From 30.09 – 09.10.2022 four members of the ODF staff – Martin Mycielski, Natalia Melnychenko, Łukasz Krencik and Tomasz Mysłek – took part in a humanitarian convoy formed under the auspices of Gazeta Wyborcza Daily and Łukasz Wantuch, Cracow City Councillor. The purpose of this joint mission was to supply humanitarian aid to the territories of Ukraine which had been recently liberated from Russian occupation. A few days after pulling out of the convoy, the ODF headed to deliver aid to the AFU near the southern section of the battlefront.
The convoy, composed of 5 vehicles, set out from Krakow to cover the route Lviv-Kyiv-Poltava-Kharkiv-Kupiansk-Kramatorsk-Kharkiv. In Kupiansk, a town which had been liberated by the Ukrainian army just a couple of days earlier, the mission’s members distributed parcels of food and detergents and potable water canisters among civilians in one of the razed residential areas. They also took the opportunity to learn about other needs of local residents who lived in the area without electricity, heat or running water.
The next day, a group of ODF staff visited one of Kharkiv’s hospitals to pick up information about needs and donate, among other things, medicines for patients in the neurology ward. During the visit, the mission’s members came across a group of Russian POWs, who were brought to a hospital by Ukrainian military police to treat their wounds. After a brief chat, Ukrainian soldiers presented the remaining captives, who were sitting in a military van blindfolded and with their hands tied. They also donated many “trophies” and items found in places where the Russian occupiers were stationed – elements of uniforms, military badges, equipment and money – for our charity auction.
After completing part of their mission, ODF representatives detached from the convoy that returned to Poland, and headed to Kramatorsk to hand over strictly military assistance to the AFU unit stationed nearby including, for e.g. Israeli emergency bandages, tourniquets, bulletproof vests and tactical gloves. Our anti-decubitus mattresses have proven to be exceptionally important for soldiers, as they bring relief not only to the wounded, but also to those defenders who, due to the harsh fighting conditions, suffer from spinal problems.
The next stage of the mission was a trip to the base of the military reconnaissance group stationed near Kherson. Only Łukasz Krencik and Natalia Melnychenko took part in this task. Along the way they stopped at Kryvyi Rih, to meet Yulia, a former resident of Home for Independent Mums, to see how she was doing after deciding to return to Ukraine and to get her opinion on the assistance provided by ODF to refugee women with children. Two days after this encounter, Kryvyi Rih was bombed. Fortunately, Yulia and her family survived the blast.
The next day, Łukasz and Natalia travelled to Mykolaiv and Kherson region for another visit and the handover of drones, bulletproof vests, uniforms and other aid to the AFU soldiers representing an air-reconnaissance group branded as “Madiar’s Birds”. The handover took place at a military base, where the Ukrainian defenders demonstrated their working conditions and their mobile and onsite operations centre. They also told us about the needs of their unit and enlightened us about the importance of a constant supply of drones – as the enemy often shot down or seized this type of equipment. As our aid was being delivered, the “Birds” group with 20 operators had only 5 UAVs at its disposal. The operators joked that they often had to argue with each other and tease each other about who would be controlling the drone on a given day, but it was such a laugh through tears.
One of the Birds’ UAV operators, Sviatoslav Boyko, said that the ODF was the first organization to respond to the request for help with an expensive and then hard to get drone with a thermal and night vision system head. “We were a poorly known military unit at the time, and Ukrainian NGOs preferred to support those through which they would make better PR for themselves” – Boyko said.
After visiting the base, it was time for a tour of the trenches to see what the operators’ work is like in practice. This meant staying within 3.5 km distance from enemy lines. Natalia and Łukasz had the opportunity to watch how the drones are prepared for, and return from action, and how their operations are monitored with the help of dedicated tablets. Luckily, things were quiet on the battlefront that day – which the defenders considered suspicious – therefore, they were very alert to ensure the safety of the entire visit.
The final stage of the mission was a visit to the city of Vinnytsia and its surroundings. While in Vinnytsia, our colleagues visited the spot of the tragedy – the area around the shopping mall that was bombed, where at least 23 people (including 3 children) lost their lives, and 80 people were hospitalised. Later, in a village located next to Vinnytsia, they met a soldier of the 49th Carpathian Sich Battalion to whom they donated military boots, socks and cartridge belts.
The ODF mission to Ukraine lasted 10 days. Over that period, our team travelled 4,000 Km and donated aid worth PLN 208,177, including: 41 bulletproof vests, 200 tourniquets, 200 Israeli emergency bandages, 80 cartridge belt sets, 2 DJI Mavic 3 drones, ca. 200 drinking water canisters, 60 pairs of tactical gloves, 28 water mugs, 5 sets of uniforms, 10 sets of thermal clothes, 10 pairs of Grom boots, 10 pairs of tactical boots, 10 pairs of Helicon socks.
The information we gathered about actual needs has allowed us to prepare solidly for our next mission, which will take place in 3 months and involve a number of Polish politicians, journalists and activists. Our new mission will be branded as: #OppositionForUkraine.
The Polish mass media report about our mission: