Like many of us, Nick Dymond, a 6th generation mason, was moved by the unfolding news of the terrible events in Ukraine, especially as he felt it was on his own doorstep and not in some far off land that he was unfamiliar with. Nick felt sympathy for how such events could easily affect any of us and how that must feel for those trapped in the war zone
Nick knew he needed to do something but felt it had to be hands on. He liaised with some contacts who he knew had already taken aid out to Warsaw in Poland. Nick was concerned that the aid that his contacts had taken out was just dumped at the entrance to the refugee centre along with aid sent from many other countries. This left Nick’s contacts feeling a bit disappointed that their efforts were not better used. Nick found out that people being evacuated from Ukraine were taken to a holding centre where they received aid before being bussed to Warsaw where the other donations were left. The evacuees were able to just select from the aid if there was anything they needed. Seeing this, Nick began to wonder about those who were not able to leave Ukraine, such as the elderly or disabled or even young families who may not be able to leave the country and whether these people were receiving any of the donated aid. Nick asked various people about this but could not get a definite answer as many were afraid to go into the Ukrainian war zone.
Nick spent some days researching and came across an organisation called the Ukraine Volunteer League (UVL), a group that modelled itself on the French Resistance. This group was based in Liviv but had been running supplies deep into Ukraine to support those on the front line, burying and hiding supplies for use by those fighting and those trapped in the war zone. Through liaising with the UVL, Nick was able to find out what aid supplies were needed. He devised a plan to deliver these donations but was determined to go further into the country to see that the aid was actually distributed to those most in need, the UVL was happy to accept this offer.
Nick set up a Just Giving and a Facebook page for donations and within a day he had enough to fill a van. Through working for the Welsh Government, Nick was able to get some help publicising his plans.
At this point, Matthew heard about his dad’s plans and contacted him and said ‘if you think I’m going to let you go to Ukraine on your own, you’ve got another thing coming’ Matthew insisted on going and being his dad’s ‘wing man’. As you can imagine, Nick was delighted with the offer of help from his son. Nick and Matthew spoke to Loyal Monmouth Lodge and was overwhelmed by the ‘phenomenal generosity’ of the members. The support he received gave Nick a tremendous feeling of pride in being part of a group that he had only been a member of for a short while.
Things came together quickly and within a week everything was packed and they were on the road. As part of the logistics for such a trip, Nick spoke to Enterprise Hire about hiring a van. He explained his plans and the fact that he intended taking the van into a war zone and that there was ‘a chance that it may get blown up’. To their credit, Enterprise Hire immediately said they would support him and gave him the van free of charge.
Two days before departure, Nick was contacted by the BBC who had heard from someone in the Welsh Government about the trip. The BBC asked Nick whether he would document his trip if they supplied the equipment. The footage would go toward a 10 minute item to be aired later in the Summer.
Having had the van hire donated, there still remained the issue of fuel to get there and back, in all the fuel costs ran to £800. Once Nick and Matthew reached Calais, they still had 21 hours driving to get to Ukraine, 1200 miles away.
Nick had carefully marked up each box in the van, clearly stating the contents and created a manifest for production at border control in Dover. This helped them cross to mainland Europe without an issue. However on arrival at the Ukrainian border they were met with armed forces who wanted to carefully check all items to make sure nothing was being smuggled through to support the Russian forces.
The Ukraine Volunteer League met Nick and Matthew at the border and provided them with an escort through the country, helping at each check point to smooth their progress to the front. At one checkpoint in a small village, they were stopped by a young boy of about 13 years old, who was the last able bodied male left in the village as all the other men had gone to fight on the front. He bravely challenged Nick and their escort vehicle with a butter knife, being the only weapon he had to protect those left behind. Stunned by this boy’s bravery and finding that the village had not had fresh water for days, Nick and Matthew gave them some of the bottled water they were carrying before moving on.
Nick and Matthew got as close to the fighting as possible before their escorts said that if they went any further they could loose their lives. The aid was transferred to another vehicle for the UVL to take it into the worst areas where people were still trapped.
The UVL sent Nick videos of the aid they had collected being distributed to those in the war zones, proving that this time the aid really did get to those in greatest need. Nick and Matthew spent the night in accommodation shared by the world press organisations. This appeared to be private accommodation that was given freely to them and others in appreciation for their efforts in getting aid to that area. This building was blown up shortly afterwards.
As Nick and Matthew prepared to leave they were approached by a family from which a young girl ran up to Nick and threw her arms around him, thanking him for the aid and the hope they had brought to their town, he was in her words ‘my hero’. The young girl gave Nick a necklace she had made and asked him to look after it, Nick promised he would treasure it forever.
Brethren, there is more to this story than can be put in an article like this and further information can be found on Nick’s Facebook page ‘Fill a van with aid’. The videos and photographs on there tell a lot more about this amazing trip by two very remarkable people.
This is not the end of the venture as Nick is already planning a further trip to take aid deep into Ukraine to help those trapped in the war zones. Nick has also bought an animal transport vehicle to help move abandoned pets to a place of safety until the owners can return to reclaim them. Apparently Nick may be looking for someone to join him as Matthew will be in Canada, I’m sure the pet rescue story will be just as moving.