A Margate driving instructor and his friend have travelled some 1,000 miles to take aid and a 4×4 vehicle to Ukraine.
Tomasz Stellmach, who works for Pass Driving School, and his friend and former student Maciej Lewandowski, took on the epic journey last week with the aim of supplying the Ukraine Army with a much-needed vehicle and dropping off supplies for those crossing the border into Poland.
Tomasz, who comes from the Polish city of Bydgoszcz but has been in the UK for some 20 years, originally helped with sorting donations at Quex Barn in Birchington but felt compelled to go further.
The 46-year-old said: “When it first started I helped the guys at Quex Barn with my partner but felt there was something more I could do.
“Then I heard that 4×4 off road cars were really needed, the roads in Ukraine were already bad even before the Russians came and the Ukrainian Army needs these cars.
“I thought it was a good idea to help so I contacted the Polish border office and told them the idea and would they help me send the cars into Ukraine. They then contacted me to say they had some people that could take them.”
Tomasz and Maciej set up a fundraiser and raised enough to buy the first 4×4. They then went to Quex Barn and had it filled with supplies including medicines, sleeping bags, blankets and food items.
Tomasz, who also runs Hurricane Shotokan Karate Club, said: “Last Tuesday we decided we would go and deliver the car. It was most important that is the car could make it across Europe then it would make it in Ukraine.
“We left on Wednesday morning and crossed through France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and arrived in Krakow, in Poland near to the Ukraine border, on Thursday night.
“The car was taken from Krakow to Shehyni where Ukrainian soldiers collected it and are now using it.”
The pair made the journey in the 22-year-old car in 36 hours with just 6 hours for sleeping.
Tomasz said: “The car is being used by the Ukrainian army on the front lines for reconnaissance.
“We are still hoping for more donations as they need 30-40 cars. There are cars being taken there, mostly from Poland as it is nearest, but also Europe and we want to do this as well. If we raise more money we will do it again. A friend of mine is organising ambulances for them as they are needed too but they are very expensive, maybe £20,000.”
Tomasz, who moved to Thanet in 2017 and lives with fiancé Aga, said: “We are hoping to let more people who know about what we doing.”
Conflict in Ukraine
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022. The attack is internationally considered a war of aggression. It has triggered Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, with more than 3.8 million Ukrainians leaving the country, and millions more internally displaced.
The invasion marked a major escalation of the ongoing Russo-Ukranian conflict, which began in 2014 following the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity. Russia subsequently annexed Crimea, and Russian-backed separatists seized part of south-east Ukraine, starting the war in Donbas.
In 2021, Russia began a large military build-up along its border with Ukraine, amassing up to 190,000 troops along with their equipment. Russian president Vladimir Putin questioned Ukraine’s right to statehood.
Putin said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had threatened Russia’s security by expanding eastward since the early 2000s – a claim disputed by NATO – and demanded Ukraine be barred from ever joining the alliance.
On 21 February 2022, Russia recognised the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic, controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
The invasion began on the morning of 24 February, when Putin announced a special military operation. Missiles and airstrikes struck throughout Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, shortly followed by a large ground invasion from multiple directions.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy enacted martial law and general mobilisation.
The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into allegations of Russian military war crimes in Ukraine.