A brother and sister from St Peter’s have travelled more than 1,140 miles to the Poland-Ukraine border to be part of the refugee aid effort.
Curtis and Emily Foord left the UK on March 14, crossing from Dover to Calais, through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, stopping overnight, and then venturing into Poland and arriving at the border of Ukraine in Dorohusk.
Port of Dover worker Curtis, 29, and former covid test worker Emily, 25, are now unloading and organising donations as people from Ukraine cros to Poland and are also driving people to cities in Poland.
Emily said: “Curtis felt very strongly that he wanted to go and help and do something useful and I felt it would be a good opportunity to learn more about life in a way most of us have never experienced before and to do something to make a difference even if it is small “
The siblings first made contact with the team at Quex Barn who have been receiving donations and then loaded up Curt’s Audi A4 estate and Emily’s VW Polo with goods that needed to be taken to the border .
Emily said: “We dropped off donations and have since been sleeping in a secondary school which has been converted into accommodation for volunteers. “Since arriving we have been volunteering at the reception centre in Dorohusk, alongside volunteers of various nationalities, helping to unload and organise donations to provide easy access to refugees as they pass through.
“We have also gone to the Ukraine border to hand out hot drinks and food as well signpost people crossing over, in temperatures as low as -3c. Curtis and I have also been transporting families from the border to various cities in Poland where they either reunite with family members and friends or continue their onward journey.
“So far we have transported 21 people, a cat and a guinea pig towards safety and will continue to do this for a long as we can afford to.
“It is surreal to see people crossing the border on foot and ever more surreal to witness their positivity, often still laughing and joking with each other and making the best of an awful situation.
“The journeys have been more emotional as we have had a chance to build a rapport with the people we transport and hear their stories. It’s been very emotional saying goodbye to them and hoping that they get to their final destination safely.”
Emily and Curtis have a fundraising page to help pay for fuel and supplies for those reaching the border.
Emily said: “I think our family and friends initially thought we were a bit naive or crazy to travel so far without solid contacts and a documented plan but they have since been extremely supportive and have helped us to fundraise nearly £5000. The more money we have the longer we can stay and help.
“The donations we raise are going toward the cost of fuel as well as supplies for Ukrainian refugees.”
On the ground
March 17: It’s been quite an emotional day today. This morning we set off transporting 6 people from the Ukrainian border to Wrocław. The first, a 50 year old woman from an area in Ukraine that is not so dangerous at the moment. She travelled for 10 hours, carrying heavy luggage before we met her. She used to work as a medical trainer at a college. Her 20 year old nephew stayed behind to fight. He is able to send one or two word messages that he is safe, but Russian troops have invaded the town he defends.
Svitlana came with us to Wrocław to be with her daughter and grandson. She said she will continue her teaching via virtual classes.
She was quite tearful in the car and as we were driving away from the Ukrainian border, she showed me videos of a small child covered in blood in Kyiv after shelling. She said that three siblings had been killed today.
The other girl in my car was 14 years old, with her one and 9 year old siblings, her mother and father in Curt’s car. Their family came from Krivoy Rog, which was very unsafe for them due to shelling.
Violeta left behind both of her grandmothers and travelled 17 hours by train to get to the Polish border. They were very polite and friendly throughout the 8 hour drive and we spoke through Google translate, which worked surprisingly well. Violeta didn’t know when they would reach their final destination. At the time we dropped them off in Wrocław, they had been travelling for 25 hours. The children, mother and teacher all gave me a massive hug and, after we refused payment, they gave us lots of chocolate instead.
When we tried to do our maths we figured out it’s costing us around £17 per hour of driving to transport refugees around Poland. Turns out that Poland is pretty huge so we’re getting through fuel fast. We will also be doing a big shop tomorrow to replenish the donations that are lacking at the centre including things like men’s shoes, flour, salt, crayons, colouring books and so on. Literally every penny is helping us so please keep on going. Those three children killed today could easily have been the three children in our cars.
March 18: Today was a quieter day. We travelled back from the west of Poland this morning and on the way we went shopping to pick up supplies that are lacking at the refugee centre in Dorohusk, including men’s shoes, tracksuit bottoms, towels, flour, salt and colouring pens. When we returned, there had been a huge delivery and there were a lot of Ukrainian people that appeared to have recently arrived at the camp. We had to spend around £150 on fuel and £350 on supplies today. Money is going quickly so please do donate anything you can and share the link, talk to friends, colleagues, family about our trip so we can keep doing it for as long as possible.
It’s easy to feel that nothing useful can be done in such a widespread crisis but I do think even small acts of kindness like a new pair of shoes or a comfortable car journey can make some difference to these people, especially when they are travelling for so many hours, often without knowing where they are going or when they will get there.
March 20: Today I travelled with a mother and daughter from Dorohusk refugee centre to Warsaw. From here, they needed to board a train to Krakow, followed by a bus to Spain. They left their home with their parents and brother (who will stay to fight) 8 days ago. It will take them another 2 days to get to Spain where they will live with her other brother, his wife and her nephew.
Tetiana is 6 years old. She was unwell with a chest infection, was tearful and vomited on the journey. Anna decided to leave because although she said where they are located in the west is currently safe, she is concerned for Tetiana who has been very scared of the sirens and doesn’t understand why they have to sleep in their clothes, running down to the basement at night. If that seems like safety, I can’t begin to imagine what things are like in other areas of Ukraine that are being heavily attacked.
Today the donations you guys have given paid for fuel to reach Warsaw, two express tickets for Anna and Tetiana (they would otherwise have had to wait until tonight and missed their next bus), medication for Tetiana, food for their journey and cigarettes for Anna (probably needed more than anything else after Tetiana puked all over herself and my car ).
Anna is only 26 and will be a single mother of a 6 year old in Spain, having never left Ukraine before the War.
I really don’t want to leave here, it does feel like we are helping in a small way. Please keep donating.
March 21: Today we travelled into Chelm and registered as drivers at the reception centre there. This place had been converted from a disused Tesco supermarket; a sterile looking building with rows and rows of camp beds, each with a blanket and a pillow. We collected two families to take to Warsaw; the first an elderly couple who didn’t speak much English and seemed tired. They slept in Curt’s car for much of the journey. In my car I had a mother called Vika and her two daughters (Kate who is 17 and Sveta who is 16) and well as their pet guinea pig.
Kate spoke English so we chatted for a lot of the journey. She and her family came from Berdyansk in the east of Ukraine and had travelled 24 hours on a bus, followed by 22 hours to reach the Polish border. The bus would normally take 3 hours but due to bombing they had to stay inside the bus and try to sleep with 100 other people. When she tried to sleep on the train it was too cold and she thought she could hear more bombs which made her too scared to rest.
Russia is now using the captured port of Berdyansk where Kate and her family come from to supply their army. Kate said that she saw Russian boats arriving which she later realised carried weapons to attack her country.
Her father remains there with her grandparents. She said she hopes he will be able to come and be with them soon.
When I asked Kate where they will be going she was only able to respond with questions. She didn’t even know what country they would be travelling to, although they hope to come to the UK. No one at Warsaw central station was able to help them and the volunteers were completely overwhelmed and exhausted.
Sadly there seem to be no British representatives on the ground to support Ukrainians through their visa applications. We are trying as best we can to help them with this and link them with a sponsor in the UK. In the meantime the family has been put in a hotel for 7 days in Warsaw.
Today was stressful and sad and yet Kate and her family still seemed so optimistic and grateful. Their bravery is astounding. Thank you so much to everyone who is donating and sharing
The current invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces began on February 24 and is now in its 27th day.
Cities under attack include the capital Kyiv, port city of Mauripol and Kharkiv. Russian forces are attempting to create a corridor between Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and areas in Donetsk and Luhansk.
It is estimated that 3.5 million refugees have left Ukraine, while around 6.48 million people have been displaced within the country.
A huge effort has been launched to aid those fleeing Ukraine with Poland taking in the majority of people but some travelling to Europe or the UK. A Homes for Ukraine Scheme has been set up in the UK with sponsors asked to offer accommodation for at least 6 months.
A humanitarian mission launched within 24 hours of the conflict breaking out in Ukraine is delivering thousands of boxes of essential items and collecting refugees at the Ukraine/Poland border to bring them to safety in the Czech Republic, Poland and Switzerland.
Freedom Boxes has been created by Stuart Watkins, who also owns a software company. When the conflict began, Stuart, his family, and his team set about to do something to deliver help and provide hope to those affected by the invasion. With Freedom Boxes, the team has created an immediate way to directly help those in need.
The team is made up of people from the UK and across the Central and Eastern European region, including Russia and Ukraine, who have pulled together to prepare, pack, and deliver Freedom Boxes.
The Freedom Boxes are delivered across the border directly to those in need – in bunkers and war zones – with the team’s drivers risking their lives on every trip.
The team has delivered over 450 Freedom Boxes and transported over 70 refugees to safety.
Visit www.freedom-boxes.com to purchase a Freedom Bus ticket for someone fleeing Ukraine or choose from a range of Freedom Boxes.
DEC and British Red Cross
Cash donations can be made to the Disaster Emergency Committee which works with member charities and local partners operating on the ground in Ukraine and western border countries
Find out more about Homes for Ukraine at: https://homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk/