Ukraine has captured the imagination of the world through their grit and determination to defend the honour of their land, their homes and their country against the illegal occupation and armed assault of their warring neighbour — Russia.
Everyone can see their agony, their desperation and the destruction they’re suffering and because of this the outpouring of empathy is palpable. Nobody wants to sit back and do nothing so virtually everyone who can offer help is providing that help.
And yet… more can be done so that together we make Ukraine stronger.
Article written by Jonathan Fleming.
Sussex Homeless Support (SHS) is a charity that provides street meals for people of a homeless status. Besides providing a hot meal they help with attaining shelter, clothing and giving advice. In Brighton where the charity operates they cater for some 2500 homeless people providing meals every Saturday through their street kitchen for each and every person turning up to be fed, but when Jim Deans, the founder of SHS, saw on TV what was unfolding in the country of Ukraine, just 1500 miles or so away from SHS’ UK base, he knew his charity had to get out there and help.
“SHS giving support to fleeing refugees by taking in aid and delivering food is no different to what SHS naturally does here at home” Jim said and so the campaign began.
Within days of putting out a Facebook post their warehouse was overfilled with tons of items from baby clothes, baby food, shoes, toiletries, sanitary towels, ladies garments, gas canisters for cooking, medical supplies and heaps more. The campaign was an overwhelming success that would see four vans filled to the brim stuffed with these items, ready to convoy to west Ukraine into the city of Mukachevo, 50 kilometres from the Hungarian border.
Sadly one of the vans would not start and they had to jettison a load that they desperately wanted to take, but undeterred the mission still got underway on Monday 14th March 2022 with a convoy of 3 vans that left for the UK ferry port of Newhaven just 30 minutes from their base.
Each van had 3 drivers to ensure the journey would be a non-stop drive to their destination and by doing that they got to Ukraine on the afternoon of Wednesday 16th March 2022.
Being active on the ground in this volatile situation gave SHS a better insight as to what was truly needed. They found that when the refugees got across the borders to safety, they needed their clothes washed and were disrobing and wrapping themselves in flimsy sheets or small towels that they would have to sit in for several hours whilst they waited for their clothing to be returned clean and fresh. It became evident to SHS that large towels, robes, slippers or flip flops, hoodies, jogging bottoms, trainers, duvets and also washing powder were some of the top required items of aid.
The refugees don’t immediately need heavy coats, big boots and winter clothing within any of the shelters that have become their temporary dwelling, they need light wear clothes to move around indoors since they left their homes with warm, heavy padded clothing knowing their journey would be cold and treacherous. These items are too much to be sat in all day in the selters.
The gas canisters that SHS took to Ukraine were a real winner as cooking facilities are becoming a problem, but refills of those canisters are going to be needed very quickly too.
The destination that SHS was delivering their aid to is a school in a small town of Hungary called Záhony, the school served as a crisis centre and outpost hub for all manner of humanitarian disciplines, one of which was The Hungarian Red Cross who formed a base there.
One of the most troubling fears that Ukraine has at the moment is from internal saboteurs, Russians who act as spotters sending GPS coordinates either to intelligence agencies or frontline troops for them to launch cruise missiles with pinpoint precision. There are posters up of wanted Russians known to be these saboteurs and their fate is sealed if they are caught. The embedded internal saboteurs are a serious threat to the Ukrainian forces, but they are doing everything possible to eliminate them to stay on top of their determined aim of ousting the illegal occupiers.
Getting out of Ukraine as a refugee could take anything from eight hours to two days, but for aid workers and those with official identification and passports they are able to pass the checkpoints with relative ease, so SHS suffered very little holdup on their way home. The Red Cross are one of the largest charitable organisations in the world and their presence is everywhere helping out with aid, support, medical supplies and assistance for the sick, infirm, injured or mentally distraught.
The border patrols are tight on goods leaving the country as the war is being used as a cover for smugglers especially of arms.
Even the refugee buses are scrutinised and every single bus has to unload every single item. Every person onboard has to be checked for contraband before the bus can be reloaded and continue its journey to the refugee centres or shelters.
On TV the world can clearly see that the refugees have left their homes with all they could carry, but the harrowing reality is that they face further trauma once being allocated to their destination — ie. cites within the countries they have fled to or wish to flee to — as they are only allowed to carry one bag on the bus or train, thus needing to discard more of the precious items they tried to take with them when they abandoned their shelled homes.
One young lady had to make a choice between her bag of worldly goods and a cat box with her cat in it, her choice was to empty her bag enough to fit her big fluffy persian looking cat in it. That was the hand luggage she chose to take with her. Now they have this information SHS are asking for suitcases and rucksacks to help the refugees with that situation.
The idea that Ukrainians want to leave Ukraine for some far away land is not exactly what you have seen on the TV because most of them want to stay close to Ukraine in the hope that they can return to their beloved country to rebuild it once the war is over and the forces of Ukraine have succeeded.
Jim Deans believes that the hundreds of thousands of Urainians expected to arrive in the UK won’t be anywhere near that figure because of what he learned from physically being present on the ground amongst the mayhem listening to the cries of help and despair from Ukrainans wanting their country back. He saw thousands of refugees registering or choosing their destination and none were asking to be taken to the UK. The fears of the British government expecting an overwhelming number of Ukrainian refugees heading to the British Isles seems to be overestimated.
For the crew who travelled to Ukraine to deliver that aid it was a humbling experience, especially after seeing sixteen year olds kids dressed in army uniform prepped and ready to fight for their country, as Jim had noticed.
SHS will be doing regular runs to Ukraine as long as the support is needed and this article will be updated with anything the charity finds that it needs to take back to Ukraine on its subsequent runs to Mukachevo.
Mukachevo is a beautiful city much like most of Ukraine before the devastation and it is hoped that the war does not spread from where it is to further devastate the country, but “if it does”, says Jim Deans, “We’ll help to rebuild it and come here to spend our holidays to help pay for it, we’ll make it the new Benidorm”.
SHS provides support, advice, and outreach to people suffering housing crisis in Sussex. It is run by volunteers, and relies solely on donations to continue their work.
Every Saturday SHS runs a Street Kitchen at Old Steine in Brighton where they serve meals, give out clothes and give advice to any rough sleepers and vulnerable people.