A builder from Widnes drove across Europe for two days to deliver a van load of medical supplies to Ukrainians fleeing war.
Jon Anderson, 49, found himself spending days at the border supporting the aid effort before picking up a refugee and her son to bring back to safety in the UK. Jon had been shocked by scenes of devastation in the news and decided to do something to help, prompting his wife to ask if he was serious.
Before long he’d packed a van with bandages, cannulas, dressings, antiseptics, needles, and other medical kit as well as food, baby food and nappies and set off for the Polish border with Ukraine. He said family and friends were “incredible” and backed the effort by donating items and more than £2,600 towards costs.
READ MORE:Man drives 1,700 miles to Ukraine to rescue mum-in-law
After completing two-and-a-half days of trans-continental motoring, Jon arrived at night and immediately set about distributing the supplies to those who needed them. Jon, also a volunteer blood biker in the city region when back home, told the ECHO: “I’m a local builder and I had been watching the Ukrainian crisis and it had been bothering me, you turn off after a while as it gets too much. It started to bug me.
“My missus came home from work and I said ‘what do you think about me going to the Ukraine-Poland border?’ She said ‘are you serious?’ I said ‘I’ve never been more serious in my life’
“I’ve got a van, I’d fill it with medical supplies, baby food, nappies – things they need – and drive it out there. That was my plan.”
Instead of heading straight home to Widnes after emptying his van, dad-of-two Jon stayed in the area for days as a volunteer doing shuttle runs for other volunteers from Poland and abroad and making himself useful around the area of Korczowa, Medyka and Przemyśl .
He mainly bedded down for a few hours at night in a bunk in his van, with his woollen hat keeping the frosty temperatures at bay as the plunge to -4°C causing his breath to freeze on the glass. However he also found sanctuary with an offer from a priest to sleep in a monastery and the refugee center itself.
During his stay, the gravity of the situation was brought home to him as he found himself taking a wrong turn towards a Polish anti-aircraft battery, heard the distant rattle of anti-aircraft fire and thudding explosions, saw smoke rising from the horizon after a Russian airstrike on an airport at Lviv, and was shocked to learn of human traffickers looking to prey on people in dire vulnerability.
He said: “Every day of it was heartbreaking.” One of his tasks involved taking a volunteer to a “brilliant” pharmacy where they stocked up on medicines, painkillers and more supplies to be taken across the border to share with Ukrainians in the city of Lviv, which has suffered missile attacks from Russian forces.
Jon said: “I stayed for longer than intended and when it came to the end I was pretty burned out. I was burned out a few times.”
On the way back he decided to offer someone the chance to travel back to the UK for sanctuary, and asked someone who spoke Ukrainian to make a sign for him advertising the offer of a lift.
This caught the attention of 49-year-old Ukrainian Galyna, her teenage son Max with their cat, who together had fled the heavily bombed city of Sumy near the Russian border but had found themselves waiting five days in Krakow for some way to continue their journey.
Over coffee, Jon and Galyna verified he was a genuine volunteer, and Galyna was “over the moon” to find transport for her, her son and cat, but on the long drive back were barred entry to England at Calais, where they had to stay behind to work their way through the application system, including trips to Paris for biometrics.
Jon said this was despite him having found a suitable sponsor in the form of a single mum with a cat in Runcorn who had offered to take the refugees in, and despite Jon and his wife agreeing to take them in as a backup plan.
He told the ECHO the process for Galyna was needlessly complicated, requiring return trips between Calais and Paris despite being rescued focused in Calais. The situation was difficult for Jon, who is keeping in touch with Galyna and hopes to help her to complete the trip.
He said: “We thought we had everything boxed off and we’re prepared to put them up, but there’s so much misinformation, they’re being sent on a right race round Paris. They’ve got an English sponsor and they have to go to Paris to get biometrics done.
“If they’re in Calais they have to go to Paris and if they have to get their passport they have to go to Paris. There are all these complications and hurdles – does it need to be that complicated or are we not being that helpful?”
Jon added he discovered there was “great” support from Halton Borough Council for helping rescuers to settle in the area but he felt the service and what’s available could be “advertised” more prominently so residents looking to help the cause know where to turn.
The memories are set to stay with Jon, who was moved by the scenes at the Ukrainian border and the “grateful” response from the refugees. Jon told the ECHO: “The hardest part about the whole thing was coming home.
“You can see how much they still need. You know you’re a small piece of it, a tiny piece, but you’ve touched people’s lives, you’ve helped them. There are so many more who need help, and when you’ve exhausted your resources and yourself, it’s so difficult to get in the van and drive away.”