Ukraine mercy mission: Nerves grow as crew reaches Krakow

Richard Knight and Adam Hale-Sutton

Richard Knight and Adam Hale-Sutton - Credit: David Powles

Eastern Daily Press editor David Powles has joined a mercy mission to Poland to deliver aid to a camp for Ukrainian refugees and to help find them homes. Day two saw the group reach the city of Krakow.

“We’ll work it out.”

We’re just 24 hours into our voyage to the Polish border with Ukraine and already that seems to have become the catchphrase of the week.

When something hasn’t quite gone to plan: ‘we’ll work it out’. When something has gone missing: ‘we’ll work it out’ and I expect that, in a few days, if things start to go awry when we are at the refugee camp at Medyka, we’ll work that one out too.

That is of course testament to the can-do attitude of people like trip organiser Adam Hale-Sutton, from Little Melton, and fellow passenger Richard Knight. The very attitude that made them sign up to this in the first place.

Adam Hale-Sutton, Richard Knight and David Powles set off for Poland with donations for people in Ukraine 

Adam Hale-Sutton, Richard Knight and David Powles set off for Poland with donations for people in Ukraine - Credit: David Powles

And from what I’ve learned so far about what lays ahead when we reach Medyka to drop off much-needed aid and, more importantly, attempt to assist refugees seeking new homes, that positivity will be vital to cope with the twists and turns yet to come.

But prior to that we had the small matter of a 24-hour drive from Hethersett to the Polish city of Krakow to contend with.

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What started as a gang of two, has become a trio after we picked up Richard, a 61-year-old from the village of Watton-at-Stone in Hertfordshire, to join the trip.

The father-of-three heard about the trip through his local church and signed up due to "being touched by the Ukrainian situation and sensing a growing desire to help".

In fact, villages in the Diocese of St Albans donated more than a tonne of goods, ranging from food, to medical supplies, to toys and even wheelchairs, which weighed down the mini-bus as it slowly made its way through southern England, France, Belgium, Germany and then finally Poland itself.

EDP editor David Powles with aid.

EDP editor David Powles with mini-van full of aid. - Credit: David Powles

Slow progress it was, as the three of us abandoned sleep through Sunday evening and Monday morning in order to reach Krakow as quickly as possible.

The journey was made easier by the response, both in the countries we’ve visited and from home.

In one layby a stranger handed us £20 to help pay for petrol to Poland. At various points people have been honking their horns and waving in support.

Meanwhile, having read an earlier story on the EDP website, we’ve already been contacted by another couple with links to Ukraine who plan to fly out on Wednesday, meet us at the refugee camp and assist. It’s certainly a case of the more the merrier.

As well as many messages of support from home, there have also been regular requests that come through from Ukrainians needing help.

We do what we can from the mini-bus but will give proper attention to them now we’re at HQ.

And having now arrived safely at our hotel we can’t help but turn our attentions to what tomorrow will bring.

Until this point the mood of the camp has remained high, the sense of adventure palpable, assisted by blue skies and a warm, welcoming sun.

Sunrise in Germany as the crew made their way through the country to Poland.

Sunrise in Germany as the crew made their way through the country to Poland. - Credit: David Powles

But tomorrow the real work starts and the nerves are kicking in. Tomorrow we head to Medyka to drop off the aid and then to see who can be helped.

Refugees will be transported back to the hotel, given a room for as long as they need and work will begin to see where they might go for a safe haven as long as they need one. Let’s hope it isn’t for long.

In fact one of the people Adam has previously helped, Botaka Omnon, along with her young child, and their dog, has been staying at the hotel for the past week. They have agreed to interpret for us.

On what it means to help people like them, Adam said: “It’s hard to put into words, but it’s what it is all about and makes all of that effort worthwhile.”

Amid all of the nerves, it’s important to remember that’s the main reason we are here, to try and do what we can to make a real difference for those whose lives have been torn apart by the tyranny of Putin and his cronies.

But first to sleep, rest and to refresh for what comes next.

Map showing the crew half way to Krakow.

Map showing the crew half way to Krakow. - Credit: David Powles

• The missions are currently being self-funded but a Go Fund Me page has been set up for those willing to assist at https://tinyurl.com/zy9cmt2c

Adam would like to thank Norfolk Aroma, Ivan Kilbourn and family, Alexandra & Co Lettings and Sue and Andrew Ward for their support so far.

• For regular video updates from the trip visit the EDP24 Facebook page

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

We’re just 24 hours into our trip, but already I arrive furnished with valid questions uncovered by Adam and his colleagues’ during their three weeks out here.

The first one centres on the UK’s actual willingness to do its bit to help refugees in need of somewhere to stay.

Before departing Norfolk I’d heard stories from a couple of people who were willing to take part in the Homes for Ukraine scheme. However, despite this their efforts to be matched up with a family had proven in vain.

At the other end, attempts to repatriate Ukrainians groups to the UK over the last few weeks have proven equally fruitless, even though other places like Ireland have been willing to step up. Given what the government has said how can that be?

Meanwhile, there also seems to be growing concern about a lack of presence along the border from some of the bigger charities tasked with assisting the refugees, the likes of the Red Cross and Unicef.

I’ll do my best over the next few days to see whether that is the case on the border at Medyka.

KRAKOW HEADQUARTERS

Our base for the duration of the trip is the Ibis Hotel in the centre of Krakow, a large picturesque city in the south of Poland and about 160 miles from the border with Ukraine at Medyka.

While life has remained relatively normal for people living here, there’s said to be a growing fear of what an escalation of Putin’s atrocities might mean given they are so close to the border.

Adam says he deliberately chose Krakow for two reasons. The first is that it has excellent train and airport links to the rest of Europe.

The second is best explained in his own words. He said: “It’s far enough from the border so that if bad things do start to spill over from Ukraine, we and the refugees can get far enough away to be safe.

“I’ve been along the border and seen the Polish SAM [surface-to-air] missiles which they have set up just in case and it brings home how close it all is.”

It will be our aim for the next few days to transport as many people as possible out of the refugee camps and to the hotel where we can then work on their next destination.

Nicola Page with donations from the villages of Stapleford and Waterford ready to go to Ukraine

Nicola Page with donations from the villages of Stapleford and Waterford ready to go to Ukraine - Credit: David Powles

Adam Hale-Sutton and Nicola Page processing a donation ready to go to Ukraine

Adam Hale-Sutton and Nicola Page processing a donation ready to go to Ukraine - Credit: David Powles