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Our trip from March 12 until 16, 2023

In March 2023, we - Marit, Cathelijn, and Lauren - set out on a trip to the Polish-Ukrainian border. The goal of this trip was to transport goods such as medicine, food, and clothing to humanitarian organisations at the border and provide a safe passage for Ukrainian refugees back to the Netherlands. In this blog, we will share our personal experiences surrounding this memorable trip.

Our journey began on the 12th of March, when we left Rotterdam travelling eastwards to Meppel. There we met with a volunteer who managed a warehouse filled with humanitarian goods. Through the efforts of many volunteers, relief supplies from all over the Netherlands are gathered and prepared for transport to Ukraine. With lots of help and under the guise of “we don’t transport air”, we managed to fill our van with everything that fit: IV bags, surgical masks, female sanitary products, non-perishable food, cookies, and medicine, to name just a few. After forcefully pushing the doors shut, we set out on the real journey towards Poland. We spent the rest of this day driving across Germany and arrived at the Polish border late in the evening. After receiving our second diner of the day from a caring Polish elderly couple, we had a good night's sleep before our next day of driving.

The following morning we left the Polish-German border and crossed through Poland. After another 9 hours of driving, we arrived at a remote storage facility near Przemyśl, roughly 10 minutes from the Ukrainian border. There we were welcomed by a volunteer who, besides running the storage facility, provided aid to animals hurt and displaced due to the war in Ukraine. We also met a Dutch volunteer, who would ultimately transport our goods into regions in Ukraine where help was needed most. They also offered us a place to stay for the time we were in Przemyśl, which we gladly accepted. This place was a rental house in which volunteers could stay for free, managed and funded by the Volunteer Housing Initiative. We stayed there for two nights, but most of the residents had been staying there since the start of the war. It was very special and heartwarming to be able to stay in this house. We’ve met many volunteers working in different shelters and organisations and had interesting conversations about the history of Ukraine and their lives as full-time humanitarian aid volunteers.

Our time in Przemyśl can be described as two-sided. On the one hand, life in Przemyśl continues. Despite the war going on just around the corner, most aspects of daily life seemed to remain relatively normal. We were able to explore and enjoy this picturesque town like any other. But on closer inspection, the war in Ukraine had left its mark. As one of the closest cities to the border, Przemyśl plays an important role as a hub for Ukrainian refugees and aid organisations. The town hosts many humanitarian shelters and the volunteers who work there. During our day in Przemysl, we managed to help the Volunteer Transport Initiative, which is part of the Volunteer Housing Initiative, by preparing 100 boxes with provisions, such as hygiene products, food, a head torch and medicines. These boxes were delivered to Izium in East-Ukraine the following Friday. Since we had some remaining money from our donations, we were able to financially contribute to the contents of the boxes. A couple days later, we received great pictures of the delivery of these boxes, which we added to this blog!

The next day, we picked up six Ukrainians from different shelters in Przemyśl. We got clear instructions where and who to pick up by On My Way UA, which was very helpful. OMW UA is the main organisation that facilitates and coordinates transport for refugees from Ukraine to the Netherlands, such as matching Ukrainians to drivers. We got to know our companions well. Four women and two children, aged 12 and 14 years, joined us on the trip back to the Netherlands. They originally came from Zaporizja, Kiev and Cherson. It was touching to hear their stories regarding the current situation in their hometowns and the rest of Ukraine. They really opened up to us and showed us many pictures of Ukraine before and during the war, their loved ones and their lives in general. We gained even more understanding and respect for them, especially because some had even fled completely alone. Important to mention, none of them spoke a word of English or German, so we were only able to communicate with a translator app. Eventually, this worked out really well with a bit of effort from both sides. At the end of the day, thanks to the help of the donations, we were able to provide them with dinner and a safe stay in a hotel near the border of Germany.

Of course, we also shared some insights and stories about the Netherlands. We talked with them about the biking culture, the flatness of the country, the dikes, the dunes and needless to say, the canals. We felt like these conversations gave them some reassurance and made them feel a bit at ease. We really enjoyed having them with us on our return trip to the Netherlands. Even though, for them it was only just the start. Still, knowing that all of them already heard some stories about the Netherlands or had acquaintances living there, reassured us that it is for the better to bring these people to a safer place..

After two days of driving, we arrived at the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht. This functions as the main reception centre for Ukrainian refugees in the Netherlands. They gave us a warm welcome, had an interpreter present and made sure that everyone was taken care of. We could not have wished for a better welcome for our travel companions. Eventually, we had dinner all together, exchanged contact information to stay in touch and said goodbye to one another. We hope that they all experience a safe, peaceful and pleasant stay in the Netherlands. Hopefully the war in Ukraine ends soon, after which they will be able to return to their homeland again. After a final big hug, the three of us drove back home to Rotterdam.

We want to end by saying that we are grateful to have made this trip together. Moreover, we have deep respect for all the volunteers that we’ve met in Przemyśl and in the Netherlands. Lastly, thank you so much to all the donors for their contributions that made this trip possible.

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