Ukraine mission: Final 36 hours brings more tears and language problems
- Credit: David Powles
Editor David Powles reports on the last 36 hours of his trip to Poland to shadow the ongoing efforts of a group supporting Ukrainians crossing the border to flee the attacks by Russia.
Compared to the mercy dashes from the Ukrainian border of the days before, the last 36 hours in nearby Krakow seem considerably more dull.
However, liaising with the families, making sure they are okay and helping them onto the next stage of their journey is just as important as the rescues themselves.
I would compare the group’s dynamic as smaller but similar to the NHS. For every ambulance heading to the scene, you need people at the hospital ready to take up their own specific roles.
By Thursday morning, the number of Ukrainians housed in the Ibis hotel, being used as headquarters for the mercy mission led by Little Melton’s Adam Hale-Sutton, has grown to more than 12.
This included several children, such as one-month-old Hope, born on the day the war started and brought across the border at Medyka by her mum and teenage brother.
Half of the group, including Richard Knight, his son Nicolai, our interpreter Vita, and new arrivals Collette and Elise from the Gavin Glynn Foundation, have headed back to Medyka to bring back two more families to the hotel.
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However, Adam Hale-Sutton and I remain at hotel HQ to make sure the families there get the support and information they need.
We’re also conscious we don’t want the previous night’s late arrivals to wake up and find no-one they know at the hotel.
With each group being of differing ages, with different levels of English and unique plans for what they want to do next, it is a dizzying day of questions and minor quests, some that work out and some that don’t.
Google Translate becomes the app of choice as the day draws on. When that doesn’t work, calls are made to Vita who does her best over the phone to try and help out.
One of the groups from the night before includes two families, a mum called Irina with a six-year-old Mackar and a teenage boy Ivan, plus another mum with a teenage girl.
They are due to fly to Ireland later that day so need to check out. We spend much of the afternoon playing games with happy Mackar. You’d never believe the recent terrors his family have faced.
The family have many questions about the trip and what they need to do before they leave.
We try our best to answer them all, but in the end I think they realise they just need to put their trust in the group and hope it works out.
But there is great joy later on in the day, as they reach their destination and their new temporary home.
Their treatment in Ireland once again highlights the deficiencies in our Home Office’s all too slow efforts to aid Ukrainians in this area to England.
In Ireland they are welcomed in, given a safe haven and even money to get them set out.
Meanwhile, all the reports from last week about delays and lack of clarity in England’s visa process simply remain.
“It’s embarrassing isn’t it? Makes you feel ashamed,” says a charity worker who made contact about one of the families we were trying to help.
I share a Google translated message with one of the mums.
“Ireland do it really well,” it reads “my country really badly”.
Elsewhere, checks are made to ensure everyone else is okay. Adam delivers food to young Jan, three, a games console to 10-year-old Mykyta and money to others to pay for anything they may need.
I run with dog Asya and make a list of where everyone is, while Adam busily rebooks rooms without a hesitation.
It makes you realise why he deserves continued support to ensure the money doesn’t run out.
Another family arrives late on Friday morning, ready to depart for Ireland very early on Saturday, but leaving behind their pet cat.
Adam makes plans to drive it to Ireland himself in a few weeks when things have calmed down. The cat is to replace me in his room once I depart.
Meanwhile, little baby Hope will soon also be heading to Ireland for another chapter in her already amazing life.
I wonder if when she grows up they’ll even know just how much her journey into Poland meant to our group.
As I prepare to make my Saturday departure, there’s a small moment of drama as a new arrival, a mum with her teenage son, calls Vita in tears.
The cleaners were trying to ask her to leave and she thought they were being kicked out on the street.
The smiles soon come back when it turns out Adam simply hadn’t had a chance to rebook their rooms.
By Saturday evening, just as I prepare to leave the rest of the group behind, word comes through of another family on their way from Ukraine having fled Putin’s war.
I may be heading home, but for Adam and whoever joins him from here, the hard work has only just begun.
To see previous stories from the trip visit edp24.co.uk or watch the Facebook Live reports.
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There were times of laughter amid the sadness
In times of darkness and sorrow, often humour can still help pull you through.
And at many points during this trip, sadness never seemed too far away, with tears and hugs breaking out regularly among all who were involved.
But there have also been many times of great laughter and happy memories that will endure for as long as the bad ones.
After a few days the in-jokes were rife, in a similar way as to when groups go on a stag or a hen.
It wasn’t that we were being disrespectful to the terrors those out here we’re facing, more a vital way to help cope and process all that was happening.
The key of course was to do so appropriately, at the right time and place.
Our Ibis hotel backed onto another and that became the place where we would go for an end of the day debrief, some food and a beer to unwind.
Even that, you may find strange - that we were drinking the odd beer while on the trip.
But imagine what it was like to be on the go from as early as 6.30am up to midnight. Often lunches were missed and it wasn’t like the group could just say ‘right, now we clock off’.
So the end of the day catch-up became as integral to the day as anything else. It gave us all a chance to let off some steam, share what had happened and look ahead to the next 24 hours. You couldn’t simply arrive back and go straight to bed.
One of my enduring memories will be of Adam, Vita, Richard and me in front of the Hethersett School minibus. By the end of the week we’d dubbed ourselves ‘the new A-Team’.
We even discussed who would play us in the TV version. We weren’t being egotistic, just in need of a moment of light.
And the slapstick created by a Ukrainian woman, Polish cleaners and me trying to converse on the phone with poor Vita as the interpreter for all three will always bring out a smile.