Many times I had to wait for them to clear the road of mines. The boys carried the mines and put them to the side of the road. I was scared to death. “Don’t worry. It takes 250 kg for them to explode,” they reassured me. No one close to me has had an accident with mines, and we have been in heavily mined areas. At Hostomel airport, they said: “Put your foot down where you can see the tarmac.”
Poles are delivering humanitarian aid far into Ukraine, sometimes right up to the front. They take risks. Ukrainians: “You are heroes to us.”
KRZYSZTOF KOZA: Many times I had to wait for them to clear the road of mines
Krzysztof documents his trips on Facebook.
“First I saw a piece of a woman’s suit, a woman’s shoe, and then the bodies. There was a woman and two children. They dragged her out of the house, raped and killed her in front of them.”
On 27 February, I was already in Przemyśl to help refugees at the border. I went to Ukraine for the first time in early March. And I have been going there all the time since then. I spent 48–50 days there, I travelled 46,000 km. The longest I stayed in Poland was six days.
It started when my employee (I have a construction company) from Ukraine asked me to bring his wife from Mirhorod. I was terrified because they were bombing the city. I was looking for information on how to get there safely. I knew that once we cross the Dnieper, it will no longer be like that. I felt that it was dangerous, because when we were crossing the bridge in Cherkasy, there were planes flying above us, I don’t know what type of planes they were. At the check point they told me that there was a landing in the forest. We drove without lights and under great stress. But we brought my worker’s wife. Then I went back there to pick up her sister, a friend with children and I was carrying help.
I’m very lucky – I quickly met two very high-ranking Ukrainians. They opened doors to many places for me. I have documents allowing me to drive during curfew, and I am a military administration volunteer. When I need to, I get military passwords for entry.
Base at the Vinnytsia Monastery
I also got to know the Catholic monks of Vinnytsia very quickly. I arranged a transfer site at their monastery. That’s where I sleep, that’s where they bring me goods from the West, and that’s where I carry on to the East. It’s more effective because I can deliver help where others are afraid to go. I also use local volunteers – they know where to go, they know the area. We drive in two or three cars.
Initially, I focused on helping women with young children. I travelled far, to where there is war. And I went alone – I didn’t want to take responsibility for others. Some people didn’t realise the risks there. One time a plane flew in front of us and got shot down near me. It did not explode, they managed to land. It was still smoking when I arrived.
Once while driving towards the battle front I saw a car full of people on the side of the road. They ran out of petrol when they were running away. They were fired at with a Kalashnikov. And not just a single one – a large concentration of bullets was visible from the back. The people were saved by a trunk full of suitcases and bags – they behaved as bulletproof vests.
I had to sneak through Kyiv at night without lights – people were afraid of a landing.
Many times I had to wait for them to clear the road of mines. The boys with cigarettes in their mouths carried the mines and put them to the side of the road. I was scared to death. “Don’t worry. It takes 250 kg for them to explode,” they reassured me. No one close to me has had an accident with mines, and we have been in heavily mined areas. At Hostomel airport, they used to say: put your foot down where you can see the tarmac.”
In Donbas, where I also drive, I ended up in a trench with soldiers because of a shelling. I brought aid to Brovary near Kyiv when there was a battle, in Kharkiv – to districts that were under fire, such as Saltivka or Moskovskyi district.
There they are bombed every day and people have nothing, because hardly anyone goes there to help. And some 150,000 people are still living there in basements. Can you imagine how much humanitarian aid is needed for such a number of people?
It is mainly delivered by local volunteers, of whom there are few. We watched the bombed cemetery of Polish officers there with Mateusz Lachowski (a documentary filmmaker who covers the war for TVN – ed.). When I saw a rocket stuck in a grave, I started calling the Russians “inhuman”.
My heart broke in the Kharkiv subway. One more time. At one station I saw about 150 children. Tiny ones, from one to five to seven years old. I asked a little girl how long she has been there. “48 days. Our house was hit by a rocket and we have nothing to go back to.”
We were in Bucha and Hostomel two days after the Russian army left. We ventured far, 20 km further north. “Those bastards were still here yesterday evening.” That was the moment when I felt strange. In addition, that evening around 8 p.m., our car broke down there.
There was a woman and two children
Somewhere around Hostomel, I couldn’t stand it emotionally for the first time. There were white ribbons on the house and a large sign saying “children”. First I saw a piece of a woman’s suit, a shoe, a cuddly toy, and then the bodies.
There was a woman and two children. They dragged her out of the house, raped and killed her in front of her children. I was accompanied by soldiers from the International Legion and we all just burst into tears. Believe me – it was a very difficult day.
The enormity of this evil in Bucha is so huge that it has not yet fully reached people’s consciousness.
A total shock to me were mined bodies. Ukrainian soldiers marked them so that nobody touched them.
The mines were also disguised as bodies with a jacket, hat and gloves, I don’t know what else was inside, apart from the explosives, but a knife stuck in the back was characteristic. I have seen 15 to 20 such mines.
And plenty of bombs.
Recently, I heard many times from the special forces guys that even worse things have been happening in the Kharkiv region and in Donbas. That Bucha and this was just the beginning.
I started publishing reports from my trips on FB only after some time – a friend of mine encouraged me to do this. You have to do something to show people that you are helping to motivate them to donate to fundraisers.
An hour of explosions makes you deaf for two days
Ukrainians taught me to write that the check point is in Kyiv although it was really in Chernihiv, and vice versa. Dates and places have to be mixed up for security and to misinform the Russians. The downside to driving with aid for the military is that you can’t tell what you’re carrying and where you’re going. And now I carry lot of aid for soldiers.
Last Friday we were on the front line, in forest trenches, 2.5 km from the Russian positions. I cannot say what we delivered. Write that it was military and humanitarian aid.
And I feel that the territorial defence troops need almost everything. Insulin, adrenaline, tourniquets, tactical goggles, varied food… When the Russians attack, it’s a tornado. Without tactical goggles, you sit in a trench with your head between your legs and can’t do anything. With glasses you can somehow cope with the situation. And without ear protection, an hour of explosions makes you deaf for two days. It happened to me once.
The worst is the lack of cars. They need them to transport the wounded, to move quickly, to get ammunition. Because if they don’t have cars, they just walk to get it.
I took three cars to the soldiers. Off-roaders are their dream, but they are happy with anything, even an old Passat for PLN 3k. I took two Transits and one Vito, for a total of PLN 25k. One carries the wounded in Donbas, another is driven by a commander in Mykolaiv, and the third is used to bring the soldiers food and ammunition.
The girl in the underground
For the rest of my life I will remember the girl in the Kharkiv underground. I was standing aside and watching a theatre play. She approached me at the end. She was about seven to nine years old. She asked if she could take pictures with me. Because we are heroes to them.
And yet they are the heroes. “You are the ones fighting,” I tell them. “But you are here, even though you don’t have to,” they answer me with tears in their eyes.
I have employees from Ukraine who understand what I do. I am still away and they are working. And they do it much more honestly. Out of sheer gratitude.
Do you want to help? Pomagam.pl/my_z_ukrainy/
SOBOL: “They are starving out there”
I would love to go there to f*** up the Russians but my wife won’t let me go. So I am helping.
It started with us feeding refugees for two weeks at the border in Zosin. We served two tonnes of grilled sausage. If someone invites me to a barbecue this year, I think I’ll f*** ‘em up – I had enough. In Zosin, we warmed up the Ukrainians in tents – 120 square metres – we gave them housing, sleeping accommodation, we transported them.
Finally, we did a trip with cancer medicines to sick children in Lviv, and later with beds. We arrived in Kyiv the day after the Russians left Bucha (early April – ed.). Volunteers from Kyiv took medicines, food in jars, etc. to Bucha. A week ago, we returned from there and from Irpin, Chernihiv, and the military unit near the city. We went there in four cars. Potatoes, beets, parsley, soups, five thousand pieces of canned food…
I was blown away by how the soldiers from the unit, in front of us, opened the jars and ate straight away. That’s how hungry they were. The unit lacks food the most. They are starving out there. In the whole area you won’t see a cat, a dog, a goat, a horse, a cow… nothing. Before that the Russians had nothing to eat, so they ate it all.
When we left them the goods, two majors approached me. They tore the patches off their shoulders and gave them to me. “If you have problems in Ukraine, show it,” one of them had tears in his eyes. “I never expected the Poles to save my life”.
They have the spirit to fight, but you can’t fight with an empty stomach. And you could see that most of them were just fighting – their eyes were so empty. They have lived through some kind of hell on earth.
Already 100 km before, at the check points, the territorials told us to go there to this unit. Because it had nothing. They almost fought over the sleeping bags and blankets we brought. We even gave them ours. Because they sleep in tank garages, on the ground, without beds, blankets… In this unit we were the first humanitarian aid since the beginning of the war!
We heard the same thing at the children’s hospital in Chernihiv. And now there are 350–370 children there. Just there we left two tons of flour, a hell of a lot of food, diapers, medicines, etc.
Hardly anyone goes to Chernihiv, because the bridges are blown up or broken. The sign said a maximum of 2 tonnes, and we weighed a good 7 tonnes, if not more, and we made it through. The roads there are such that our worst ones look like highways. On the way to Chernihiv, blue signs with the word “MINES” were placed on the roadside at every step. If someone wanted to pee, it was possible only right next to the car.
In Bucha, when we delivered food to the back of the school, there were already 1,500–2,000 people waiting for it at the front. Absolute horror!
We leave again on 30 April (the interview with OKO.press took place two days earlier – ed.).
A friend of mine is going to pick up jars from a steelworks near Opole, so that there is something to put soups in – a farm in Pszczew cooks them.
In Sieraków, a restaurant took over 200 kg of pork fat to make lard. We’ve also made a tonne of soured cabbage. Today a truck with goods is also coming from England.
In the unit near Chernihiv we wanted to leave a ton of flour. “Don’t leave it here, we don’t have a kitchen. It’s destroyed.” So yesterday we set up a fundraiser for PLN 8k for a field kitchen, and today we have it ready. A man came to see me. “I had to check it wasn’t a fake. But I see that you guys are not f***ing around. I already sent you the money.”
So, we are bringing a ton of peas and a field kitchen from the Bundeswehr – it can make 350 litres of soup at a time.
I also bought gas bottle heaters and fireplaces to heat with wood. We also carry a lot of sleeping bags, blankets, groats, vegetables… A lot of goods. We are going in as many as six cars. A friend from the Foreign Legion is coming with me to clear the place of mines.
Do you want to help? Continued aid to Ukrainian citizens in Kyiv / AMELIA Miedzychód
TOMEK SIKORA: “Before each departure, I’m so nervous I throw up”
I carried aid four times and we also sent five-six cars. Where to? To Vinnytsia – there are approx. 40 thousand refugees; Poltava – 120 thousand, with 1.5 million having passed through the city, and Kharkiv. And now even further, into the Luhansk region. Their needs are huge. Baby food, clothing, etc.
And there is a mined section on the way to Kyiv –we have to avoid it. In Boryspol too. North of Kyiv, even local mayors are telling Ukrainians not to go back because people are being blown up.
I saw large mined meadows, fields, whole state farms – marked with “Mines” signs.
One of the volunteers said that when they were evacuating people, it snowed during the night and they almost drove into a mine on the tarmac. They went out and walked for 5 km to find mines and carry them to the side of the road.
Volunteers who drop goods at the battle front check the boxes for planted GPS transmitters. Because it would give the Russians their coordinates. Driving through a darkened city during curfew is difficult. When you turn off the engine in the main square of such a city, you are in absolute blackness and silence.
Before each departure, I’m so nervous I throw up, even though we are not going to the front. Some drivers give up on the road. We had a lorry that turned back right from the border because the railway in Lviv was under fire.
Cars with volunteers from Belgium were supposed to go to Poltava. When they reached Vinnytsia, rockets fell on military buildings. So, the Belgians unpacked the goods in Vinnytsia and turned back. Another driver turned back in front of the bridge to Poltava – the bridges were mined and he was afraid there will be no way back.
It is difficult to transport people with PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. They are unpredictable. An 84-year-old woman told me about how her neighbours died when their homes were bombed. She was giggling like Pippi Langstrumpf when she told the story. When a deer jumped on my path, the woman grabbed my hands and I killed the animal.
Large-scale engineering works along the way are impressive. They dig huge pits, cut down entire groves, trucks bring in rails, and when you come back you see that bunkers are already there. I am impressed by this nationwide uprising – everyone wants to defend their land,
Women return to cities where there is no water, electricity or gas
What are the current needs? Everything for children, hygiene products, and I also carry tactical kits for the military – blood bands, walkie-talkies, binoculars, thermal imaging devices, drones. They need vests without ballistic inserts – they make them themselves from leaf springs. Scouts need sanitary pads – they put them in their boots, because they can absorb moisture and sweat for two-three days in the forest.
Let’s bring to Ukraine things that are not already there. We don’t bring water (which is the main content of jars of soup) because this would require fuel that we pay Putin for. Good intentions can thus finance this war.
BERNARD VAN DER ESCH: “Poles searched us thoroughly. They thought we were smuggling something”
I’ve been travelling since the first day of the war, first to the border, and then with doctor Kasia Pikulska – from the Medics’ Strike – to the area of Tarnopol, Lviv and further away. The warehouses at the border are already full.
We supply a territorial protection unit near Rivne. The farthest we go is Zhytomyr. We carry medicines, medical equipment, mainly for surgeries, but also equipment for soldiers, such as shovels, pumps, vests, food – that’s always there.
Driving at the beginning of the war was different from what it is now. There were many check points, not only at city borders. And enormous queues of Ukrainian cars. They stood on both sides of the road and we were driving in the middle. It was worse if there was a military transport coming from the opposite direction. Now it’s much easier.
One time we entered Ternopil after curfew and had no place to stay for the night. Then the anti-aircraft alarms started and we were standing in the middle of the street. I was stressed. Once, when we were heading back, Poles at the border searched us thoroughly. They thought we were smuggling something. But apart from that, these trips go without any major problems.
Although you still have to be careful with trivial things, e.g. you can’t have a phone with navigation on your windshield, so that the soldiers at the check point don’t think you’re recording them.
ODF: We deliver to Lviv. From there, local activists take the goods
The overwhelming majority of volunteers take aid to towns near the Polish border. Several of our interviewees reiterate: “Warehouses in Lviv are already full.” From there, aid is distributed around the country by local activists.
This is the system adopted, for example, by the Open Dialogue Foundation, which has been supplying Ukraine with equipment for territorial defence troops since the beginning of the war: night vision goggles, radios, drones, helmets and, above all, bulletproof vests manufactured in an own manufactory in Warsaw – over 5 thousand pieces.
After two months of war, the ODF calculated that they had delivered 56,868 pieces of defence equipment to Ukraine.
“We helped former US Marines buy pickup trucks for trips to Ukraine, and they helped us in working with ballistic plates and distributing vests. We are approached not only by Ukrainians, but also by Polish organisations, journalist friends and even politicians who want to donate equipment to their friends at the front,” says Bartosz Kramek, ODF.
These vests protect, among others, a Belarusian battalion, a unit of former Afghans, Crimean Tatars and… many war correspondents. During one of the trips with bulletproof vests and equipment for the Ukrainian army, the former marines were ambushed. On 17 March, their cars were heavily shot at near Bila Tserkva. Somehow no one was killed.