Back in January, no one could have guessed how broad the network that we and our friends from Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Great Britain, and California created would become. Our fourth and most complex journey to date used all contacts and further expanded our network.
As on the last trip, we were again able to supply hospitals, especially with surgical material, via the “Dead Lawyers Society” in the Ukraine (we reported in May). Kati and Rainer Siebold were able to collect a large amount of donated material. In addition, Kati spoke to Mr. Sommer from the Stadtapotheke in Walldorf, who generously donated a number of cannulas, syringes and needles, which Maria from the “Dead Lawyers Society” described as a “great treasure.” This time, 16 boxes (thanks to IKEA Walldorf for donating the Samla boxes) came together and were distributed to civilian hospitals near the front lines (e.g. in Kramatorstk, Toretsk, Berdyansk). However, just before our departure, we received the sad news that the hospital in Toretsk was completely destroyed by Russian artillery fire.
The soldiers of a brigade on the Donbass front for which we had already delivered a pickup in May, were looking for 15 tankers’ overalls, which we were able to procure from an online German army surplus shop. In addition, a participant in Michael’s German course in Walldorf asked us to take a package with equipment for his brother serving in the army.
In addition to the requested pickup, we received in March an inquiry the unit we previously supplied whether we could procure two e-bikes. Which e-bikes and why? We’re not talking about a standard trekking bike with a battery, but about electric motorcycles with a load capacity of 150kg, a top speed of 70 km/h, while being almost silent and undetectable on thermal scopes—and they are made in Ukraine!
This expensive purchase was made possible through the efforts of colleagues from SAP Ukraine, Anna and Lena, who found donors in Ukraine and the region and coordinated the purchase for us—an amazing achievement!
A pickup was not enough to transport the e-bikes and the large amount of hospital supplies, so this time we needed a van. The army unit that we supply could also use the van, which, unusually featured only with two-wheel drive and automatic transmission and is therefore limited to on-road use—and, as we heard for the first time, suitable for young drivers who only know how to drive cars with automatic transmission.
Of course, no trip is complete without a pickup, and again we procured a Nissan Navara, model year 2006, diesel, four-wheel drive and manual transmission, suitable for front-line use.
So far, we had only brought one vehicle at a time to Ukraine, which worked very well for two of us traveling. This time, though, with two vehicles, we needed additional drivers. Fortunately, we were able to recruit two SAP colleagues who were able to step in at short notice for the long haul to the Ukrainian border or Lviv: Michael Roth and Dietmar Nowotny. Many thanks and welcome to the team! Iryna Bublyk from Kyiv, currently living in Walldorf, went with us and gave us fantastic support at the border. Her husband, Yuriy, checks out our vehicles before we buy them. They have helped us a lot. Thank you!
Early in the afternoon of June 14, we set off with the goal of being at the border early on the 15th. The journey went smoothly, thankfully without traffic jams or breakdowns. The two vehicles proved pleasant and reliable—to our relief.Encouraged by the smooth ride, we felt confident that we would cross the border again quickly this time—but (once again) hadn’t counted on the Polish border guards. There were exactly two cars in the line in front of us, but we all still had to wait two hours waiting to be let barrier. By the time we were finished on the Ukrainian side, a total of five hours had passed. We were now in a hurry, since we wanted to continue quickly to Lviv to have our cars repainted in military green so that they would be ready for the onward journey two days later.
After the pickup was in the paint shop, we were able to use the van to take the hospital supplies to Nova Poshta, a Ukrainian parcel service that has performed miracles of logistics during this war and is almost legendary as a result. An air raid alarm sounded at check-in and we were able to hand in the shipment just before the office closed.
We spent the next day in Lviv, drove the bus to the paint shop, picked up the now army-green pickup and were able to relax a bit in the city while we waited for the bus to be finished. It was done by that evening, so we could start early the next morning.
It would be a long day on the road. The first thing to do was to pick up our new companion for the trip to Dnipro: Dima, the father of our friend Sasha, the lawyer we met on the last trip. Dima had been mayor of a village near Orikhiv in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and he not only knew the routes to Dnipro but also had a lot of experience with checkpoints and dealing with the army. Orikhiv was temporarily occupied last year, and Dima and his wife left their home after being told at gunpoint by Kadyrov soldiers to vote in Russia’s so-called referendum. Dima not only gave us travel advice, but also insights into life during the war. Dima now resides in Pochaiv, site of the important monastery that still belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church—a source of great tension. Since we arrived in Pochaiv quite early, we had the opportunity to pay a short visit to the monastery. In addition to the impressive buildings, we were fortunate enough to be able to hear liturgical chant in a mass at one of the churches.
After Dima got into the pickup, the journey continued to Ternopil, to the Eleek company, where we picked up the e-bikes. After a (very) short familiarization and quick test drives, we set out for our destination for the day: Kropyvnytskiy. The day’s destination was planned so that we didn’t run any risk of arriving after the curfew, but also got so far enough along that we could definitely made our appointment in Dnipro the next day. We covered almost 800km (500 miles) on good roads and without incident. After a long day on the road, we learned a few things from Dima over dinner.Early on Sunday morning, we left Kropyvnytskyi for the last leg of the drive, 250km (150 miles) to Dnipro, and again we got to the destination without complications on good roads.
Our first meeting in Dnipro was with the soldiers of a tank company. In May we couldn’t get to know them personally, but handed over the pickup in Kyiv for onward transport. But this time we caught up on the meeting. The soldiers fight in a captured Russian T-72 tank in the Donbass, and the tankers’ overalls we brought can be put to good use by them and their comrades. We asked if the pickup worked well and found out that although they were very satisfied, the vehicle was already back in the workshop: New brake drums were needed due to fast maneuvers to evade artillery fire.
Then came Valentyn, a sniper from a unit near Bakhmut. Valentyn said he survived a bullet that hit his rifle’s magazine the week before. He jumped with gusto onto one of the e-bikes and tore off for a quick but fearless test ride. The e-bikes are already being used on the front lines by Valentyn and his sniper team.
Dima had invited his friend Kolya and son Sergey, who had also fled Orikhiv, to the handover. They listened to the stories of the soldiers with enthusiasm. Although these civilians and soldiers did not know each other before, you could also feel the spontaneous and strong bond between the people.
After we said goodbye to Valentyn, Kolya offered us to show us something of Dnipro. The third largest city in Ukraine, Dnipro features a miles-long with a promenade along the banks of the Dnipro river. The shore is planted with trees, now marked regularly by air-raid shelters where people can retreat if another attack threatens. A truly shocking sight along this promenade, however, was the site of the January 2023 Russian missile attack on a residential building that killed 46 and destroyed over 200 apartments. There was a huge gap in the apartment complex where the missile struck, and kitchen cabinets were visible, clinging to exposed interior walls in sundered apartments.
Our train back to Poland was not until late in the evening, so Kolya invited us to his home, more precisely to the dacha of relatives on the east bank of the Dnipro, where we also met his wife Oksana. There we were warmly received and spoiled with homemade food and drinks. Their home in Orikhiv was destroyed in the war, and the family was under direct fire. They became internally displaced persons in Ukraine. They follow closely the fighting around their homeown and hope one day to return to Orikhiv to rebuild their house and their town.
We traveled 16 hours from Dnipro back to Poland by night train and shared a compartment with Natasha, Damir (9) and Vanka (2) who fled the country in 2022 but had returned home since January this year.
In Przemyśl, we unexpectedly met other people who support Ukraine: doctors and emergency workers from Israel and the USA, and Norwegians with a convoy of 12 vehicles (60 since they began last year!) for civil and military purposes. We had a long chat with the Norwegians and we want to catch up!
This fourth trip took us further through Ukraine than we had been before, across most of the country. Everywhere we saw that Ukrainian society just works: in logistics, infrastructure, but above all in spirit. Whether civilians or soldiers, the people we encountered demonstrated resolve to stand up for their country. This is not hollow pathos. People like Oksana, Kolya and Sergey, who have lost almost everything in the war, are making a new start; lawyers across the country come together as citizens to support their country’s institutions. People who had not touched a weapon before February 2022 are serving voluntarily and without complaint in the most dangerous places in the world. In the midst of terror, we saw people taking action to protect and help one another. Our resolve to make a contribution to Ukraine was further strengthened by this trip and our many encounters with Ukrainians.