'Hell to paradise' - Norfolk man shares Ukrainian refugees' journey to safety

Adam Hale-Sutton and others eating a meal at an aid drop off point after 20 hours of driving.

Adam Hale-Sutton and others eating a meal at an aid drop off point after 20 hours of driving. - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

A Norfolk man who helped transport Ukrainian refugees to safety has shared his experience of the emotional journey, as he now looks to build a 'mass movement' to help others fleeing the war-torn country.

Adam Hale-Sutton spent six days with a large family of Ukrainians who he and a group of others from the UK had collected from the Polish border.

The scout leader, from Little Melton, said seeing refugees say goodbye to their husbands and sons who were going back to fight the invading Russians was "pretty harrowing".

He said that feeling was compounded further by an air strike on a target just seven miles away from where they were.

"We could hear air raid sirens. That's how close we were, and that's just on the border so I dread to think what it's like in Lviv and further in," he said.

"We experienced enough for it to really hit home. It was very emotional, lots of tears."

Adam Hale-Sutton with donations for Ukraine.

Adam Hale-Sutton with donations for Ukraine. - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

He added children were left with "literally nothing" and some of the women refugees only had handbag-sized bags carrying what they could to escape the conflict.

Mr Hale-Sutton and Mike Kenny, from Hethersett, drove the Hethersett Scouts minibus across Europe as part of a larger convoy delivering around four tonnes of aid supplies to the Polish-Ukrainian border at Medyka last week.

While at the border, the convoy picked up a group of 20 refugees and has since been travelling back across the continent to transport them to safe haven in Ireland.

Most Read

They headed to the country because of problems getting visas to travel to the UK.

Adam Hale-Sutton

Adam Hale-Sutton (left) and Mike Kenny on their way to Poland to deliver aid and collect a refugee family - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

Mr Hale-Sutton left the convoy in the Netherlands and returned to the UK on Tuesday morning, following mechanical problems with his minivan. Mr Kenny flew back to the UK from Berlin on Sunday due to commitments at home.

The refugees continued their journey with the other volunteers from the convoy and are expected to reach Ireland on Wednesday.

Visa issues and a medical emergency made for an especially dramatic and emotional journey.

One of the refugees - a man in his 60s - suffered a heart attack which resulted in the convoy stopping over in Leipzig in Germany for three and a half days so he could receive treatment. He has since been fitted with a stent.

Picture of ambulance in Leipzig, Germany.

Picture of ambulance in Leipzig, Germany. - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

Mr Hale-Sutton said: "He came out of hospital on Monday and he was speechless, but he looked at us in a way in his eyes you could see how emotional the journey had been for him and the fact he was now safe.

"His grandkids and kids were there, he was the only man we had with us and he was pretty much the father figure for the whole group."

Mr Hale-Sutton, a father-of-two, said that along the journey the group had been stopping over at hotels overnight, all paid for by crowdfunding and by the volunteers themselves.

Picture of the convoy.

Picture of the convoy. - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

He said the gratitude of the refugees was felt, despite the language barrier.

They said it was like "going from hell to paradise" after being given somewhere warm to stay, following the freezing temperatures they had encountered getting to the Polish border.

Scenes in Poland near the Ukraine border.

Scenes in Poland near the Ukraine border. - Credit: Adam Hale- Sutton

Mr Hale-Sutton intends to return to the Ukraine border next week to provide further aid and transportation to refugees.

Adam Hale-Sutton with donations for Ukraine.

Adam Hale-Sutton with donations for Ukraine. - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

He has received the support of scout groups across East Anglia and some rotary clubs, who want to get involved.

He said: "More and more people want to help. Norfolk has been fantastic. I'm now trying to coordinate a mass movement."

"We're building an army of people that want to help", Mr Hale-Sutton said.

"It's building but just not fast enough for the government, that's what's holding it up."

Adam Hale-Sutton and Mike Kenny with a man they met in Germany doing a similar journey for refugees.

Adam Hale-Sutton and Mike Kenny with a man they met in Germany doing a similar journey for refugees. - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

He said there had been "delay after delay" with the UK visa process compared with dealings with other countries, and hopes new changes will make it quicker to get things done.

He added: "They [refugees] wanted to come to the UK ideally because we have lots of people now willing to sponsor and businesses and things, but we weren't able to do that with this particular group. 

"My personal opinion is [the new measures ] are going to be a little too late. There's people out there now and so many people all over Europe."

Adam Hale-Sutton reunited with his dog  Odie at 4.30am on Tuesday, March 15.

Adam Hale-Sutton reunited with his dog Odie at 4.30am on Tuesday, March 15. - Credit: Adam Hale-Sutton

Mr Hale-Sutton said items that are needed include medical supplies and food. Donations of power-banks and second-hand tablets to give to Ukrainian children are also welcome at Hethersett Scouts and Guides.

This newspaper has launched an appeal for the people of Ukraine. You can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/edp-ukraine.