‘They sleep rough in minus eight degrees with kids’: Cheshire trio’s trip to Ukraine
Sitting in the garden of a cafe in a sun-drenched Tattenhall, Lloyd Palmer talks about the sweet chirping of birds and the rolling sounds of the peaceful village. The night before he had returned from a 2,700 mile trip to Przemyśl on the Ukrainian border, where 3,000 refugees arrive every two hours by train, and children sleep under the stars in -8C temperatures vs.
He traveled with Claire Robinson and joined her daughter Chloe, 22, from Churton bringing aid to the Polish-Ukrainian border. Claire would eventually cross the border into the war-torn country.
“It’s a very strange feeling to come back,” he said. “It’s absolutely non-stop there. People had this look on their face, they didn’t know where they were going to go, what they were going to do, all women and children. I knew there were a lot of people coming, but until you actually saw it, the constant movement of people. It didn’t feel real.”
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It’s a sentiment shared by Claire, who says: “I felt like I had a big hole in me, it’s a really emotional thing. You come back and everything lands, everything hits and you process people’s faces.
Lloyd, manager of the local Spar in Tattenhall – who donated £1,000 worth of shares to the cause – was back at work the following morning after returning from Poland. The previous week, the group had left Chester with seven tonnes of donations in tow.
He says: “We took a lot of sanitary boxes, a lot of medical and first aid boxes. First there was a bunch of clothes and stuff, but that’s not really what they’re looking for. They’ve got blankets, they’ve got clothes, it’s shampoo and things like that they’re fighting for.”
After unloading the van, the group drove to a wholesaler, buying £3,000 worth of supplies with the money collected from a GoFundMe page. A contact at the station gave them a shopping list of things the refugees needed.
“Trains arriving at Przemyśl station – it’s just awful,” he says. “The looks on their faces, the children, the people carrying their dogs and their cats, it was just very sad. I was talking to a lady with a carrier bag, a suitcase and a cat – she was a manager of a large school [in Ukraine].
“There’s a train every two hours, with around 3,000 people on each train. That’s just for there, not to mention other places.
“There were also big queues of people going from Poland to Ukraine. What people do is come and get supplies and then come back.
“Then you see, at the border, people were signing up for the legion to go and fight there. There were Brits, Australians, Israelis and minibuses taking people. I found out after that they had to register to join the Ukrainian army for three years and hand over their passports.
He adds: “It was nice to see – when you give the kids a candy – even just for a minute they smile. Then we drew a big hopscotch on the station floor, we got them all to play this stuff while they were dating [the trains]. We got the Polish police to do it too.”
“It’s beyond, it really is. It’s the volume of people, it’s the desperation in their eyes, it’s the fear.
“When they [the refugees] arrive in Poland, where my daughter worked at the station, they are welcomed as soon as they get off the train. There’s a big door with shampoo and chocolate and all kinds of stuff. Then, after that, they’re flagged at this warehouse where they get 6 p.m., and after that, a lot of them go back to Ukraine because they’re homeless: they’re sleeping on the streets in minus eight degrees with kids.
“When I was in line to cross the border – I crossed the border alone with a big suitcase full of chocolate, drinks, stuff like that – I was with Ukrainians, and I asked, ‘Why are you coming back?’ And they said, ‘We’ll take our chances instead of sleeping on the streets with nowhere to go.’
“A lot of older women that I was helping with their suitcases, they were saying they had no food in Ukraine, so they were bringing food back because there was nothing to eat there.
When you cross the border [into Ukraine], past the first stretch where they’re all queuing up to get through passport control – which alone will take you nine hours to get through – there’s a wall… where loads of Ukrainians have put their knives down. They must have had them as some sort of protection in case the Russians attacked them.”
Claire, who will return to the border with her daughter next month, adds: “I had a bit of a conflict before I left, with some people saying, ‘You shouldn’t go out there, you’re going to hinder the effort I thought, “If I get there and I feel it’s an obstacle, I’ll turn around and go back”, but I got there and the whole experience has They needed help, they needed supplies, they needed people’s time, and there was none of that.
“There was a woman whose son had just turned 18,” she says. “They were at the border and the Ukrainian army came and literally dragged him away. The mother was sobbing on the ground. Images like that stick in your memory.”
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