Ukraine diary: reports from Poland and Ukraine. Latest news!

The partner of one of our readers has gone to Poland to help with the effort to rescue refugees from Ukraine. He’s a field/trauma medic with extensive experience having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had intended to go straight into Ukraine to join extraction efforts, but the attack on the Ukraine military base has changed everything as he landed in Poland, so he made a snap decision to get to the border and do all he can to help the victims of Putin’s war.

Gordon arrived late at night on 13 March 2022. We will be sending his reports daily, if G has time to make notes, and update this article every time we get news.

Day 30

Writing this from the Polish side of the border. We have a small team, three vehicles laden with medical supplies, food, water pump, electrical kit, generator, dog food and much more – all desperately needed items. Unfortunately, due to unnecessary red tape we will spend about 12 hours, possibly longer here.

On a brighter note, our superstar Graham once again brought supplies to Medyka and our medical tent, including the humanitarian aid signs in English, Ukrainian and Russian that you can see in the picture, plus pads for the AED (defibrillator) and small portable oxygen cylinders with tubes and masks.

Please keep donations coming to help Graham, Ciaran and Bear do what they are doing; without people like them this whole thing could not happen.

Thank you.

EU and Polish flags side by side

Hopefully we will get over the border soon and get the supplies to where they need to be, as they are useless sitting in the vehicles. Then we can collect the 148 children and bring them to safety and out of the war they have been trapped in for the past six weeks.

Update: Got over at 4am UK time…

Day 29

Yet another frustrating day, waiting for the green light to go into Ukraine to evacuate these children.
Meanwhile I spent my time at the border, some of it on the Ukrainian side. Very busy again, with around three thousand people trying to get across the border and to safety in Poland.
From the large queue there was a sudden shout of “HELP!”

Another volunteer and I went over to see what was going on.

In the middle of a large huddle of people was a child around 12 years old who was fitting on the floor.
Once this seizure subsided enough to allow us to move him safely, we lifted him into a wheelchair and began to move him to the Ukrainian border post. We jumped past about two thousand people and got the passports stamped relatively quickly; then we made our way to the Polish border.

The child had another big, violent seizure which threw him from the wheelchair so that he hit the floor. We again waited for this to subside before putting him back in the wheelchair and continuing on the quarter mile walk to the border.

The Polish authorities were good and got us through fast. I called for another medic to meet us with a stretcher to prevent any more accidents. The stretcher met us as we got through the Polish border. We transferred the patent to the stretcher and carried him for the next half mile to the medical tent.
When we spoke to the mother we discovered that the family had been travelling for three days from Mariupol and had hardly eaten. As a result, the child was suffering from exhaustion, lack of nutrition and stress and this combination had brought on the seizures.

We fed the mum, child and big brother, provided them with warm and somewhere to rest. After two hours he had recovered enough to leave and so they were able to continue their journey.

Day 28

“Hi, sorry it’s been a while.
The last week has been hectic and moved in so many different directions. The footflow going through the aid point has slowed dramatically to around 200 refugees per day. So we decided to turn our efforts on extracting people from Ukraine to Medyka. This has involved contacting and communicating with town mayors and other people and included getting documents sorted to stop the Ukrainian army seizing the vehicles.

The first and largest independent extraction job is about to begin with a small team of us six men – all unarmed. We are taking a bus laden with food, medical supplies and other humanitarian resources to a village in the Chernobyl area, where we are to try and fix the electric supply to an ‘institution’ for disabled children, sort out the distribution of the stores to the village and, as I prefer to call it, the home for said children.

Phase 2 is to take 148 of the children to the border. All going well this should take three days. However, we are already a day late due to political red tape at the border thanks to Poland. Here are pics of the vehicles we are using for this job. It will take a further 3 trips to extract them all.

It shouldn’t be this hard to help people. It’s so frustrating; hours of calls, countless emails and just crawling forward.

This is what refugees see as they come through the Ukrainian border post and then it’s a quarter of a mile walk to the Polish border.

And finally UNHCR do something useful. But where were they when thousands were here when it was minus 10 at night?”

Day 20

As we all look in horror at the evidence of Russian barbarism and brutality in Bucha, Gordon continues with the extraction efforts in the area around Kyiv. Unfortunately, the weather has intervened.

“So last night was very frustrating. We were to go to Chernihiv about 90kms north of Kyiv to extract three people. Chernihiv has been pretty much under siege by the Russian army since day two of the invasion, and now has no passable roads allowing vehicle access to the the city. This means that for ten days they have had no fresh water, food or medical supplies delivered.

This also means that the extraction of its population is incredibly difficult.

With a communication link between the city mayer and myself we hatched a plan to begin extractions. I would contact the Mayer at a certain point on the route, he would then send the three innocent civilians to an arranged pick-up point at the corner of a forest approximately three kilometres outside the city; this would mean that they would need to ford a river as the foot bridge is guarded and the road bridge was blown up ten days before.

We set off in good time, and estimated that the outward trip would take around six hours. It was snowing heavily when we crossed into Ukraine. As we travelled north the snow worsened and, in turn, slowed our progress. After three hours of driving our car got stuck in the snow. At this point we decided to turn round and head back to Medyka. It took us the best part of an hour to get the car back on the road and four hours to the border.”

More to follow.

Day 17

We are tasked to go through the night to a town in the south-west of Ukraine, an area reasonably untouched by war.

We’re to work with others to move the 16 residents from an elderly care home to a new home in Poland. About an hour into the five hour journey we received word that things may not be as straight forward as we had thought.

Report from the care staff at the home was that after they told the residents about the move, early the following morning the residents became unsettled and began attacking the staff. The situation was that all staff had been assaulted and had been locked out of the home. The residents were saying “this is our home and our country and we will defend it.”

Thankfully by the time we arrived the situation had calmed and some had already gone to the new home.

We collected two males who were tired after their antics and slept the whole way.

Day 16

Gordon has been putting Graham and Bear’s deliveries (and your donations) to good use and has drawn up a new shopping list for the next trip.

“The oxygen concentrator is all set, working well and used on two patients so far. Word has got round that we are the only pepole with oxygen.”

“The chair on its first outing”

Day 15

Graham and Bear have arrived! Gordon and his medic volunteer colleagues now have a defibrillator, oxygen concentrator, medivests which actually have useful supplies in them, and much, much more. Much jubilation and huge thanks to Graham, Ciaran and Bear for getting the stuff many of you donated money for down to where it’s needed at Medyka!

Gordon in his properly-fitting and equipped vest.
“This stuff is on it’s way to 70 people who are hiding out in a church in South East Ukraine, along with plenty more good stuff.” Gordon

Graham explains about the change of rules to try to stop the people traffickers exploiting the situation at the border and just how difficult it is to get a UK visa:

To follow Graham and the van as it heads to Medyka:

Day 13

“We carried out our first run to Kyiv. It took 4 hours 20 mins to get to the maternity hospital. Here we collected a young lady who was due to give birth soon. On route we noticed a few Russian aircraft over the Lviv area and some plumes of smoke.

On the way back with our pregnant passenger and her mother we noticed large amounts of black smoke plus other smaller plumes of smoke coming from Lviv and the aircraft were now bombing the outskirts of the city near the main road.

As a result the queues at the border were bigger than I’ve ever seen.

On a brighter note, the young lady’s mother texted me this morning to let me know that baby Isaac John (my middle name) was born during the early hours of this morning and both baby and mum are doing well.”

Day 12

“We completed two runs in the car to Liviv successfully; this is approximately one hour each way to the central aid post. This area is full as people from all over Ukraine have fled to Liviv in the hope of not having to leave the country.
When I returned to the border I went back to the Ukrainian side of the border and assisted yet another elderly couple acçros the border and to safety. The medical tent is a busy as usual.”

Day 11

Day 10

“More people coming through today.

Due to the heat we had many suffering from dehydration and overheating.

One cardio situation, treated on site with no issues.

The refugees from yesterday who were in hiding were picked up by coaches and brought into camp, where theywere fed and sent quickly to the reception centre.

All in all a good day at our med tent.
Still not got any oxygen.”

Day 9

G took a break for a day, much needed after what he has seen. He has returned to the camp, energies renewed.

‘Very slow with refugees trickling through the border. The low numbers are because from 0200 – 0400hrs this morning the last 10 miles of the route was being attacked by indiscriminate artillery fire. This caused two coaches full of people to stop and all the people told to get out; the coaches turned round and left the woman and children to fend for themselves.

They headed for a nearby wood one kilometre from the road, while the shells kept falling. There they hid in temperatures that reached minus 8 degrees. As daylight came, the shells had stopped but the people wouldn’t move as they were too scared to be out in the open.

As of 19:30hrs they are still there, but they were fed by a group of volunteers who went to their aid from Medyka. They wanted to wait until night to move.

The Ukraine police were issued with a request to assist with transport for them, but refused.

Other people who would have left Liviv today as the fighting gets closer to the city stayed there as they are not confident the corridor is safe. The redult was that it was a quiet but frustrating day.

Hopefully the people hiding in the woods move soon as it’s already minus three degrees.’

URGENT APPEAL: adults are OK when it comes to clothes, but children are another story. Children’s clothing is desperately needed. Any retailers out there want to help? Get in touch!

Day 7

G added:

“No oxygen bottles left, but did source some cannula kits with fluid bags, so winning in life.”

Day 6

Today began as normal with a steady flow of people coming through. I went over to Ukraine again to help an elderly lady over the border in a wheelchair.

On the Ukrainian side I found the biggest queue of refugees that I’ve yet seen; all the volunteers over there were saying the same. This was because Russia had attacked Lviv airport, thus bringing the threat to Lviv once again and forcing people to flee to the border and safety.

Once again I witnessed an unaccompanied minor attempting to get to safety; she was 15 years old and terrified. The Ukrainian border guards were their usual aggressive selves, shouting at her till she cried. We can’t intervene.

I got the elderly lady to the camp and reunited with family – this is always very emotional.

As I returned to the medical tent I assisted with treating another cardiac arrest, and using the last of our oxygen [now added to Ciaran and Graham’s shopping list]

Mid afternoon I went to work with a group who have been tasked to secure the corridor from Lviv to get here. Unfortunately, due to operational security, I can’t go into details. What I can say is that it won’t be easy.

Day 5

I spoke to G via WhatsApp. He was in Ukraine, just over the border, waiting for a casualty arriving by car. He had no idea what state the casualty would be in as they had had no information beyond the fact that the patient was en route.

“I am wearing a medivest…it looks good but all the pockets contain are some plasters and a few bandages. And a pair of scissors. Wow. Nothing of any use…Oh, I nearly forgot, rubber gloves that I can blow up into balloons to entertain kids.

The vest is just to get me through the checkpoint. I don’t think I am in any immediate danger. It takes me, as a medic, about an hour to get through the passport check and an hour to get back in again. The queues on the Ukrainian side are four or five hours long and these people who have walked miles and miles are presenting with hypothermia at night and heatstroke in the day.

I was really upset yesterday to find three kids at the Ukrainian border post – 9, 11 and 14 years old. They’re on their own. They latched onto me and didn’t want to let go of my hand. Their Mum put them on a bus; she’s stayed behind with her disabled elderly Mum. The guards said they’d look after them and feed them. It’s hard to get to the bottom of what’s going on but it seems the Dad fled to Poland at the start of the war. If he comes to get them he’ll be sent back to fight. If a father does come to the border with his kids, he’s allowed to see them across and into the camp, but he has 30 minutes to get out of Ukraine and 30 minutes to get back in again. It’s a three quarter of a mile walk to the reception camp so it can’t be done. It’s harsh.

To be honest, I got the same emotional feeling as leaving my own kids when I went off on a tour of duty. It was hard to see these kids on their own, no parent. It’s not a unique situation, I am afraid.

This morning the kids were still there, in the shitty little tent with the blankets on the floor.

Apparently the camp is not going to be allowed to take more than 2000 people a day. It was originally meant to handle no more than 1000. Lviv is only 50 miles away and its normal population of 2million has risen to 3.5million as a result of people fleeing there. It’s been ‘safe’ to date, but if its attacked I can’t see those people having any option but to come here. It’s their closest border crossing. I’ve no idea how they will handle this.

The mood in the camp has changed in the last 24 hours or so. The open, friendly atmosphere amongst the aid workers and volunteers isn’t there in the same way at all. People talk in the back of tents. There are Polish secret police around. 7 feet tall. Nothing secret about them at all. Occasionally they surround an individual and walk them away. No idea why. We’ve had Russians in the camp, for sure.

It’s all a lot more complicated than two uniformed armies fighting each other, that’s clear.”

Propaganda is everywhere and, as we should know by now, its being weaponised like never before. All G can do is save lives through his medical expertise and hang on until more kit arrives, like the defibrillator etc.

“The medical tents all work together [there are multiple agencies represented at the camp, inevitably] and we share resources, so when Ciaran and Graham get here, we’ll share supplies with the others. Some of the other ‘service’ areas are not working so well. There are people desperate to help and when they run out of stuff they feel useless, so some resort to nicking stuff from other tents so they can keep helping. There’s no sharing. Luckily we medics all work well together and we’re just focused on treating people as best we can and saving lives. “

G had to go. He updated me later:

“My casualty arrived. He’s got an open head wound. I have done all I can but Border Control won’t let him out because his documents aren’t correct, so I can’t get back to the camp.”

Waiting for an update.

“2:30: had to walk two miles to meet the car due to the queue for the border. Back safe, took four and a half hours to get the casualty through the Ukrainian border, as he’s under 60 years old, and needs paperwork to say he can’t fight. During this time I had to change the dressing on his head three times, after a neurological op only two days ago.
Had a check on the kids but can’t do it again as the little one ran to me and the older girl asked can we cross now. Again I felt I had failed them. They seemed ok, just looked lost and sad.
But soon I must sleep.”

The queues have been building steadily. The pictures are from the morning and represent about a three hour wait which will get longer as the day goes on.

Day 4: people (and Twitter) power:

Remember that request for a defibrillator and medical supplies? Well, we messaged that request to a guy we (and 46,000 others) follow closely: Ciaran, the euro courier. You might have seen his pinned tweet:

Ciaran and Graham raised a lot of money thanks to all the kind people out there who want to help in the only way they can.

Anyway, Graham gets back in touch and WCV set up a WhatsApp and hook everyone up and now wonderful stuff is happening. G has given Graham and Ciaran a shopping list and they’ll be driving it all down to the camp.

Along with the defib and a whole list of medical supplies, Graham and Ciaran have been tasked with finding some wheelchairs and buggies, a camp bed so that G and his colleagues do not have to take turns in the one bed in their tent and some heaters, as it gets down to minus 10 at night.

We will be bringing you reports from both parts of the operation, so keep reading!

Day One

“Arrive Medyka. Straight to work supporting a German paramedic. Only been here 2.5 hours and treated 6 gunshot wounds and multiple kids with hypothermia. There are thousands of people everywhere and they just keep coming. Going to be a long night.”

13 March 2022

Day two

Minus 6 last night, the gates were shut for an hour between 3 am and 4 am. The crowd just grew. We gave out around two and a half thousand blankets; these are given to under 12s and the elderly, we just don’t have enough for everyone. We have run out of saline and medical supplies,

I had to plug a bullet wound with a tampon and treat 2 others without a drip; the last person got our last dressing. It was over 4 hours before I had a chance to introduce myself properly to the paramedic I am supporting. He hadn’t slept in 3 days as there was no one skilled to cover him. I had been up from 5 am the previous day but the adrenaline kept me going to let him rest.

From midnight to 9 am I had done over 24 thousand steps, though these are nothing compared to the exhausted people we are supporting, many of them with hypothermia.

War brings out the worst in people, but where I am right now you see the best of people, people who have put their lives on hold, packed what they can – some travelling halfway around the world to come and help in any way they can. There are food tents run by everyday people including one from Scotland – these guys closed their restaurant, packed up and are now cooking day and night.

I got to bed at 10.30 am and slept until 12, by the time I got up three new tents were being set up, there was a lull and I was able to video call home.

I was just about to grab food when another casualty came in…

14 March 2022, Medyka, Polish/Ukraine border

I was called to a elderly male with chest pain and dizzy. As I entered the tent, he collapsed… cardiac arrest. A colleague and myself performed CPR for about 40 mins, swapping because of the heat [22c in the tent in the daytime]. After 40 mins he began showing signs of recovery and was placed in the recovery position and fully recovered.

We have no oxygen, airways, fluid or defibrillator. This man will see tomorrow. It should have been better with kit.

Last night was hard because the Ukrainians kept closing the border, making the people on foot wait in minus 6 degrees for an hour or so. When they got through they were very cold and some obviously suffering from severe cold injuries. This could be prevented by keeping the border open for them to pass into safety.

14 March 2022

After a nap I woke up to some saline, I have no idea where it came from or how long it will last. This video shows our simple set-up; we are doing all we can with what we have. We desperately need airways. Thank God I had a bic pen on me this afternoon: it was used to secure the airway while we did CPR on the concrete floor.

The difference was we knew no ambulance was on the way: it was on us at that moment, like it is every time.

Day 3

Sit rep from Medyka crossing Ukraine/Poland border aid camp. I got here 2200hrs Sunday. I am currently based here helping on a voluntary basis with a Polish paramedic group. Our med tent is constantly busy, treating 3 – 5 refugees at a time – mainly cold weather injuries at night as it goes from 20+ degrees c in the day to minus 10 at night.
We had 5 or 6 thousand people go through the camp in the 36 hours I have been here, some have walked for hundreds of miles over the course of many days, dodging bullets; some are paying people up to 30 thousand euros for transporting the family.
We are averaging 3 hours sleep in 24.
Within the next couple of days I will be over the border with a group securing the corridor from Lviv to Poland.

The word to describe the situation here is SAD!