After hearing news of the war breaking out in Europe, 24-year-old Jack Ross decided he had to do something to help those impacted by the conflict.
Quitting his job and founding the group Vans Without Borders, Jack spent a month planning his journey and even purchased a minibus from his own savings.
After collecting aid for onward delivery from various organisations as well as from the office of MP Penny Mordaunt, Jack drove to Ukraine via Poland in early April with friends John ‘The Flying Fish’ Bream and Ricky Bland.
Jack said: ‘My motivation for coming out was quite simple. I couldn’t sit in Britain, which is a three-four hour plane journey away from the Ukraine and do nothing.
‘How can you enjoy life in Britain when there’s people, less time away from Scotland from you, suffering.
‘Seeing the atrocious images, hearing the stories, having Ukrainian friends - I thought, I want to come and I want to do something, I want to make a difference, no matter how small it may be.’
In just a few weeks, Vans Without Borders has driven the length of Ukraine, the team sleeping in the van or staying with locals who volunteer to house them.
As he independently delivers aid to remote areas and supports civilian evacuation, Jack says that he has seen ‘all sorts of horrors’ since arriving in Ukraine.
He added that it is a ‘tragic and shocking’ situation in the war-stricken country, with people facing ‘horrific’ tragedy.
Jack said: ‘The cities largely tend to be okay because they’re easy to access and international aid can reach them but the villages surrounding the cities and in the countryside have been completely devastated by the war.
‘The shops aren’t open, they have no electricity, they have no heating - and that’s across the country, which is really sad to see.
‘These weren’t particularly wealthy people before the war, and now they’ve been completely devastated, so their quality of life is atrocious. They don’t have heating, they don’t have water, they don’t have shops, there’s no petrol available.
‘We were told some people had to cycle 100km to Kyiv to get supplies. You hear atrocious stories - a lot of these villages were occupied by Russians. There was one case where two men from the village were beaten with hammers by Russian soldiers over a period of days. ‘They had their bones broken and were eventually killed, for no reason other than they’d helped the Ukrainian army.
‘What the Russians would do is they pitch up in the trenches, and their armoured divisions would get beered up, go into the local villages, drive their tanks over people’s houses, over local cemeteries, over cars, and just cause as much devastation as they want.’
The team running Vans Without Borders has witnessed ‘absolute devastation’ in the country, seeing civilian communities which have been levelled by the conflict.
Their first mission involved taking specific aid to a large group of orphans who were being moved across the country.
They then moved quickly onto some hospitals and to a paediatric hospital where they were able to provide relief, before travelling to Kyiv.
Jack reported that his was the first vehicle to travel down the motorways to Kyiv from Lviv and they have shared this intel with other groups.
He said: ‘We’ve pioneered new aid routes. Since we’ve come all the way to Kyiv, more people have come.
‘I’m delighted to report that since we first started coming to Kyiv about two weeks ago, it’s now chockablock with aid vehicles which is fantastic.
‘Our mission has also been creating these routes and showing people that it is safe to drive here, albeit the Russian shelling.’
Vans Without Borders plans to stay in Ukraine for another two weeks before returning home, and then going back out for a month.
The intention is to purchase and provide as much aid as possible, as well as trying to bring some joy for the children by giving them sweets, toys, and treats.
Jack added: ‘The Ukrainian situation and the poverty amongst the refugees is becoming increasingly important to me.
‘We’ve seen things that shouldn’t be happening, we’ve seen people fighting over food, over hygiene products, and it’s very sad to see.
‘We’ve seen elderly people completely abandoned where people have fled and they’ve chosen to stay. They’re thin, they’re suffering - they’re dirty where they don’t have access to clean water.
‘Most people can’t afford to have their heating on, even in the cities.
‘We should try and help as many people as we can. Britain’s a wealthy nation.
‘This situation has really opened my eyes.
‘It’s a completely unnecessary conflict, I think that’s the most frustrating part.
‘There’s no need for this - it was done for reasons of cultural vandalism, nationalism and arrogance from the Russian side.’
The son of Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association trustees Rachael and Ken Ross, Jack volunteers with the city charity and has been delivering aid to youngsters with Down syndrome who are supported by Poltava Down syndrome organisation.
Proud dad Ken said: ‘Jack is doing some incredible work in Ukraine with his team who have been securing and delivering aid non stop to stricken communities.
‘Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association has donated aid through Jack to Ukraine Down Syndrome Organisation and we are in touch with them to see if they need help to evacuate any families.
‘Some of the videos you will see are pretty harrowing and really bring home how desperate it is for people in Ukraine who are under constant threat of random missile strikes.
‘As a family we are very proud of Jack, but also very worried for his safety as in the videos you can hear shelling and gunfire.’
Vans Without Borders is appealing for funds, which will be spent on aid sourced from local businesses for vulnerable Ukrainian people.
To support the group’s efforts, visit crowdfunder.co.uk/p/food-aid-for-civilians-trapped-in-ukraine.