On 17 January 2023, upon the initiative of the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF), Members of the Polish Parliament representing various opposition parties i.e. Piotr Borys (PO), Paweł Krutul (Lewica), Hanna Gill-Piątek (Polska 2050) and Witold Zembaczyński and Adam Szłapka (Nowoczesna) personally donated the most needed equipment and assistance to one of the AFU’s strategic units i.e. young UAV operators representing an air-reconnaissance group known as Madiar’s Birds. The group acts as military ‘eyes’ at the hottest spot on the eastern front – the city of Bakhmut. This mission was accompanied by a group of activists representing friendly organisations, journalists and photographers, as well as two rescue workers and two paramedics. The expedition to inferno lasted four days.
Day One. The Training Session.
Since members of the humanitarian aid convoy came from different parts of Poland, the day before crossing the national border, they all met at the mission’s starting point located near the Hrebenne-Rawa Ruska border crossing. Once there, rescuers from the International Voluntary Fire Brigade – Paweł Gębalski and Jakub Szymański – provided training in tactical battlefield medical aid. For Marcin Mycielski, Łukasz Krencik and Natalia Melnychenko who represented ODF, the training was just a refresher of the knowledge they had acquired just a month earlier during the NATO TCCC course in Kyiv.
Day Two. Kyiv.
The convoy set off for Kharkiv as early as 5:00 a.m., as on the way the Polish politicians were still to attend a pre-scheduled meeting at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Upon arriving in Kyiv, the convoy members were greeted by deputies, Messrs Mykola Stefanchuk and Mykola Katsan, and the Chair of the Kamianets-Podilskyi City Council, Mr Mykhailo Simashkevych, who handed over commemorative flags signed by themselves and army representatives. Then, at a lunch, Polish and Ukrainian MPs discussed the possibilities of their further cooperation, especially in the area of support for the process of reconstruction of Ukraine by the Polish Parliament (and potentially the national government after the elections) and Polish local authorities.
The Ukrainians, including Mykhailo Simashkevych, Denys Shevchuk, Mykola Katsan і Anatoliy Bernashevskiy, then joined the convoy not only with their own car, but also with an ambulance, donated earlier by Poland, which they agreed to deliver to the frontline as part of this mission. As Ukrainian officials, they were able to facilitate the convoy’s passage through all checkpoints as it continued towards Bakhmut until it was taken over by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In turn, the Open Dialogue Foundation donated five bulletproof vests for them for use during aid missions to combat zones. Two TCCC instructors from the ‘SpecAeroMedic’ school in Kyiv i.e. Alina Pustylnyk and Andriy Steshenko, also joined the convoy.
Sadly, not all members of the mission managed to reach the meeting in Kyiv. 50 km beyond the Polish-Ukrainian border, a minibus transporting Korneliusz Wieteska from the ‘Cicho’ Foundation and deputy mission leader Natalia Melnychenko broke down. The vehicle was additionally hauling a trailer with two tonnes of food. As a result, our logistics engineer Łukasz Krencik, who travelled with the EO Poland’s representative, Mr Tomasz Iwanow, turned the ODF vehicle back more than 100 km to pick up Natalia and the trailer, and the defective bus was towed back by Vladyslav Prischenko, a colleague of Korneliusz. All In all, the trailer did not reach its destination – and due to the fact that the tyres had been torn due to an excessive load, Lukasz, Natalia and Tomasz had to abandon the loaded trailer at a guarded spot on the outskirts of Kyiv (see below to read more on its further fate). Since they realised that they would reach their next assembly venue i.e. a hotel in Kharkiv, only after 5:00 a.m., they eventually decided to head straight for the frontline towns.
Day 3. The Battlefront.
For Natalia, Lukasz and Tomas, the first stop on their long journey towards the battlefront was the town of Izium, which had been liberated from Russian occupation only four months earlier. Local activists who looked after the afflicted residents were already waiting there for their arrival, and it was to them that the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Poland financed 10 power generators.
The next town, and at the same time, an assembly centre for all mission participants prior to the last leg of their journey to Bakhmut, was Kramatorsk, where aid was handed over to the 125thTerritorial Defence Brigade – a 5.5kW generator and 200kg of disinfectant gels, which also serve as heating fuel. Apart from the ODF team, and the group of aforementioned Polish and Ukrainian parliamentarians, rescue workers and instructors, other activists such as Bartłomiej Wadas, Bernardyna Zygarowicz-Filar and Grzegorz Madejski, journalists Marcin Ogdowski and Zbigniew Parafianowicz and photographer Piotr Beym also arrived from Kharkiv.
Kramatorsk was also the location from where AFU soldiers took the convoy under their custody. Sviatoslav Boyko, a representative of The Madiar’s Birds air reconnaissance unit, which ODF has been assisting since July last year, headed a convoy that had already gone directly to Bakhmut or, more precisely, to the two so-called Unbreakable Points i.e. hidden venues where the remaining inhabitants of this ruined and depopulated city (there are about 7,000 inhabitants left out of more than 72,000) can receive aid, food, get warm or take a shower. The unloading of the aid supplies and taking them to the aid stations was handled in great haste, amidst the roar of falling artillery, and the very arrival of the convoy was kept a top secret until the last moment, even from the city authorities. It was all done like this for safety reasons. Sviatoslav Boyko explained that: “Such a convoy, composed of so many vehicles and attended by foreign politicians, is a tempting bite for the Russian army. And, sadly, there is no shortage of traitors who could pass on valuable information to the occupying forces in the city”. The mission participants left, among others, five tonnes of food parcels, head torches, trench candles, half a tonne of pet food and hygiene products at two Unbreakable Points.
Then all the minibuses, assisted by the AFU headed to the town of Kostiantynivka, where Madiar’s Birds base and headquarters are located at a hidden spot. The site is the object of a persistent search by Russian scouts. Therefore, the mobile phones of all participants in the mission had to be switched off and there was a total ban on taking photos in the surrounding area. Sviatoslav Boyko and the commander of the ‘Birds’ gave the visitors a tour of the base, showed them the equipment they work on and talked about their operations and successes on the battlefront. The base also housed the handover of bulletproof vests, medicines, winter military clothing and the most important aid for the reconnaissance soldiers – 13 DJI Mavic 3 drones.
On the same day, everyone returned safely to Kharkiv. There, the city authorities received a generator from the Polish visitors.
Day Four. The Return.
The next morning, almost all mission participants set off on their journey back to Poland. However, the ODF’s yellow minibus had one more task to accomplish: to retrieve the food trailer left at Kyiv, repair it and hand over the loaded goods, which would be then passed on to the most needy people. This is exactly what happened – thanks to the selflessness and kindness of the people of Kyiv, the trailer was repaired free of charge and the donations from “Cicho” Foundation went to a centre for Ukrainian internal refugees. Thus, the #OpositionForUkraine mission successfully came to an end.
As part of our mission, we delivered 15 tonnes of aid, including:
From the Open Dialogue Foundation and its partner organisations:
- 13 DJI Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Fly More recon drones; PLN 130000
- Infiray Zoom ZL38 thermal imaging device; PLN 9500
- 47 bulletproof vests; PLN 100110
- 10 x 2800W and 3000W power generators (donated by EO Poland Fund); PLN 20000
- 5,5kW power generator (donated by KO parliamentarians); PLN 15000
- 5 tons of food (donated by Bednarska School Complex); PLN 28000
- 103 (of 500) head torches (donated by Kulczyk Foundation); PLN 2500
- 200kg of trench candles; PLN 900
- 200kg of disinfectant gels which also serve as a heating fuel; PLN 60000
- 500kg of pet food (donated by Bednarska School Complex); PLN 5000
- 50kg of feminine hygiene products (donated by Kulczyk Foundation); PLN 5000
- 50kg of pharmaceuticals and medical devices (donated by Magdalena Sroka): PLN 6000
- carton of haemostatic dressings (donated by Belgium Aid Staff); PLN 3200
- reflective waistcoats and other items (donated by Bednarska School Complex); PLN 2300
- ca. a dozen of bags with winter clothes (donated by Dometic’s employees); PLN 1200
From the mission’s partners and Polish MPs:
- Three 7,5kW power generators (donated via local authorities via Mr Piotr Borys, Polish MP); PLN 18000
- One 2 KW power generator (Messrs Zembaczyński and Szłapka); PLN 2500
- 12 cartons of food for children suffering from cancer; PLN 17000
- 10 cartons of medications, including surgical gowns; PLN 8000
- 4 rescue-bags; 820 PLN
- 4 large bags of clothes; PLN 800
- 2 bags of shoes; PLN 600
- 6 cartons of toys; PLN 500
- 2 pallets of freeze-dried food, 1 pallet of canned food, 1 pallet of sleeping bags, 1 pallet of bandages, 2 pallets of drinks, half a pallet of detergents, half a pallet of Nutria Drink (donated by Messrs Zembaczyński and Szłapka, Polish MPs); PLN 30000
- 250 parcels for civilians – 8-9 kg each; PLN 13750
- 50 parcels for children; PLN 2000
- 700 kg of instant soup preserves (Polish Army); PLN 13588
- 6 power generators; PLN 15000
- 4 drones; PLN 40000
- pallet of wound dressings; PLN 14000
- 1500 candles; PLN 1500
- 5000 Paracetamol pills; PLN 3000
- 2000 Ketokaps pills; PLN 949
- winter uniforms; 3000 PLN
- 70 pairs of tactical winter gloves; PLN 3500
- 100 pairs of thermal socks; PLN 5000
- 500 energy bars; 2500 PLN
- 500 Snickers bars; PLN 1500
- 500 energy drinks; PLN 2000
- 10 shovels/spades; PLN 500
- 20 sleeping bags: PLN 8600
- Female sanitary pads: PLN 3000
- AK-47 magazines – 40 items; PLN 4000
- Mercedes 319 Ambulance; PLN 150000
The total approximate value of the donated aid was PLN 753 417