Councillor relives ‘very emotional’ humanitarian work in war-torn Ukraine

Paul Zukowskyj Ukraine

Paul Zukowskyj (left) joined Vans Without Borders on their aid mission to Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Zukowskyj

A Welwyn Hatfield councillor has relived his ‘very emotional’ trip to war-torn Ukraine to provide the country with much-needed humanitarian aid. 

Paul Zukowskyj, Liberal Democrat councillor for Welham Green and Hatfield South, travelled to Ukraine on Thursday, May 26, with Vans Without Borders, a small team of volunteers taking medical and care aid to Ukraine. 

The trip saw Paul and the team visit Bucha, Irpin and Chernihiv, areas aid workers have found hard to reach throughout the conflict following Russia’s invasion back in February.

The Ukrainian people were delighted to receive support and not be forgotten, an emotional moment for Cllr Zukowskyj.

“The people we met were hugely grateful for our support,” he told the Welwyn Hatfield Times.

Paul Zukowskyj Ukraine

Cllr Zukowskyj, whose father was from Ukraine, felt he needed to help. - Credit: Paul Zukowskyj

“Quite a lot of the places we went to weren’t in desperate need, but they really appreciated us being there.

“One lady, the village elder of a small settlement outside Chernihiv, said thank you because they hadn’t had anyone come to give them aid.

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“They felt like they hadn’t been forgotten and that the rest of the world still cared, which was very emotional.”

Despite Russian aggression, morale remains high, with Paul adding: “The people of Ukraine really believe they will win this war and get the Russians out. I got no other impression at all.”

The horrors of the conflict in Ukraine have been shared across the world, with pictures showing the suffering and destruction at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s forces.

On the ground, Cllr Zukowskyj saw this first-hand, but also how some areas have been completely untouched by war.

Paul Zukowskyj Ukraine

One of the many destroyed building Paul saw on his trip. - Credit: Paul Zukowskyj

“My trip was satisfying and thought provoking in equal measure,” he said.

“I feel like I’ve actually done something concrete to help people, but it makes you think when you look around and see this unbelievable level of destruction.

“It’s really strange though, because we drove through Chernihiv and some of the rural villages about 20 miles from the Belarussian border. One area is completely untouched and nothing there has changed, but you turn a corner and everything is flattened.

“That disjoint is very strange and you don’t expect it, but the destruction we’ve seen in pictures is nothing to actually being there.”

The dangers of war were very really though, with Paul continuing: “There was one moment where I should have been fearing for my life, but I didn’t at the time and I don’t know why.

“One of our Ukrainian guides picked up what he thought was a metal dart, which turned out to be a live munition. It was quite scary knowing it could have gone off at any time.

“Even just walking around, you felt as though you were taking a risk.

“There had a been a Ukrainian attack on a Russian supply convoy and there were just unexploded munitions everywhere. You were just standing on bullets.

“In the places I went, it felt like there was no threat from the Russian forces, but we had some air raid sirens go off in Kiev and I was under a van fixing it when it happened, so I just hid under the van.”

Paul Zukowskyj Ukraine

Cllr Zukowskyj admitted he hid under a van during an air raid. - Credit: Paul Zukowskyj

Despite travelling to Ukraine himself, Cllr Zukowskyj was keen to dissuade people from doing the same due to the dangers, revealing his desire to go and help was driven by his heritage.

He was quick to encourage people to support Vans Without Borders though, saying: “For me, it's quite personal as my dad was from Ukraine, so I wanted to go and help, but it’s very dangerous for aid workers out there.

“There are rumours of lawless bands in the countryside, and aid workers have been robbed or some believe even kidnapped, so you need to go with an organised group. I wouldn’t encourage people to go because obviously, it’s a warzone.

“But, giving to Vans Without Borders is something I would definitely encourage everyone to do, because they are doing incredible work.

“The response from the UK has been incredible so far and we need to keep it up.”

Vans Without Borders are currently fundraising to buy much-needed aid and get it to Ukraine.

“During our last mission, we pioneered routes across Ukraine and were some of the first humanitarian volunteers to deliver international aid in Bucha, Irpin and Chernihiv, after they were devastated,” wrote Jack Ross on their Crowdfunder page.

“We will continue to bring aid to unreached or forgotten communities that are hard to access - such as Chernihiv and Kharkiv - and have been largely abandoned by international aid efforts.”

To donate, visit www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/vans-without-borders---return-to-ukraine.