War in Ukraine: East Antrim man returns home after second aid trip

An Islandmagee resident, who recently returned from his second aid trip to Ukraine, is calling on financial support for residents of the war-torn region as their situation worsens.

David Greer travelled to the country at the end of November with communication apparatus, water pumps and medical supplies.

Although David, who returned home on December 17, was humbled by the generosity and spirit of the Ukrainian people, he saw how conditions were more severe than when he was there in April 2022.

He explained: “It was very different this time. The first trip had gone so well. I wouldn’t say that lured us into a false sense of security, but we didn’t expect some of the things that were thrown at us this time.

Driving past tanks on the way into Donetsk.

"The weather had a massive impact. Last year we got there when the worst of their winter was over and it was mild. This time, I’ve never experienced cold weather like it. Driving was difficult too. When the air raid sirens sound, the main roads, including motorways are closed. What should have been a five-hour trip, would turn into a nine or 10-hour drive.

"My wife Ruth came with me for the first leg of this trip. We travelled in a van, packed with supplies for the Ukrainian people, on the boat from Dublin to Cherbourg in France. From there, we headed to Belgium then onto Germany, before making our way to Poland.

"In Germany, the van began to experience brake failure. This was pretty scary because there were around four or five inches of snow. Everywhere was closing down and it would have been around three days before we could have got the van fixed. I was due to meet a contact in Krakow and I didn’t have three days to wait. I drove slowly into Poland and managed to get the van fixed there.

"Ruth, who I couldn’t have managed that stage of the trip without, departed from Krakow Airport back home. We’d driven over 1,200 miles and even just the company, as well as helping me navigate was an amazing support. I then headed on with my contact, Ivan, a pastor, to Lviv, our first stop in Ukraine.”

Setting up satellite equipment.

Transport problems

Following the earlier vehicle issues, David again experienced transport problems when travelling at night in Ukraine.

He stated: “After Lviv we’d made our way to Kiev. We were rushing to get away from the city when we’d a tyre blowout. This was a scary experience. It was dark and extremely cold. It was minus 17 degrees and when I attempted to take the wheel off, the skin on my knee stuck to the road- it was that cold.

"The road was really empty. There weren’t too many other vehicles. We put the hazard lights on, but hadn’t attempted to flag anyone down. A big lorry saw us and pulled over. He used a trolley jack to get the van up and get the wheel fixed. If he hadn’t stopped, I have no doubt we would have been there all night in the freezing temperatures. The man didn’t speak any English. Ivan communicated with him. We could not have thanked him enough.

David pictured with charity volunteers in Ukraine.

"Following another early start, we headed on to Donetsk, an area which had been under Russian control. Driving through Ukraine, it was hard to know where we were a lot of the time as the street signs had been removed. I understand this was done in order that if the region was invaded, the opposing forces would not know where they were. It was on this leg of the trip that we really saw the impact of the conflict. We were having to go through staging posts and there was a lot of heavy military equipment on the roads. At times we were driving behind tanks.

"We stayed at a church in Donetsk which had been converted into temporary bedrooms for people. There were around 60 people there - a mix of elderly people and families. They were people with nowhere else to go, they had nothing. This was a refuge for them.

"One of the main issues they were facing was a lack of clean water. They were having to purchase pallets of water and this was eating into the limited funds they had. We were able to provide a water pump and this is now a hub for the local community. The pumps are designed to be able to provide water to villages of around 1,000 people. However, many of the villages we encountered did not have as many people living there due to people evacuating the area. The people were so appreciative.”

Although the residents were facing hardships, including a lack of clean water and hygiene provision, David feels their resolve and spirits were still very positive.

After the van had a tyre blowout in freezing conditions.

Military Aircraft

David, who is originally from Hillsborough, added: “People were still preparing for Christmas when we were there. They were trying to carry on as normal as possible. At times we were only a few kilometres from the frontline and could hear shooting, as well as seeing low flying military aircraft. Shops were open, but there wasn’t a lot of stock. We gave people supplies when we could and they were thankful.

“We were with army doctors and medics giving them both medical and other types of aid throughout the trip.

"I wish I’d been able to do more. I’m thankful for the support I’ve received from the public, but feel the only way substantial help can be provided, is if I get corporate funding. I’m asking any businesses, if they’re willing to provide assistance, to please get in touch via [email protected] .”

Read More
East Antrim man 'honoured' to be helping Ukrainian people

An online fundraising page has been established for the Ukrainian people. At the time of publication, almost £8,500 has been raised. To donate, click here

There was deep snow on many roads.