February 24th 2023 marks one year of the war in Ukraine. It culminates numerous 1,715-mile trips, transporting tonnes of aid to the Romanian/Ukraine border city of Suceava. It marks the tireless work done with the children and the building of a toilet block in an orphanage in Chernivtsi, the spread of shoeboxes to children who have fled from the frontline of Mariupol. It helps us remember the two trucks of hospital beds shipped far into Ukraine health facilities. Thousands of families and children have been supported with food parcels throughout Ukraine, as well as refugees crossing into Romania and Moldova. This was only possible by the generous financial donations of our supporters.
It began suddenly at the exit of the shoebox campaign and within a week our warehouses across the country were at capacity. Like a slow-moving queue on a bustling high street, you had to negotiate your way around bags of blankets, boxes of toiletries, and the general chaos that comes in responding to a crisis. The relief at the sight of a truck to be loaded, it would free up space and boost morale of the volunteers.
The war didn’t feel close, but the community did, and the coming together to help people who we had never met helped us to get through the long days. A 12-year-old boy came in with a bag of two footballs from his garden, he said simply “I want to give them”. A woman drove from Wolverhampton because she had seen the appeal and wanted to help. The appeal garnered enough attention that we had to turn people away from the warehouse, the sense of charity was undeniable.
It was not until Simon, Dave and Mimo travelled to the Siret border crossing that the war felt closer. The devastation of war is clearly known at borders, woman and children are led by the police across a border, walking with nothing but backpacks and carrier bags. Their life squeezed into some plastic, canvas, or nylon. A bit earlier, on March 3rd, in one of those can’t move in the warehouse days, we had no idea that 8,000 women and children had crossed over this same border. Since February 24th 2022, 18,843,973 people had fled Ukraine and were spread across Europe. Over 10,500,000 of those have now gone back. Separately, more than 7,000,000 remain internally displaced.
We witnessed fathers saying goodbye to their wives and children for what could be the last time. Handing them over to passport control before watching them walk across no-man’s land into Romania. The men stayed in the country to fight for their freedom.
On the same visit in Suceava, at our partners warehouse in the university run by Professor Lucian Pascut, we helped Aleksandra load her transit van. Aleksandra told us she was driving to the front line with the donations we had sent. It was extremely dangerous and brave work, but she said it was her duty. She mentioned her friend was doing the same and would be returning in a few days for another load. Her friend never returned.
Lucian was the man from Suceava who held the campaign together. He ensured the ‘free shop’ was fully stocked with donated items for the refugees and arranged deliveries to Ukraine to be sent over the border to where they were needed most.
It was on this first trip that we visited the orphanage for children with disabilities for the first time. Prior to the war it was an orphanage for 10 children but following the start of the conflict 42 more children had moved from the Donetsk region but with no staff to help. The staff desperately struggled with overcrowded rooms and had to resort to tying children to benches so they did not fall off. We decided there and then that we needed to help.
Simon and Dave returned to the orphanage with staff from Great Ormond Street Hospital to help plan what was needed. They spoke to the staff and set out the plan for us to work too with medical professionals going forward.
The shower block was in desperate need of replacing. Even without the extra children it wasn’t fit for use and we agreed to fund a replacement.
Following our previous trip and after hearing of our work, a film crew from the BBC joined Simon and Dr Ruth Wyn Williams. They visited the orphanage to work closer with the children and get to know the workings of the university. Read more on that trip here.
In the city of Chernivtsi, you could forget that the country was at war. Hundreds of miles from the front line this city remained mostly untouched. On a walk in the city, we asked ourselves ‘where are the men? We were reminded they had gone to fight. In a small village outside of Chernivtsi we saw a mother at her sons grave the day after she had laid him to rest. You are constantly reminded that war affects everyone in Ukraine and everyone has lost friends and family members.
To support the aid getting to where it is needed Teams4U purchased another Transit van in Romania. Whilst loading this van with donated body bags I realised that each one I loaded would be carrying someone’s loved one. Death is something we often excuse ourselves from in ordinary life, we make every effort to sidestep it consciously and unconsciously. In Ukraine death is in a lot of conversations and if it isn’t, its waiting on the side-line ready to interrupt.
“It was a privilege to be able to volunteer with Simon and Teams4u The Charity but more than that it was a privilege to meet the children and people in Ukraine and Romania, as the work started. This is only the beginning, the work continues and Teams4U need our support. Please donate to their work if you can.”
Dr Ruth Wyn Williams
Simon travelled to meet Vova who had previously visited Wrexham in November and he had requested shoeboxes for displaced children from the Mariupol region. Teams4U had gladly provided these. Whilst there we gave shoeboxes out to children in a bomb shelter as it wasn’t safe anywhere else.
We travelled through Ukraine to look at potential projects for the future and discussed the work that he had undertaken.
On the way back from Lviv, driving through the Carpathian Mountains, we talked about the war and friends fighting on the front line. Dasha (translator) told Simon, “We have come to terms that we could die anytime and every day is a gift.” They have all said “goodbye” to their life already.
Teams4u are continually raising awareness of the need in Ukraine. Articles in the local news, speaking and presenting at organisations and groups, sharing on social media. Teams 4U is continuing to send financial support to our partners to deliver aid locally. During the shoebox campaign, we still collected aid for Ukraine to be sent out early in the new year and continue to do so.