As the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Ukraine unfolds, motorhome and camper van owners from across the UK are lending their support and vehicles to provide people affected by the conflict with relief.
Laura and Ken Rice from Andover in Hampshire left the UK on 5 March driving their motorhome – a Palmo 566 (in essence a Fiat Ducato) nicknamed Molly – to Przemyśl near the Polish/Ukrainan border. The couple, who are in their early sixties and self-funded the journey, were delivering a tonne of chocolates and sweets that had been donated by their son, who runs a sweet and chocolate distribution factory in Andover.
We spoke with them on 15 March as they were driving to the rail station in Warsaw to help assist refugees who were arriving by train.
Laura described what had happened on their arrival at Przemyśl. “We went straight to the train station and were told by volunteers to go to a disused Tesco that had been opened up as a centre for refugees. That’s where we offloaded our tonne of sweets. When we arrived at the volunteer desk, they gave us a yellow tag and took our passport numbers.”
“We then went in the centre but there are no rules or regulations and nobody is in charge. It is chaos. You just see what needs doing and start helping. We were helping initially in the warehouse. Ken once had his own distribution company and was helping organise the volunteers – he sort of took charge in one warehouse.“
“I spent time talking with young people who spoke English about where they were going and whether they needed help. So many of them have left parents behind – it is heartbreaking. They are university students – to be honest all I wanted to do is just grab a couple of hundred euros and give it to them.”
The couple had contacted the Veterans In Action charity before leaving and were advised not to take large amounts of clothing, but that gloves, hats and scarves would be useful. They took some of those items along with the tonne of sweets and chocolates, which the charity said would be an excellent idea.
In fact, while in Przemyśl, they met the local mayor who had recently requested sweets and chocolates via a newspaper. Laura and Ken’s delivery arrived right on time.
Laura says: “When Molly was being unloaded, the volunteers burst into applause because they knew that’s exactly what people wanted. It was so touching. We’ve only been here ten days but we could tell so many beautiful stories – we will never be the same.”
The motorcaravanning couple left Przemyśl last week at the request of their family who were concerned by the increasingly volatile situation and the risk of bombing. As we spoke on 15 March, they were heading into Warsaw to assist at a refugee centre. Their son’s company has a packing house in Warsaw, which will be making more sweets and chocolates available. Meanwhile, Ken and Laura plan to assist the refugees directly as much as they can over the next few days, before returning to the UK by next Tuesday.
“We’ve had such a good life,” says Laura. “And we’ve been saying for a long-time that we’d like to give back to society and that was a motivating factor. We believe we’ve done the right thing, without a shadow of a doubt. We’ve been able to make us much of a difference as two sets of hands can – just being there, holding the hands of young people and saying we are with them.”
Readers who would like to make a donation to Laura and Ken’s fundraising page can do so at www.gofundme.com/f/direct-help-to-the-ukrainians
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We’ve only been here ten days but we could tell so many beautiful stories - we will never be the same