Pair involved in Ukraine refugee rescue effort face weekend of drama
- Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton
Two Norfolk men who are part of a rescue mission to transport refugees to safety from war-torn Ukraine have faced a weekend of drama, including visa issues and a medical emergency.
Mike Kenny, from Hethersett, and Adam Hale-Surtton, from Little Melton, are part of a convoy which took supplies to the Polish border with Ukraine in Medyka, on Thursday, March 10.
The convoy has since been travelling back across Europe to the UK with a group of 20 refugees, although a medical emergency forced them to stop in Leipzig, Germany.
Mr Kenny, 47, has since flown back to the UK from Berlin, Germany, due to commitments at home, but Mr Hale-Sutton remains with the convoy.
Mr Kenny said: "It has been a very humbling experience.
"Seeing what the people are going through and seeing the families split up with men going back to Ukraine to fight, leaving women and children - it's been hard to process."
The pair made the journey to the Ukraine border using Hethersett Scouts' minibus and are part of a larger group of eight volunteers from the UK, driving three vans and a lorry.
The group are currently waiting for one of the refugees, a father and grandfather of members of the group, to recover having suffered a suspected heart attack in Leipzig.
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Mr Kenny added: "They are all safe in a hotel together waiting for him to be discharged.
"Fortunately, the hospital in Leipzig is a centre for heart care in Germany.
"If this had happened in Ukraine, the medical care would not have been the same due to the current situation, which is a silver lining."
Despite the setback, the morale of the family of refugees has been improving the further the convoy travelled away from the war zone.
"The further we got away from Ukraine the more relaxed they seemed to be.
"The first night was very tense. They had spent weeks travelling to the border carrying just a suitcase each with a few clothes inside.
"They really had nothing with them, it was tough."
The family had been waiting for a month at a reception centre in Lviv in Ukraine, which is only a short distance away from Medyka.
On Sunday morning, a military base outside the city was targeted by a Russian missile strike which killed 35 people.
The close proximity of the attack brought home the dangers faced by Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.
"The air strikes from Russia were only about ten miles away from where we picked the refugees up from" said Mr Kenny, adding: "It shows how the threat is everywhere, even when people are fleeing."
Currently the convoy plan on taking the group to safe haven in Ireland, where a contact in the Irish government has assured them that they will be given housing and funding for an indefinite period of time while they apply for a UK visa.
The UK government has come under scrutiny in recent days due to the speed and scale of its efforts to bring people fleeing the war to the UK, with access previously limited to those with family members settled in this country.
Mr Kenny said: "While the UK visa system is getting sorted, at least we know we can get them into safe hands.
"It's taught us a lot about how difficult it is to get into the UK for refugees. There are lots of people wanting to help both inside and outside the country, but the government is not making it easy for everyone.
"I landed at Stansted airport this morning and while queuing up for passport control I could hear people complaining about having to wait half an hour to be processed.
"It shows how oblivious people are to the experience of Ukrainians, who are waiting 10-15 hours in freezing cold to get across."
Mr Kenny is looking forward to spending a night in his own bed but plans to return in the coming months to help further, adding: "I hope this trip will inspire people to do something similar."
The EDP has launched an appeal to help people affected by the Ukrainian conflict.
To support the EDP's appeal simply donate by visiting justgiving.com/fundraising/edp-ukraine and raise awareness by sharing it on social media platforms.