Seventh Transport: Kyiv 


Immediately after our return from our October trip, we had enough money to buy two vehicles in quick succession, thanks in part to fundraising in the USA by Kateryna Miagka with her basketball challenge and donations raised in Ukraine itself: first a Nissan Navara pickup, and shortly afterwards a Mitsubishi Pajero. (The Pajero still needed some repairs, and we are very grateful that our friend Yuriy was able to organize them personally at very short notice before our departure). The Pajero was destined for the 79th Airborne Brigade, to which the brother of Serhiy Maistruk, our friend and companion from previous deliveries, belongs, and that had asked us for a pickup when we met them in October. The pickup was requested by a unit of the Ukrainian security service. At the same time, we received a request from Mariia, one of the lawyers at the Kyiv-based aid organization Dead Lawyers Society, for at least one more Pajero to be converted into a medical evacuation vehicle in Kyiv. When looking for additional drivers for the first, long leg from southwestern Germany to the Polish-Ukrainian border, Michael Roth spontaneously suggested that he could procure this second Pajero himself if necessary. He is a man of action – which we already saw on the trip in August, when Michael drove the car with the blown cylinder head gasket overnight from Germany to the Polish-Ukrainian border. 

We also received plenty of hospital supplies this time, as Kati and Rainer Siebold had once again been busy collecting: in addition to sutures, surgical sheets, and gowns, we received a whole box of valuable titanium screws and plates, which are used to stabilize broken bones and that were no longer usable in Germany. They are urgently needed in Ukraine. During the run-up to the trip, the refugees in Walldorf had made countless so-called trench candles from empty tin cans, which are filled with rolled cardboard and wax and which bring light and warmth to the trenches. From friends in Ravensburg, we received a box full of surgical instruments and a blood centrifuge from the estate of a doctor, as well as a welding machine that a demining team in Kyiv had wished for. Many thanks to the kind donors who also organized the transport to our garage with a freight forwarder! And finally, our SAP colleague Frank Kurz put us in touch with the University Hospital in Freiburg. There we were immediately offered very large quantities of materials – at the request of the Dead Lawyers, this time we received a full pallet of examination gloves. We could only take  half of them on this trip, as not everything would have fitted into the vehicles and the priority was currently on the trench candles.

Of course, we also packed cookies again – not just the Danish butter cookies in tins (the tins are also used at the front to protect other supplies against mice and as cooking pot lids on gas stoves), but a whole box full of the absolute best speculaas – thanks, Jochen!!!!

However, the documentation requirements for Ukrainian customs had changed as of December 1. The Dead Lawyers had to check all the goods that we listed in great detail and documented them in an online tool before we left. The border crossing went smoothly for us, but the preparation in Kyiv was time consuming and nerve racking.

The drive

Michael Roth set off in “his” Pajero on Sunday for a shorter drive to Görlitz and then, on Monday, drove on from there to Radymno, the agreed meeting point just before the Polish-Ukrainian border. The rest of us set off early on Monday morning. Michael Sylvester and Lucia Tischmeyer started in Speyer at 04:30 and then picked up Georg Dopf in Schwetzingen. Annette Ehrnsperger was allowed to sleep in and set sail at 05:00. We all met at a rest stop near Sinsheim to staff both cars, the pickup and the first Pajero, with two drivers each.

While the temperatures in the Rhine Valley had melted the sparse snow of the previous days, we found, after a short drive, the entire landscape around us covered in a thick blanket of snow. This sight accompanied us for the next three days all the way to Kyiv. We had a stopover at the rest station directly behind the German-Polish border close to Görlitz, which is familiar to us from previous trips. We refueled the cars and had a bite to eat inside. Unlike on all previous trips, there wasn’t a single British pickup truck to be seen when we left the service area. Perhaps early December is not the time of year for British transports. We stopped to check the tire pressure on the Pajero, but when we tried to start it up again,  we were shocked to discover that nothing at all happened.  The Pajero had gotten a new starter and a new battery before we left, and yet: All you could hear was a tired click from under the hood when you turned the key in the lock. Michael was able to call a car assistance service at the rest station, but they said it would take an hour for them to arrive. So we went to the truck drivers across from us in the parking lot and asked them for help. One of the truckers said that metal parts in the starter might bend and stick together due to temperature fluctuations and tried to loosen them by lightly hitting the starter with a metal rod. It didn’t help. Lucia finally had a stroke of luck and started the engine in neutral rather than in the park position. That worked straight away. We remembered this workaround for later breaks. It worked. Relieved, we were able to cancel the assistance service and drive on.

The coming hours of our drive to Radymno seemed to drag on endlessly. Once there, the next challenge awaited us: the roads had been cleared of snow, but the parking lot of the hotel Dwór Kresowy had not been cleared and was covered in a thick layer of ice and snow. We were glad that the vehicles all had four-wheel drive.

We just barely managed to order our dinner before the kitchen closed and then drove to the customs agency on the opposite side of the road to get the customs documents. Michael Roth joined us with his Pajero so that we could process all three vehicles together. 

The night was icy at minus 10 degrees. Breakfast was delicious, Gruby – the hotel cat – demanded our attention in the breakfast room, and, after breakfast, Michael Sylvester took Lucia and Georg to the train station in Radymno. They returned home, while the three of us then drove to the Polish-Ukrainian border in our three vehicles. The Ukrainian documents for the pickup arrived at the last minute and could only be partially printed out. We arrived at Korczowa, our favorite border crossing, feeling somewhat nervous. We had previously stuck a large yellow and blue laminated sign with the trilingual inscription “Humanitarian Aid” on all the vehicles, alongside our association logo. This identified us as a group and all three of us managed each process step together in one go. We managed the Polish side and the Ukrainian side in a very short time, just like in October. We were helped by the fact that – despite the incomplete papers – we met a very understanding official at Ukrainian customs, who was pleased that the papers had been otherwise prepared perfectly beforehand. He helped us to complete the missing information and was visibly pleased with our mission.

All the roads in Ukraine were also cleared, right up to the city of Lviv. However, the narrow, cobbled streets around our hotel were not. We were again very grateful for the four-wheel drive, which got us safely to our destination. 

Just as last time, we visited Yuriy’s mother and brought her a Christmas package. She invited us over and had prepared a delicious poppy seed and walnut cake for us. Actually, two cakes: one to eat there and one to eat on the road. We had a convivial afternoon with cake and wine. Thank you so much for your hospitality!!!

In the evening we met our SAP colleague Anton again for the most delicious cheesecake in Lviv, and perhaps in the whole world.

Meetings in Kyiv

After a quiet night without air raid alerts, Michael Sylvester, Michael Roth, and Annette Ehrnsperger continued the journey with three vehicles to Kyiv. Initially, we still needed four-wheel drive to drive very carefully out of the old town of Lviv, but after that this part of the drive was also rather uneventful. However, we needed more like eight hours to reach the destination instead of the six estimated by Google Maps. In Kyiv, we first drove to the “Hub” of the charitable organizations, met Nadia Denysiuk from the Dead Lawyers Society, completed the documentation and unloaded the cars. All the hospital materials and the welding equipment were stored in the Dead Lawyers Society’s storeroom. They were immensely grateful for the delivered material!

The recipients of the pickup, the Ukrainian security service, also came to the Hub. They only present themselves to the camera wearing masks – and our contact person wore a Santa Claus costume with a beard up to his nose, in keeping with St. Nicholas Day, which is now celebrated in Ukraine on December 6. He presented us with a large artillery shell casing as a gift, which had been painted with sunflowers at his daughter’s kindergarten. Some undefinable dust trickled out of it – possibly dirt, or something else. 

The second Pajero, which will be converted into an evacuation vehicle, was also parked in the Hub’s courtyard. Sasha Sydielnikov, the lawyer with whom we worked closely on the third delivery in May, also joined us. He is now working with a team of 20 people on the fulfillment of one of the remaining EU accession criteria, namely the lawful appointment of the justices of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Accordingly, he didn’t have much time, but didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet us.

Originally, the handover of the first Pajero was supposed to take place in Dnipro, but Serhiy asked us to move it to Kyiv. We therefore drove on with Sasha to St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral, where we met up with Serhiy to hand over a Pajero to the 79th Airborne Brigade. The cathedral itself is beautiful. We had arrived early and had a little time to go inside and admire it. When we stepped outside again, Serhiy was already there with his employer – journalist Mark McKinnon from the Toronto Globe and Mail – and Serhiy’s brother as well as another soldier from the 79th Airborne Brigade had also arrived in the blue VW van that we had driven to Kharkiv in October. It still bore the Speyer export license plate. They were very happy about the pickup! Serhiy had asked us beforehand to provide him with our correctly spelled names and the name of our organization. We didn’t know what to expect and were surprised with official, framed letters of appreciation prepared by the 79th Airborne Brigade, which were presented to us and to the association, together with wooden plaques bearing the brigade logo and motto. The solemnity of the occasion left us temporarily speechless. 

The Pajero is urgently needed by the unit and is very welcome. Our personal presence was emotional—a sign to the recipients that they are not forgotten by the rest of the world. They expressed their exceptional gratitude for our work.

Annette Ehrnsperger spontaneously asked Sasha for a translation into Ukrainian and returned the thanks. It is our conviction that the Ukrainian army is not only fighting for the territory, the people and the culture of Ukraine, but the soldiers indeed fight for all of us and for our common values. Michael Sylvester emphasized that ultimately it is about victory on the behalf of us all. The soldiers were visibly moved. That is what defines our approach. It’s not just about delivering material, but also about providing moral support through our personal presence and direct interaction with the recipients.

In the evening, we invited Mariia Zivert from the Dead Lawyers Society and Sasha Sydielnikov to a dinner with Anna Mikulytska, the MD of SAP Ukraine – many thanks to Anna for her spontaneous hospitality! Mariia gave a very detailed account of how difficult the situation currently is. Sasha emphasized that Ukraine will ultimately have to rely on itself if the West continues to fail to provide sufficient support. 

The memories of this day will stay with us all for a long time.

Sasha then took Michael Roth to the train station in Kyiv. Michael took the night train back to Poland that evening. 

After another quiet night in Kyiv, Michael Sylvester and Annette Ehrnsperger made their way to one of the post offices the next morning to post the painted shell casing. We didn’t dare take it with us on the train because they search the luggage for “trophies” when you cross the border. After an odyssey through several post offices, where the transportation of the “vase” was refused because it was “war related”, we managed to persuade a postal worker to accept the parcel. We are curious to see whether the parcel and the content will arrive in Germany. 

We met up with Sasha and Mariia again at lunchtime. They told us that the relative calm – meaning the lack of air raids – makes them nervous, because they don’t know why Russia isn’t attacking. Are the missiles and drones used up, or is a major attack being prepared? Russia is playing with the minds of the Ukrainian population. Mariia was clearly aware of this. Just before our meal, there was an air raid alert, but our chosen restaurant was in the basement of the building anyway.

Travel home

On Thursday evening, we boarded the overnight train to Poland. We got to know our fellow passengers in the compartment: Two young mothers, who, funnily enough, both named Anna, and whose families were treating them to a moms-only break in Kraków over a long weekend. The next morning there was another air raid alert in Kyiv, and Anna 1 promptly received a call from her relatives at home asking whether they should take her little son to nursery or go straight to the shelter with everyone else. They discussed on the phone. Anna 2 showed us pictures of her apartment building, which had been damaged by debris from a downed Shahed drone earlier this year. The apartment two floors below her family’s was hit directly by the debris and devastated. In her apartment, the damage was limited to shattered windows. Luckily, her family was not at home at the time – even the cat was with neighbors. The windows have since been replaced, and the family jokes about it with a dose of black humor: “Now Anna doesn’t have to clean the windows anymore, they’ve just been replaced.”

We had planned another day’s “buffer” in Kraków. Kraków is simply packed during the weeks before Christmas, full of tourists from all over the world. We managed to visit the Wawel Cathedral before it got too crowded and then discovered the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kazimierz. We were impressed by the documentation of Jewish life before the Holocaust, the incomprehensible horror of destruction and its recent cautious return to Poland in all its facets. 

At the airport, Annette had another scary moment: all her hand luggage, belt, cell phone and shoes were screened, and she walked through the scanner gate on her socks. Nevertheless, it beeped. The security guard checked her hands and clothes with a test strip for explosive residue, and we immediately thought of the artillery shell. Fortunately, there was no positive result and we were allowed to move on.

On our return home, we could hardly believe our luck when we looked at our account balance. We received enough donations during our short absence to purchase the next 1-2 vehicles. We are very grateful and happy about the continued support! With adequate lead time, we are now planning the eighth trip, most likely at the beginning of February 2024.

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