Since the upscaling of Russian aggression in Ukraine in February last year, one Ramsgate café owner has dedicated himself to collecting and taking aid to the country.
Kevin Cromeeke, who owns Topps Café on Ramsgate seafront and is also a director of a building and maintenance company, is getting ready for his latest run at the end of this month.
Dad-of-two Kevin is scheduling two trips so he can transport a total of 11 generators -five or six per trip – but also desperately needed medical supplies, hygiene items and dried food.
The 59-year-old has been making the crossings since the war into mainland Ukraine hit the news in February 2022.
He said: “The Ukraine war had just kicked off and that evening on the news I saw an image of a coach full of evacuees crossing the border into Poland. A family got off that coach and looked exactly like a family I knew very well from being on holiday there. I imagined them and their eight-year-old daughter and the distraught look on their faces and knew I could not just sit in England and do nothing.
“I got on the internet to look for anyone else who felt the same way and connected with two other people.
“I have got a café and with all these people crossing the border I knew they would need food and something hot to drink. So, I decided not to open the café last year and travelled out, taking my generators and equipment and set up a big food kitchen in a disused Tesco car park on the border. The Tesco building was being used as a refugee centre and the car park was where we would get people in, sort them out and give them hot food and drink.”
Kevin and colleagues ran the food kitchen for three weeks. At that point bigger companies were starting to move in, such as Pizza Italia which was dishing out 200,000 pizzas daily.
Kevin said: “There were between 2000-5000 people coming across the border each day. It was chaotic when we first got there but after those three weeks the refugee centre was more organised and the bigger companies were taking the pressure off.
“At that point we were looking at how else we could help and so started taking aid into Ukraine for the people who could not, or would not, leave the country.”
Kevin spent two and a half months working alongside other volunteers to get aid and food into Ukraine. Shipments would be sent to the Polish border for the volunteers to load up and get into the war torn country.
Kevin said: “We were using my van to drive it in as it is a small van and does better on the roads, which are really bad, than a bigger vehicle. After the three months the couple I was working with were unable to continue and we disbanded and I came back to England.”
However, Kevin did not want to stop helping the Ukrainian people and as he already had a network of contacts in the country he decided to continue and now meets with French contact Quentin at the border to make the runs.
Since then Kevin has been spending around 10 weeks in England collecting goods and funds and then taking it out, via ferry from Dover and then driving through Europe, to be distributed over the course of 10 days to a fortnight.
Once Kevin has delivered his own donations he then turns his hand to helping other organisations in the country by taking out their loads. He is venturing into parts of Ukraine that are heavily under fire and so currently has a ballistic vest donated by Tommy Woods from the Flying Horse pub in St Lawrence.
Kevin said: “I pay my own expenses and buy the generators but I do not have the money to buy all the other supplies so really need donations of sanitary and hygiene products, dried food and – this trip- urgently needed torniquets, blood bags and lines, medical tape and medical gloves.”
Donations can be dropped off at Topps Café in Harbour Parade, The Flying Horse at St Lawrence, Peter’s Hairdressers in Plains of Waterloo and the Red Lion in St Peter’s.
On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded and occupied parts of Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which began in 2014. The invasion has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths on both sides, and instigated Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II.