A lorry loaded with £150,000 worth of emergency aid from the people of Tunbridge Wells and beyond was due to arrive in Ukraine yesterday (Tuesday).
More than 50 volunteers turned up on Saturday to help load supplies that had a special emphasis on re-stocking liberated Kherson with medical equipment.
Working through its network of Ukrainians and locals, the Ukraine Relief Group (URG) mustered dozens of adults and several children at the TN2 Centre in Sherwood to form a human chain that moved boxes out of the storeroom and on to a waiting lorry.
The team even loaded hospital beds, crutches and walkers, destined for Kherson on the Dnipro River in the south of the country, which was recaptured by Ukrainian forces in mid-November.
“About 50 per cent is medical supplies. This is going to the main hospital in Kherson, and there’s not a lot they don’t need,” organiser Rich Akehurst told the Times.
Other supplies are intended for Odesa, Kyiv and other locations.
In the end, Saturday’s volunteers loaded just under 10 tonnes of supplies, with the truck too full to take everything which had been donated.
“I reckon we’ve got at least another truckload here,” Mr Akehurst said.
Underlining the difficulties of continuing to send help across borders, the lorry had been due to arrive in Tunbridge Wells two weeks ago, but paperwork delayed its outbound journey from Poland.
“We only work with registered charities in Ukraine so we know where things are going and that they are not going to end up on the black market,” stressed Mr Akehurst.
“The lorry company we work with (also) stipulate that we have to have an end user.
“It took us about four hours to do the paperwork as we couldn’t get it all on the trailer and had to edit it, get it translated again, etc.”
After setting off on Saturday, the lorry was due to cross the border on Tuesday on its way to the western city of Lviv, where the shipment will be broken up to go to half a dozen destinations.
Drivers change at each border, Mr Akehurst explained.
“It’s about four days, with driver breaks, which is why they’ve started to ‘hop-scotch’ it across Europe, changing drivers at the border.
“They know it’s important to get there.”
Saturday’s load was valued for customs and insurance purposes at about £150,000, thanks to items such as 34 hospital beds, worth about £1,000, even second hand, said Mr Akehurst.
The URG, set up in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February 24 and, was still going strong, said Mr Akehurst.
Working out of the TN2 Centre in Sherwood and its charity shop in Royal Victoria Place, the URG has a dual role, helping those who have arrived in the Borough from Ukraine and also sending supplies out to the country.
The group has now sent a total of about 60 tonnes of aid to Ukraine, he confirmed.
“It’s now nearly a year down the road and a lot of organisations tried to run before they could walk, but we paced ourselves.”