Army veterans Matt Simmons and Hannah Jarvis – of Bridge to Unity – left the UK on Thursday morning (May 12) with packages for voluntary group Zintegrowana Sluzba Ratownicza (ZSR) in Poland before heading to Ukraine with equipment for the frontlines and for a maternity hospital that was bombed in Zhytomyr, returning on Sunday night (May 15).
It was the first time the group, which was originally established – and called Ems4Afghans – to help Afghan refugees, had ventured into Ukraine, with two previous visits to the border in Poland.
This time they had a total of £15,000 worth of supplies, ranging from individual first aid kits for soldiers to spinal boards for hospitals.
The ultimate goal is that ZSR will set up a field hospital using supplies from the donations.
Speaking to The News on their return, Matt, 41, said: ‘The most daunting part was getting into Ukraine through Slovakia.
‘There were so many army checkpoints and we were told it was a 10-hour wait to get in. There was an enormous queue of Ukrainians trying to get back in – we think they must have been from homes where the fighting has now moved on from.
‘It really hit home that all these people have lost so much.’
On the understanding that they were bringing in medical supplies the pair were able to pass through and once in Ukraine they stayed with a local contact, Tanya, at her home in the Carpathian Mountains, who also helped them distribute goods.
‘The Ukrainian people were all so welcoming,’ Matt said.
‘They kept thanking us for bringing the supplies.’
Volunteer Hannah Jarvis, 39, added: ‘I was really pleased to be able to team up with Bridge to Unity for the third time. We’ve built up so much knowledge from previous trips, I think the time was right to make the crossing to deliver the medical kit, meaning the Ukrainian medics could stay on the frontline where they are needed.
‘Although we faced significant hostility on the Slovakian border, we achieved our goal and every Ukrainian we met was so welcoming and grateful to everyone for their support, I hope we can return with more medical aid, donations permitting.’
Funding for the supplies came from a number of sources including more than £3,000 raised by Edgeborough School in Farnham, £2,000 from Shire Fit gyms and £2,300 from their own fundraising event held at the Lord Raglan pub in Emsworth this month.
The group have also thanked Aber Self Store and Ben Jones in Wales for supplying the vehicle they used.
Matt said: ‘We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the support of everyone. It’s amazing how generous all our supporters have been.’
They plan to keep fundraising and return with more supplies.
To find out more and to donate visit bridgetounity.co.uk.