Sunday, September 24, 2023


A WARRENPOINT man has returned from a trip to Ukraine to deliver support for those who are struggling during the Russian occupation. Anthony Hughes, who is 32 years old, said that after following the developing story of the war in Ukraine he felt compelled to help. “I saw all the images that everyone saw and I felt that I needed to help. “I just wanted to work out a way to help,” he said. “Then I saw since the early days there is a massive demand for four-by-fours and pick-ups. “The reason is that early last year the strikes targeted hospitals. Their fleet of ambulances got wiped out and they are using four-by-fours as ambulances.” Anthony is a car enthusiast, and knows about four-wheel drive vehicles, so he realised that might be a way he could help. “I thought I would be able to source a truck for civilian evacuation. “I thought that I could get a decent one, tidy it up, give it a good service and drive it over.” Anthony got in touch with some Ukrainians who live in Northern Ireland, as well as some aid workers who are in Ukraine to work out a plan for his aid trip. Then he set up his fundraising site. “It was slow to get off the ground. I have no experience of fundraising or charity work. I used a GoFundMe page because I thought that was a good way as everything is listed. I could post receipts of what I had bought. I could show where the money was going.” He was able to raise £6,000, which was enough to buy a four-by-four truck and a generator. Then he thought that he should utilise the space in his vehicle. “A couple of weeks before I left I posted on some of the aid groups’ Facebook pages. “I said I had a pick-up and generators and I had bit of room if people wanted to send stuff. “A Polish guy, Chris Nowak, who lives in Tipperary, had bought a load of medical supplies that he wanted to send over. “He said he would go with me and split the cost of fuel. “That was a great help to have him as he is Polish and he could chat with the border guards. “The stars aligned with that one.” The help with the costs was welcome, as Anthony paid for the fuel for the journey and for the ferries out of his own pocket. With some help from other aid workers and Ukrainian organisations, as well as Chris, he was able to plan the route from Northern Ireland to Ukraine. He took the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, then went from Harwich to Holland. The road from Holland to Poland is straight-forward. But Anthony found it quite monotonous. In total, the journey took almost 48 hours. “The whole trip I was sleeping, eating or driving, I didn’t give myself any chance for second thoughts.” There were some challenges when attempting to get into Ukraine. “The border crossing can be challenging, if you get it at the wrong time then you can be in the queue for eight to 10 hours. “A Ukrainian aid organisation helped me with documentation.” Once in Ukraine, the evidence of the war was obvious. But Anthony was ready for it. They stopped in Lutsk. “We stopped to get some documentation, next to an oil refinery. It was hit by missiles early on and it is a wasteland now. “That was the first bit of major damage we saw. “As you travel east to Kyiv and Kharkiv it gets worse and worse, unfortunately. “I wasn’t shocked because I was tuned into the media. “I follow a lot of locals so I knew what to expect but to see it in person, it was different. “When I was there I felt like it was a worthwhile thing to be doing.” They were heading for Kharkiv which was where the four-by-four was going to be used. Anthony explained that he had reached out to some groups to find out which area most needed a four-by-four. “The group in America that is run by Ukrainian emigrants, one of the guys I got speaking to had served in the Ukrainian army for three years from 2014 after there was a military mobilisation by the Ukraine government when Russia invaded eastern Ukraine (in 2014). “This guy had a lot of contacts. “One was Artem who was using a fourby-four to move civilians around. It got destroyed. “So, I saw images and realised that this was an easy choice for a home for the fourby-four.” They travelled to Kharkiv, and noticed along the way the great devastation throughout the country. However, the people throughout the country were glad to see the support from the west.

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