This time, I think, I go better prepared, with snow chains, two spare wheels each for Sprinter and trailer, two lifters, compressor, power pack starter and battery loader, extra jerrycan for diesel, warm clothes, blankets and pillow to be able to spend the night in a car. And: This time we drive with 2 cars and 2 drivers per car.
I don’t want to repeat the December story. We load our convoy with
- donations from Verein für Gefährdetenhilfe Bonn
- with medical articles from donations of University Clinic Bonn
- 650 surgical gowns from Dr. Becker Clinics
- Hygiene articles for children and adults
- many plastic trash bags filled with warm second hand clothes
- 9 generators
- more than 30 field beds
- other medical devices such as crutches and pairs of plastic casts for broken legs.
Overall about 2 tons of donations
As always the challenge is to pack the donations in a way that the whole load is staying in place probably. Due to time constraints some of the donations were not packed in boxes and sorted. Normally this should be a no go, but we bite our teeth and pack, as we simply do not have enough time. We close the trailer and throw the rest over the back-door into the trailer as the trash bags cannot be stapled. When you open the door all will fall out again. Similar procedure as far as possible with the Sprinter. Let’s see how this goes at the border control. “Please open…”. I think I know what’s coming.
We drive through the early morning mist of the mountains. Around Kassel the sun is coming out and we have a great free ride till Kraków.
The only challenge is not coming too late. We are told the restaurant closes at 10:00 pm. So we keep on driving, changing drivers , stopping basically for gas and road tax payments only. The two of us with the truck arrived at about 21:30. Thankful to God for a protected ride we park the truck taking our personal stuff out and check in.
Restaurant is closed. I inquire again about closing time. The personal says it closes at 10:00 pm. So Information is ok. But: Cook gone. Hm.
Alright that’s good for diet. We decide to dump our luggage and meet for a beer in the bar which is open while we check in. 10 min later I’m arriving downstairs and guess what: Bar closed now too. “We are sorry….”Hm.
In the morning we come early to breakfast. A bus load of people line up in front of a single coffee machine. Buffet is empty. So a matter of logistics: Eat first, coffee later. Finally all bus departs and we have the coffee machine for ourselves. All good finally and we depart for the border.
On the way to the Ukrainian border
We have a rather uneventful ride, except on one occasion the app leads us to the target border control crossing through the Ukraine which caused us to arrive at the wrong border crossing. We adapt and the app leads us into smaller and smaller streets till we finally have to stop in front of a no entry sign. Hm.
Now we change the Apple app to the Google app and continue finally to the right destination. We pass with confidence an endless queue of large lories, km after km and stop 100m in front of the border control. We ask to get in on the “humanitarian aids” argument, basically asking for an exemption to the rules. This time we probably would have succeeded as usual with the magic word.
But we get the info that for trucks with trailers of totally more than 3.5 tons we have to use a different border. Rules changed in the last 2 weeks. Hm.
We adapt and finally arrive at another checkpoint. This one works well but our time plan to arrive in Lviv is screwed now and we have to stay overnight at a different place than planned.
We are going to a small town which we already know from the last tours and which was our planned second destination on our trip anyway. So, all logistics and people involved have to adapt again. Anyway, the border crossing is smooth, not many cars, no comparison to December 17. And, luckily opening of truck and trailer was without a major repacking exercise (this time).
We have to document all content of the donations on a form. Then some of this gets on a transcript and gets a stamp from the border control for the local charity. Finally we are in the Ukraine again and head for our destination city.
The first night in Ukraine
We are parking truck and trailer in a secure area behind a fence. Then go to dinner with a local driver. As usual we are well served with local food. Wonderful.
The hotel was known to me from December. But this time, a pleasant surprise: The shower works, warm water, no power interruptions. A lot has changed during 2 months.
We briefly meet a wounded soldier with crutches who was released home after a shot wound. We see the pain and the disappointment in his eyes. But for now he’s out of the immediate danger zone. The local city mayor says: “We start to get used to living with the war, like Israel. Generators we have enough now. Next we need heavy construction machinery and street repair machines and more people transporters…”
Indeed, the Small businesses around the hotel meanwhile all have generators, the repair process is fully running on electricity infrastructure. Let’s hope this can stay for a while. After a good night sleep we get our coffee and enjoy a rich local breakfast outside the hotel.
Meanwhile the daily routine get screwed up last minute for our coordinating party. The plan is to unload the generators and to attend a local ceremony to recognize the receipt of the generator donations. While we are waiting at the breakfast room, the mayor’s office and our coordinator have to deal with some additional hectic activities. Someone at the border documented some of the generators for a different destination, so the staff has to ask some people in Lviv to adapt the destination in a written document. Hm.
While all this happens we are waiting. That’s ok. It’s like at the federal armed forces in my past experience. Early up, breakfast, standing in the line for something. Waiting, waiting some more, then stop, lunch. Then get back in line, waiting again.
Finally we go on to the townhall. A short photo session instead of the ceremony, and we go on to the truck. As some of the material has to stay in the city, we first have to find it and unload it. Basically, the task is to completely empty and load the truck and trailer again as the order of unpacking changed due to the target city change. As we had a good breakfast and a fantastic dinner last night we are anyway supposed to burn some calories. Once we sit in the truck again my worries to come home with too much weight gain are gone. Instead I wonder how to stay awake for the rest of the trip.
Travel to Lviv
We are on the road again. The streets are a patchwork of wholes, at times as big as a football, some repaired parts in between, some rocks, some mud sections. Some of the wholes so deep you have to drive around them not to risk damaging tires and wheels. We make slow progress. They definitely need street repair machines. The closer we get to Lviv, the better the roads get.
Finally we arrive. We pick up a local coordinator and arrive at a storage location where some local people are going to help us. The storage is on the first floor. From the truck and trailer we bring all content through the entry hall, up two large staircases and through another hall to its destination. Several dedicated young and old people help. No mid aged men, guess why.
All over sudden multiple sirens get off. Warning on air missiles. There’s a possibility to wait and hide behind a wall of sand bags on the ground floor in a prepared shelter area.
But from the locals nobody stops working, all continue. Stoically. Then alarm is off, later on again, off again. Hm. We go along with the behavior of the locals. Finally truck and trailer are empty. Some more paperwork with the local charity people. Then we are off for something to eat. The sirens go off again.
(Turn on the speakers!) Oppressive atmosphere: constant siren noise. People live with the war.
Click on this link if VIDEO does not start.
I am told, some rockets went into the area, probably because Lviv is having some local military centers and education areas. Everywhere sandbags in front of cellars and tank barricades at strategic important corners.
In the city
We are off for a short city walk. We are impressed by the nice city center, many modern shops, bars and fancy restaurants.
We strand at a local brewery with life music. The music is louder than the sirens. People just go on with their life. I learn to give away my concerns for a moment. Orchestra plays “let my people go…”And “It’s raining again…”. Questions? Then : “Red Rue.. “ a local song. “червона рута….”. Everyone sings…
Back to the border
We pick up our luggage from the truck and drive to the hotel by car. We hope for a quiet night. After an uneventful night (thanks God), at breakfast, the sirens go off again.
We leave Lviv heading for the closest border hoping to be able to make it to Dresden in one go. A strange feeling remains. Feels like we are running away. We attempt to cross at Korczowa border crossing.
A 20 km long truck queue in front of the border. Mostly Ukrainian number plates but also foreign ones. Those truck drivers don’t have an easy life, probably waiting half of their overall travel time at border crossing. No toilet facilities, no escape.
We are at 10:20 at the border in the row of cars. It’s about 1 km long. We hope to be accepted as a car. Last time in December it was complicated and they ordered to be in the truck line with truck scanners etc. The passage goes smooth. We are out at around 13:00 local time in Poland. So we spend about 3.5 hrs at the border. Not bad, compared to the 9 hrs in December. Now we are heading for Dresden.
On the way back, bad weather conditions with rain, heavy wind from the side and from the front, gusts of wind. It takes definitely longer than expected. As usual we change drivers now and then to stay concentrated. Now also getting dark, almost no illumination on the street. Looks we arrive again when restaurants get closed. Hopefully we still arrive before 23:00. Thereafter we cannot check in anymore. While driving thoughts are coming up. Over some distance our conversation remains quiet.
Looking back at our trip I am leaving with mixed feelings. We certainly learned again, as usual, the hard way. If you think you are prepared for such a trip you are dreaming. What can go wrong, will (Murphy’s Law). The best strategy appears to be to surrender and staying flexible. We just can’t control our environment as we are used to.
Of course, no excuse for unpreparedness. Trash bags should usually not be transported in a long haul transport. “Doing things right is not the same as doing the right things.” (management versus leadership; see P. Drucker). Very true. Something to think about when we are getting over enthusiastic and run before we properly think this to the end. Brings me to another quotation: “A story is not thought through until it has taken the worst possible turn.”(F. Dürrenmatt, Swiss playwright, novelist, and essayist). Thanks God, our trip was not a Drama.
Remarkably, the generator demand meanwhile has been settled. There’s discount prices for generators in Ukraine now as well. Warehouses in Germany for generators are full and can be purchased at production costs. Production and donations have ramped up sufficiently. Within 2 months. The electricity infrastructure in the Ukraine has been repaired in an efficient way and is working, for the moment.
I am thinking charity has to constantly consider carefully what to transport on long haul transports. As Ukraine citizens are adapting quickly to live with the war in the Western Ukraine (I should not comment to the very different situation in other parts of the Ukraine), we need to understand the changing needs and adapt quickly. I wonder how often we really check needs specifically, rather than to go on collecting trash bags with content. All with good intentions but not a lot of focus. Not that this was the case with our trip, as we brought very relevant stuff this time, but there were nuances due to time constraints. This is not a phenomenon of charity targeted at Ukraine only, by the way.
I think also this is a long distance run, not a sprint. With changing targets. As we see, this is not done with a single project tour, we have to push hard to continue. And: What was very appropriate in December is not any more in February thereafter. What can we do to see the demands at the right time, to be able to play the game right for the most suffering parties?
Looks like tomorrow we are home again. No sirens. Protected environment. We had to leave our brave friends behind. We are also living with this war, but in a very different way. And we just have been to the West Ukraine only. We will come back. My uncomfortable feeling remains.
(Dr. Matthias Straub, volunteer at Menschenfreude e.V.)
Further information about our Ukraine transports
- Feedback from Ukraine: Here the donations from the last transport have arrived.
- The call for this transport can be read here: “Our friends are holding out at 2°C. In the room.” – Electricity generators for people in Ukraine
- Overview: Ukraine Projectpage
- In our social media, on Instagram and Facebook, you can follow the activities of our team around Matthias. We are also happy to answer your questions at any time. Feel free to contact us.
- There will be more transports to alleviate some of the hardship of the people. We continue to collect donations for this purpose. We will issue an official donation receipt.
Donation account: Recipient: Menschenfreude e.V.
IBAN: DE41 6609 0800 0006 6116 99
Or via the donate button: