Our fifth delivery was our largest and most complex to date, with different customers, partners, and vehicles. We faced new challenges and our longest route so far: to Kharkiv.
This trip took eight days including a return flight from Kraków: a long and intense experience we would like to share with our donors and supporters.
Three very different customers were lined up for this delivery. Our first intended recipient was Andriy, from a Territorial Defense unit fighting near Bakhmut, suggested by his school friends in Michael’s German course in Walldorf. His unit lost a lot of equipment in an artillery attack on the company’s headquarters and was in dire need of a new pickup truck.
The second request came from an SAP colleague in Ukraine, who had been looking for an SUV but couldn’t find anything suitable in Ukraine. As we mentioned in our previous posts, the market for 4×4 vehicles in Ukraine and even in Poland is swept clean. More and more Ukrainians are looking for good pickups and SUVs in the broader European market.
Our third request came from our friends we’ve been working with over the last few months. Two teachers, a married couple, are colleagues of our friend Serhiy’s mother. They volunteered for the army and are serving in the Territorial Defense of Ukraine after their school closed last year. They fight at the front line, also near Bakhmut. They, too, need vehicles that are more maneuverable and reliable than the Soviet models they had been using—until they broke down.
Back in June, we had found a Mitsubishi L200 right in Speyer. There was also another Nissan Navara (our fourth) and, because an enclosed SUV with lots of seats was required for the special unit, a Mitsubishi Pajero.
With all the different recipients, there is an more administrative effort. Pickup4Ukraine only donates vehicles to the Armed Forces of Ukraine through official channels. Behind this is a complex process, a relic of the Soviet Union that continues to weigh on Ukraine. An army unit must submit an official application to a recognized charitable organization for a car to be recognized as humanitarian aid to the army. For this reason, we work together with the Dead Lawyers Society, which has this status. A delivery document is signed at the handover and the vehicle officially becomes the property of the Department of Defense. The disadvantage is that the officer of the unit who signs this document is then personally responsible for this property. In practice, this means that in the event of damage or loss, the officer must write voluminous reports explaining what happened; the officer can also be held personally liable. For this reason, many officers hesitate to accept an official donation, even if the vehicles are urgently needed. In the run-up to our trip, there were numerous discussions about who was willing to sign or whether there was another way. For this reason, we were ultimately unable to fulfill Andriy’s request and had to look for another taker. We can’t do things any other way: otherwise, we would have to pay taxes and customs, and we prefer to spend the money on vehicles.
Until this trip, we had been spared technical difficulties, but this time we were faced with a serious breakdown. About an hour after departure, steam started pouring out from under the hood of our Mitsubishi L200—the engine was overheating. At Neckarsulm we had to leave the autobahn. We had to wait an hour and a half for a workshop to open and get someone to have a look. The car mechanic (a Ukrainian!) told us that it could take hours before the cause could be identified. We had to make a snap decision whether to wait and put our entire itinerary at risk or to leave the pickup behind. With a heavy heart, we decided to leave the L200 behind and continue with two cars.
We met our third driver, Michael Roth, who had picked up the Navara the previous weekend, at a rest area near Bayreuth, and again we had to make decisions. Since Michael had a very busy schedule and no third driver was needed, he suggested that it would be better for him not to continue and instead pick up our L200 in Neckarsulm and drive it back to Walldorf. The workshop had meanwhile determined the cause of the breakdown: a blown head gasket—serious damage. So we said goodbye: Michael Roth took the train back, and Annette and Michael continued with Navara and Pajero.
We had, however, underestimated Michael Roth’s determination. As agreed, Michael drove to the repair shop, listened to the mechanic’s assessment that you could drive 80 km/h with the damaged engine by turning the heat up to maximum (to conduct it away from the engine), so he decided to drive to Lviv instead of Walldorf. When Michael told us about this bold plan, we were amazed and concerned at the same time. Who drives 800 miles with a blown head gasket? Michael wanted to take the risk because a repair in the Ukraine is much cheaper than in Germany, and the truck will at least be in Ukraine, where it can be repaired and delivered independently of our schedules. Despite the risks, we could see the logic. Michael drove all night with a short break and lots of Red Bull and us near the Polish-Ukrainian border the next morning. Michael R. and the Mitsubishi survived the drive.
The next leg was accomplished without further drama. The three of us crossed the border in just 2.5 hours and were in Lviv by early afternoon . There, we said goodbye to Michael R. (for real this time.) He immediately boarded a bus back to Poland. Annette and Michael were then able to hand over the Mitsubishi Pajero that evening and then had time to meet up with our friends Oleksandr Sydielnikov and Evelina Bublyk, as well .
On the third day we left for Kyiv – now with only one car, the Nissan Navara – and arrived without incident in the afternoon. A cloudburst overtook us in Lviv, but Kyiv was dry and hot. As on our previous visit, the city was bustling with life. We made our way to the ‘hub’ of non-profit organizations, the headquarters of the ‘Dead Lawyers Society’, and met our friends Maria Zivert and Nadiya Denysiuk to hand over the medical supplies to them. Afterwards we were able to meet with Anna Mikulytska, the general manager of SAP Ukraine. Anna is a strong supporter of Pickup4Ukraine, and it was the first time all three of us met up together— and that in the capital of Ukraine, too. Anna showed us around and pointed out some lesser-known corners of Kyiv. We enjoyed a delicious dinner with her in a Crimean Tatar restaurant.
The assignment for the fourth day of our trip was to have the Nissan repainted. In the run-up to our trip, our colleague Elena Busha from SAP found a painter who would repaint the pickup green, charging us only for the paint, not for his labor. To our surprise, the result wasn’t the olive green we were expecting, but a brightish “frog green”, earning the pickup the Ukrainian nickname “Zhaba” – “frog.”
We started the leg to Kharkiv on our fifth day at 5.00 am, accompanied by our friend Serhiy Maistruk, whom we met in May, and who at that time showed us the ruins of his own house and the destruction of the towns of Bucha and Borodyanka. Serhiy has press accreditation and accompanies international reporters regularly to the front lines of battle. Obviously, he is invaluable to us as a source of experience and practical knowledge. He took the wheel when we got to Kharkiv and guided us unfailingly to our meeting points. The first stop was Hospital No. 18 in Kharkiv, where we met Dr. Artem Skidanov, head of the trauma department. We had taken few boxes of medical material back on board in Kyiv to hand them over personally to him and his team, since it was on the way for us, faster, and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Dr. Skidanov offered us tea and talked about his life during the war: how his wife and daughter had to leave the country; how he spent three months on an examination table in his office at the beginning of the war and watched the city burn around him at night; and by the never-ending stream of patients who are now being brought to the hospital from the front. Above all, he recounted his exhaustion—so great that it caused him to cancel the scheduled surgery on the day of our visit. He no longer felt able to perform the operations safely. In front of the hospital, you could see soldiers, patients and relatives smoking in groups and talking.
We then handed over our pickup in the Saltivka district, which had been particularly hard hit by artillery fire until the Ukrainian armed forces liberated the area a year ago. Our “customers,” the teachers came to Kharkiv from the front in Bakhmut to receive the pickup. They were overjoyed, visibly touched, about the pickup, which was pure luxury compared to the ZIL truck they had had previously. In these moments, the importance of the support all of us give becomes tangible. Immediately after the meeting, the soldiers started off again, back to the front.
Wir konnten nach der Übergabe und vor unserer Abreise am nächsten Morgen einige Eindrücke sammeln. In Kharkiv merkte man eine andere Nähe zum Krieg, als das für uns in Kyiv oder selbst in Dnipro der Fall war. Kharkiv ist zwar 100km von der derzeitigen Frontlinie entfernt, aber eben nur 30km von der Grenze zu Russland. Eine andere Nervosität ist zu spüren, und die Folgen der Kampfhandlungen sind überall in der Stadt zu sehen. Ein Fliegeralarm folgt auf den anderen, so dass die Stadt—die zweitgrößte der Ukraine mit 1,4 Millionen Einwohnern vor dem Krieg—nicht zur Ruhe kommt.
We got a sense of this when two air raid alerts drove us out of our hotel rooms into the hall so that we could follow the security guidance: to put two walls between us and the outside world. Serhiy had recommended us a Telegram channel that provides detailed information on air strikes. This information helps determine how specific the hazard is. Accordingly, we spent part of the night sleeping on air mattresses. What seems to us an extraordinary burden is everyday life for Kharkiv residents.
Our train trip home began—as always in Ukraine—on time at 7:00 AM the next morning. After a long stopover in Kyiv. We spent the afternoon visiting St. Sophia cathedral. The churchyard in the shade of many trees and the cool interior of the cathedral were almost surreal in their quiet. We had planned to take the night train to Poland. We weren’t counting on another air raid alert in Kyiv. Heeding the warnings from the Telegram channel, we headed to the metro and took shelter deep underground. We got to Przemyśl safely and then proceeded to Kraków. We had time in the afternoon to visit the Museum of the Kraków Occupation in the building of Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory. The consequences of aggression, dictatorship, and contempt for human dignity served as a reminder and as further incentive for us to continue supporting Ukraine.
Our next trip is planned for October, this time with one or two trucks and are continuing to collect donations through our website http://www.pickup4ukraine.org/.
Thank you for your continued support, and stay with us!