Helpers went with supplies and to offer transport at the Polish border

The sheer horror, human misery and desperate sadness of the Ukranian refugee crisis has been seen first hand by two men from West Norfolk who joined the aid effort. Malcolm Catlin and Andy Kerr left Malcolm’s home at Terrington St Clement last week with a car load of supplies and spending money and headed for the Polish border and the heart of the aid effort. Their aim was to help the supplies chain and also to provide transport to get individuals away from the war zone to safety.

Meeting these refugees face to face had a profound effect – as recorded by Malcolm in his posts on Facebook while he was there.

Andy Kerr and Malcolm Catlin at one of the supplies distribution centres in Poland (55629237) Andy Kerr and Malcolm Catlin at one of the supplies distribution centres in Poland (55629237)

He said: “The overwhelming feeling was of many proud, frightened people, mainly mums and children fleeing with very little and not knowing when or if they would see their husbands and dads again, and people still in Ukraine urgently needing essentials: food, military clothing and medical supplies. “They don’t want to have to accept aid, they can’t believe there are people out there who care, they expect to pay for any help they are given and they are scared – scared they will have their passports taken away, scared they will be separated from their children.

“What we have also seen is the power of people on the ground getting on with it. The soldiers, police, firefighters (always), medics, fork truck drivers and many others from across Europe – the Swiss lady sorting and packing aid, the Dutch man just arranging his second coach of the day…and so on.

Malcolm Catlin using donations to buy more supplies in Poland Malcolm Catlin using donations to buy more supplies in Poland

“At the centre at Chelm we were allocated Alika, a 23-year-old from Kyiv, to take to central Warsaw.

We ‘chatted’ a lot (via Google Translate) and learned that, whilst she still had family in Ukraine, she had no wish to return herself (as well as the current war, she had previously endured fighting in the Donbas region). She’s a qualified economist and wants a new life elsewhere. “In the afternoon we were asked to go to Warsaw again, with Viktoria and her two daughters Marianna and Irena, aged about six or seven (so not very different from my own daughter and grandkids).

Then they said the address was the central train station, to catch a train to Gdansk in the north of Poland, so we decided to take the family direct – a six-hour drive. Viktoria told us they had fled after a Russian missile attack on Sarny. One can only begin to imagine all of the horrors of that and the uncertainties ahead, but at least they’re in a safe place for now.

“We then collected three people – two women and one young girl- to take to Berlin.

The two women hadn’t previously known each other but met on the 24 hour train journey out of Ukraine.” Andy is a member of the Rotary Club of King’s Lynn which donated GBP600 and its twin club in Germany, the Rotary Club of Emmerich-Rees, has donated 500 Euros towards the costs. Malcolm and Andy have also dug into their own pockets and had donations from the local community.

Many of the goods were purchased at a discount from King’s Lynn firms/shops wanting to help Ukraine. “I couldn’t see what was happening and do nothing,” said Malcolm before he left. And, now home in West Norfolk, he has reflected on the experience and posted thanks to everyone who contributed:

“‘Refugees’ are (of course) ordinary, proud people like all of us: kids, mums etc, frightened, as we would be. The support they’ve had from all of you – complete strangers – is the support we hope our families would receive in the event of some unthinkable catastrophe.” He said: “If we think of them collectively as just one mass of people and ourselves as helpless and powerless to do anything then nothing is achieved but together you:

*Sent an estimated GBP4000 of aid items with us in the car to those defending, or unable to leave, Ukraine and to fleeing families *Paid for a further GBP2000 of aid items there to meet local needs on the day *Enabled four runs to get people with no home and few possessions to places of safety

*And we can still do more with what you have already contributed.”

To find out more about the trip and how it unfolded see Malcolm’s Facebook page: ‘Malcolm Catlin Ukraine practical support’.