charity Humanitäre Ukraine Hilfe (HUH) asked us to take five boxes of materials for a hospital in the Kherson region. Dave packed a diverse collection of items for an orphanage in the Kyiv region.

The Transport

Day 1, Sunday: First Leg to the Polish-Ukrainian Border

On April 21, 6 cars set off early in the morning. We had drawn up a few convoy rules beforehand and this time also defined the order of the vehicles with signs in each car. The ambulance in the middle of the convoy proved to be a point of orientation for Michael in the rear-view mirror of vehicle 1 and for Annette in the last vehicle. At 05:45 we all met at a service area off the autobahn A6 near Sinsheim. Some of the drivers had already gotten to know each other during the final packing and subsequent dinner the previous evening. On the way to Thuringia, we had a lot of snow, and a lot of rain throughout the journey – but this time all the cars were watertight and it didn’t rain in (like on the journey in August 2023 to Kharkiv, with the green painted pickup “Zhaba”.

The rest of the journey went smoothly, and we met Kay from Berlin in the evening at the Dwór Kresowy in Radymno. Kay brought Dirk’s Citroen as vehicle #7.

However, we had a first scary moment that evening in Radymno: We were told the customs computer system was down and no customs documents could be processed. They assumed that the software would be up and running again the next morning. Without further ado, Michael, Ruslana and Annette nevertheless went to the customs agency and learned that humanitarian aid was indeed being processed on a backup system. We parked all seven vehicles at the agency, and they started working on them immediately.

Day 2, Monday: Across the Border and to Lviv

The next morning, Stephan, Markus, Georg, and Daniela took the train to return to Germany. Good news: The customs documents had all been prepared overnight. But then: second moment of shock: the Sprinter’s had a flat tire. Heinz was well prepared and had taken a protective overall and a knee pad with him. There were also a jack and tools, and Kay and Heinz at once went to work removing the wheel, while Andreas was already on the phone to a Polish garage. The wheel had a broken rim, but could be welded, the tire pumped up and refitted. We drove to the border 1.5 hours later than planned.

Annette had officially announced our arrival, so we were at least allowed to bypass the first queue of waiting vehicles (with a police escort). Once inside the border facilities, however, everything proceeded as normal. Ruslana managed to get us cleared as a group and was able to answer all the ad hoc questions and concerns of the customs officers on both sides of the border with eloquent charm. It was a big undertaking, and the border crossing took five hours in total.

After our arrival in Lviv, we only had enough energy for a short walk around the old town and a good dinner. Our hotel had given us plenty of parking space so that we could park all seven vehicles directly in its front yard. In the city, our new driver colleagues noticed that at first glance you don’t get much sense that a war is going on. However, if you take a closer look, you discover that statues and monuments have been secured with sandbags and then wrapped in plastic tarps that read, for example, “you can admire me again after the victory.”  You can see sheet metal protecting church windows. And at the exit of the restaurant, a large pickle jar is used not for collecting tips but for collecting donations for drones for the Ukranian army. And right at the exit door, you see a sign with the current status of the enemy’s losses, labeled with a line from the Ukrainian national anthem, which says that the “little enemies melt away like dew in the sun”.

Day 3, Tuesday: To Kyiv

The next morning, we said goodbye to Heinz, who set off on his journey home from Lviv. Kay, Gary, Ruslana, Andreas, Dave, Annette and Michael drove on towards Kyiv. On the highway, we saw large military convoys on their way from west to east: all kinds of vehicles, but also repurposed city buses full of soldiers. After that, you see our public transport buses here in the region with different eyes. In the opposite direction, we sometimes saw convoys of ambulances on the road, even trucks converted into medical vehicles, to transport and treat several wounded persons at the one time. That really makes you think.

In Zhytomyr, we were particularly lucky to meet Ruslana’s father. He is in the Ukrainian army, and his unit is currently on rotation, so that we could meet up at a service station. The soldiers were delighted to meet volunteers from abroad.

In Kyiv, we filled the parking lot of the office building of our partner organization “Lawyers Move” (until recently “Dead Lawyers Society”) with our vehicles. We first unloaded all the materials that were destined for the charity organization there. It has changed its name from “Dead Lawyers Society” to “Lawyers Move”. Mariia was delighted to see the vehicles, especially the ambulance, but also grateful to receive all the equipment and materials.

We then took the large pieces of equipment, i.e. the donated ophthalmology surgery chair, ECG and X-ray machine, as well as the 5 HUH medical boxes for the hospital in Kharkiv to Nova Poshta, where we unloaded and shipped them.

Afterwards, we followed Anna Mikulytska’s invitation to a restaurant in Podil for an evening with SAP colleagues from Kyiv. There, in the basement, we were treated to a private screening of “20 Days in Mariupol”, which won the Oscar for the best documentary film in February. It is difficult to write about it. Watching this movie in Kyiv, in the basement of a building on a big screen, was even more impressive than watching it from a distance, sitting on the sofa in the living room at home, on the laptop screen from the German TV media library. The horror and misery were palpable in a completely different way.

Mariupol is still under Russian occupation and the Russians are still targeting other large cities in Ukraine, such as Kharkiv and Dnipro. There, too, civilian buildings are being destroyed and civilians continue to die.

Day 4, Wednesday in Kyiv

We had a full program today. Fortunately, the night was quiet. First, we met up with Ruslan from “Lawyers Move” for breakfast at a start-up coffee roastery. They have housed the entire production and shipping operations in a factory hall, and, on the side, they offer coffee, tea and snacks, which we were able to enjoy on a kind of loft gallery. We then took the VW Transporter and the Sprinter to a suburb of Kyiv, where we met Sviatoslav. He had painted two previous vehicles that had been converted into casevacs (casualty evacuation vehicles) in camouflage (see previous report). In his real job, he works as a set designer at the National Theater in Kyiv. He was now commissioned to give the VW transporter and the Sprinter a camouflage paint job. We left the vehicles there, handed him the keys and Ruslan drove us back to the Hub.

At lunchtime, we met Anna again, who invited us to lunch with the CEO of the Ukrainian company “Winner”. Winner imports cars from all over the world to Ukraine and runs its own charity organization, which provides used and new vehicles to the units of the Ukrainian army in which its employees serve on the front line. They also support large hospitals, especially for children. They talked about their work, asked us to tell them about our initiative, and offered to help us with repairs or inspections of our cars in Ukraine. In return, we suggested that we ask our network of supporters to help them out with materials for the pediatricians.

In the afternoon, Annette held a workshop on negotiation strategy at the American University Kyiv. Dave and Michael also attended. It was a successful event where the theory taught was combined with a lot of experience, especially from the various participants. Learning Moment.

In the evening, we met Nadia, Mariia and Ruslan for dinner. Mariia told us that she had been offered a teaching position on constitutional law in the fall. It had been raining all day and we were glad to be dry again in our rooms. The night was quiet again.

Day 5, Thursday in Kyiv

This morning we had arranged to meet Olga Koshelenko for breakfast. She is the wife of Kostiantin Koshelenko, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Social Policy for Digital Transformation. Annette had contacted her via LinkedIn. Olga knits patriotic sweaters and sends them all over the world. Annette had ordered one and was now able to receive it in person. Olga had brought a little time with her, so we sat together and were able to talk about “private life and raising kids in times of war”.

We then collected the personal belongings from the vehicles that were to remain in Kyiv and reloaded them into the vehicles that were to travel to Dnipro the next day. Unfortunately, as the day progressed, it turned out that we would only take 2 vehicles to Dnipro, as the unit that was supposed to receive the Ford was busy and unavailable. We then met again with Lawyers Move to finalize the documentation for the vehicles. Later that day, we experienced the first air raid alert. The sirens went off all around us with the familiar rising tone, on our cell phones too, and Mark Hamill’s voice from the Air Alert app warned us to get to safety. All the stores closed. This time, the air alert was “only” caused by a MiG taking off, which means that we first had to wait and see whether there is a serious threat and, if so, where in Ukraine any impact is expected. We therefore stayed near a metro station. In the evening, Michael, Dave, and Annette met Oleg and his family for dinner. Annette’s family had taken the children in for four months in spring 2022 after the invasion.

Day 6, Friday: Drive to Dnipro and Handover

We set off bright and early today. Michael, Andreas, Ruslana, Dave, and Annette said goodbye to Kay at 05:00 and then met our good friend Serhiy who accompanied us to Dnipro again this time. The sun was rising, and on the way, we could admire yellow rapeseed fields blooming to the horizon under a blue sky, but also spray-painted highway signs that still show that the country is at war and that they don’t want to “show the invaders the way”. On the way, we stopped again for an authentic Ukrainian second breakfast at U Sester, the restaurant of the “two sisters”, and had more than just borscht for breakfast. Shortly before Poltava, we changed the road and headed south to Dnipro. The condition of the road on this section of the route is significantly worse than in the west-east direction. We came across some big, empty flatbed trucks. We hoped they were returning from the south and had finally delivered the much-needed large material for the Ukrainian army.

We arrived at the agreed meeting place, a service station near Dnipro, around midday. The soldiers from the two units were already there and were delighted with to receive the two vehicles and the drone. We took lots of photos for documentation purposes and they took the time to sign flags to thank the donors. Finally, we had a coffee together and one of the soldiers called his “little sister”, who had fled to Germany, to tell her about his good fortune. She was very touched. We were too. It is always meaningful for us to learn how important it is for the soldiers in Ukraine not only to receive the material, but also hear from us, that people abroad understand that the fight against the Russian invaders is not just about Ukraine’s fate but ultimately about the defense of Europe in its entirety.

After saying goodbye to Ruslana and Serhiy, who returned to Kyiv, Michael, Andreas, Dave, and Annette headed for the main station in Dnipro. As soon as we got there, an air raid alarm went off. We found out the details via various Telegram channels and therefore stayed underground until the all-clear was given. Afterwards, we wanted to visit a café. On the way there, we saw the building next to the bus station that had been destroyed by a Russian missile attack last week. Right on the square in front of the train station, we also saw a concrete shelter.

Then the next air raid alert sounded, and we went down into the metro station. We stayed there again until the alarm was lifted. This time, however, it took over two hours. The metro station was initially full of people, metro traffic continued, and we had the impression that the people of Dnipro were coming to terms with the alarm and going about their normal lives. Staying in the metro station is not really pleasant. The climate is damp and cold; you sit on wooden benches and wait. Or – like Annette – you end up walking up and down the platform like a caged animal, around the pillars, back and forth and in circles.

When the alarm was finally over, there wasn’t enough time for a visit to the café, so we decided to buy some provisions in the supermarket next to the station. The next air raid alert came and, interestingly, the supermarket didn’t close. When the alarm was over, we went, well supplied, into the station to get our luggage. Then, the next alarm came, we stayed at the lockers “underground”. When “the coast was clear again”, we were able to get up to the platform. The night train from Zaporizhzhia to Przemyśl in Poland was already there, and we got into our four-person compartment.  The train left on time. We love Ukrzaliznytsia, the Ukrainian Railways, for their defiant, well-oiled reliability.

Day 7, Saturday: Return to Poland

The journey from Dnipro to Przemyśl / Poland takes 17 hours. The train is (always, at any time of year) warm and stuffy. But: you are safe and you can sleep. During the night and the following day, the country, and in particular Kyiv and Dnipro, as well as power plants and a psychiatric hospital in Kharkiv, were attacked by Russia with a total of 34 missiles of different types. Our friends in Kyiv explained that this was to be expected after the quiet nights on the previous days. The Ukrainian air defense was only able to destroy some of them, due to the prevalent lack of defensive weapons.

We reached Przemyśl safe and sound and, after a short stop, continued on to Krakow. We spent the evening there in a brewery with delicious traditional Polish food.

As I descended the steep stairs into the restaurant’s vaulted cellar, my first thought was “Very good. The restaurant is in the basement. Then we’ll be protected in the event of an air raid.” These thoughts come automatically – even if you’ve been out of Ukraine for a while. You also listen more closely if you hear a rising sound somewhere that resembles the air raid siren. After your return from Ukraine, you will experience that for a while.

Day 8, Sunday: Return to Germany

After breakfast, we headed to the airport. Michael, Dave, and Annette were back home by lunchtime – many, many thanks to Hansi for picking us up! After a week full of logistics, it feels so good to know that you don’t have to organize the last leg of the journey yourself. Andreas took a later flight to Düsseldorf.

After a week in Ukraine, we can draw some conclusions. The mood of the people we met is now noticeably less depressed and desperate than during our last trips in December and February. People are hopeful, partly because support from the USA has now been promised and some of it has already been delivered to the country, and partly because people continue to be encouraged by government and private support from many European countries.

Despite the news reports on the critical situation at the frontlines and on small Russian territorial gains, we could clearly sense the will of the Ukrainians to liberate their country again, to push back the aggressor and to win this war.

We will continue supporting them and would like to thank everyone who is helping. The next trip is being planned. There are not enough funds yet, but we are still collecting.

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