Charlie has just come back from a visit to Ukraine, where he teamed up with a Scottish charity, ‘Pickups for Peace’, to help deliver numerous pickup trucks to the Ukrainian military. The bulletin this week gives us an insight into what he experienced!
You may have seen the slightly cryptic message instead of the usual bulletin on Friday. Last week, I was in Ukraine delivering a pickup to the Ukrainian military as part of a convoy of vehicles which was organised by Scottish charity ‘Pickups for Peace’. We were supplying the pickups to the Ukrainian military and were told by the organisation, for operational security reasons, we could tell the family that we were going to Ukraine, but we should not post anything on social media until we had returned safely back to the UK. I got back on Sunday night, so here is the bulletin.
Pickups for Peace
Pickups for Peace is a charity founded by a couple of Scottish farmers who, as well as farming in Scotland, have agribusiness in Poland and Ukraine. When the invasion happened, they wanted to do something to help Ukraine. They have good contacts with the local officials who put them into contact with the local unit, 24 engineering brigade. When asked what they could do to help the brigade, they agreed on supplying pickups. Farmers usually have pickups for work which often are coming to the end of their days, and the brigade wanted the vehicles. In Soviet military doctrine, there is no place for small mobile units so any quick ‘in and out’ mission had to be conducted using a large truck. This makes this type of mission susceptible to being spotted by drones and fired on by artillery. Pickups allow for non-availability for reconnaissance, drone teams, mobile anti aircraft platforms and for the pickup of the dead. The Russians don’t have pickups so they have to walk, or go in larger vehicles. The Engineering unit with each delivery of vehicles gave a specific list of additional items they would like which could be placed in the vehicles as they travelled to Ukraine. For this convoy was the following:
There were 35 vehicles in our convoy and the charity had delivered over 210 pickups, 4 wheel-drive, and ambulances, in a number of convoys.
Kim (my wife) had heard about the organisation on the radio driving back from work one day and was determined to do her bit. We had a pickup which we were told very firmly by the garage, would definitely not pass another MOT. Instead of trying to sell it, we thought we would do our bit and donate it to Ukraine. She contacted Pickups for Peace and got us booked on the September convoy which left last Sunday.
As we are very busy, both with work and one daughter starting a new job and another going to university, we didn’t have a huge amount of time for the organisation getting donations, but we did the best we could. We raided our garage and found a number of items on the list, Kim found all our old mobile phones and wiped them, and I dug out a whole load of military warm-weather gear which I thought would be useful for the coming winter. I agreed to update our work business continuity plan if something happened to both of us , which I found rather ghoulish, writing instructions on what to do if we died. We packed up the car, stuck the Pickups for Peace stickers on the car, and were waved off by our next door neighbour last Sunday morning to drive the 1300 miles to Lviv in Ukraine.
The journey of a 1000 miles starts with a vehicle refilling, at the local petrol station three miles down the road. We filled up with diesel, and as Kim drove off, there was a horrible clunking noise. I looked under the car to see that the fuel tank had broken its casing and was almost dragging along the ground. The weight of the fuel had snapped the bolts which held it in place. We were going nowhere. I phoned the AA but knew they weren’t going to do anything to fix it, and they were going to relay me to Ukraine. We were saved by two things: the weather (it was too wet to play golf), and our local garage owner, Benston Motor Engineers, who after a text from Kim, agreed he had nothing else to do and agreed to help us. He was aware that we were going on this mission and donated some chains. He was brilliant. He went and opened up his garage, got the low loader, picked us up, and took us to the garage where he got the car on the ramp and used a couple of stops to hold the fuel tank in place. An hour and a half later we were on our way. Fraser, you were a lifesaver!
We then proceeded to drive to Hull, slept overnight on the ferry, and then did a 10-hour drive through Netherlands and Germany to a hotel in Poland. We didn’t travel in convoy, but in packets of 2-3 vehicles, as some vehicles were more sprightly than others. We had a night in Poland where more and more of the convoy got together, and then we headed 6 hours to the Ukrainian border. The formalities were fairly quick, as they were expecting us, and we were through into Ukraine. As we crossed into Ukraine and lined up behind our police escort, there was a small crowd waving Ukrainian and British flags to welcome us.
We drove the 70km in convoy to the outskirts of Lviv. Driving through the countryside there was absolutely no sign of a war, no bombed out buildings, no checkpoints, uniforms, or military vehicles. This was the same in Lviv where café life seemed to be going on as normal. The last part of the journey was the most exciting as we dashed through the streets of Lviv as a convoy, with a police escort through red lights, up the tram lanes, whilst trying to avoid letting pedestrians get in front of your vehicle and breaking up the convoy. We all made it through and parked up in front of the town hall. All vehicles had made it in one piece and none broke down permanently on the journey.
The next day, Wednesday, consisted of us handing over our vehicles and their contents to the new Ukrainian owners, as well as speeches from the Military personnel on Pickups for Peace, both were also interviewed for local TV. We said goodbye to the ‘truck’ and hoped that the new owner, the Military Chaplin’s department, would make good use of her.
The Reality of War
The rest of the Wednesday was an organised tour. First on the itinerary, was the visit to the military cemetery. It contained the graves of soldiers from Lviv, killed as part of the Russian invasion. The most recent burial was from 12 days ago. Ukrainian graves are very colourful and beautifully decorated. Each plot has a wooden surround and a wooden headstone. Each grave has a Ukrainian flag, plus a unit flag. There are one or two pictures of the deceased, and the graves are individually and elaborately decorated with ornaments and fresh flowers. Beside each grave there is a small bench for you to sit and spend time with your loved one. While we were visiting the cemetery there were a couple of people who looked like mothers and a solitary wife sitting alone on the bench. The sacrifice, pride, and sorrow, was stark. I am in tears now thinking about it, as I was, along with lots of others, tearful on the day. It was immensely moving and brought home the reality of war and the impact on individuals. We found several of the graves where the deceased had the same date of birth as our daughters.
The rest of the day was spent touring the churches and sites of Lviv, followed by a visit to a potato farm and a potato starch factory which was extremely interesting. Most of the group returned on the next day, but we stayed a couple of extra nights to explore the city. The city is extremely beautiful, there are very few tourists and is not expensive. It is very much a café society, and you can watch the world go by drinking a coffee or enjoying the excellent local beers.
How Can You Help?
First of all, travelling to and staying in Lviv is a risk but it is extremely low. There was one air raid when we were there, which we slept through, this might have been due to the final dinner earlier, but any air raids are aimed at the surrounding infrastructure, not residential areas. The crowd which organised the trip and who went on it are mostly farmers, or are connected to farming, but anyone can attend, even business continuity consultants! What you have to do is find or buy a vehicle and then sign up to one of the convoys. There are likely to be ones in November or February. It is an amazing experience, you are doing something positive to fight Russian aggression, and you will learn a bit more about yourself and a country far away. If you are not able to travel or the family or work refuse to let you go, then you can donate equipment – they are after fishing nets to protect infrastructure from drones – or you can donate money or a vehicle which someone else could drive across on your behalf.
Sometimes when you believe in a cause, or you know what the right thing to do is, you have to put your head above the parapet and do what you believe in. There will be risk, but the rewards for both you and the cause should be worth it.
Slava Ukraini (Victory to Ukraine)