Sean Breen said people ‘fighting about flags’ would ‘get their eyes opened’ if they saw what was happening in Eastern Europe as a result of the Russian Federation’s bombardment of Ukraine.
Sean and fellow volunteer Daniel Allen landed home on Wednesday after an eight day round trip to the Polish town of Jaroslaw, which is hard fast on the Ukrainian border and not far from Lviv which came under cruise missile attack the day before they arrived.
“It’s been a long haul and took three days to get up to the border with Ukraine,” said Sean.
“We weren’t that far away from Lviv which was hit by three or four rockets just before we got there. We landed there last Friday morning. I think the attacks occurred on Thursday.”
Sean and Daniel set out on their trans-European mission on Tuesday, March 15, with three lorry loads of clothes, medicines, creams, sanitary items and toilet rolls that had been loaded on to vehicles supplied by Terry Quigley, the proprietor of B-Fast transport.
Sean said the true impact of the catastrophic war became apparent when they crossed from Germany into Poland.
“As we were going up the motorway we saw a lot of activity coming back down the way towards us. We saw five coach loads of children and mothers with police guards being brought down in the direction of Germany,” he said.
Harrowing as it was to witness families displaced and separated by war the Derry men also saw plenty to raise their spirits while on their travels.
“We saw a lot of relief on the road to Ukraine. There were about 40 or 50 fire appliances and ambulances sponsored by the Germans and loads of vans and lorries. There were three or four English ambulances as well. There was a lot of activity, literally hundreds of vans and lorries with aid.”
Arriving at the Poland/Ukraine frontier they were blown away by the response of the locals.
“The people were very nice. We stayed overnight in the place in a hotel and spoke to a few of the locals. They were very moved by the response they were getting up there.
“We had to trans-ship the 40 foot trailers - It all had to be done at night - onto other lorries which were to transport the goods. These were being driven by Ukrainian drivers who were taking the aid over the border the next morning during daylight hours. It couldn’t be done at night.”
Hitting the road for home they encountered more evidence of the massive humanitarian effort that has been mobilised to assist Ukraine.
“Moving back down towards the German border the relief that was going up was unbelievable, just convoys of ambulances and fire engines. There were loads of English and Irish people going up with aid - small vans, medium vans, lorries, anything they could get, minibuses full of boxes.”
Sean sent out a special thanks to Terry Quigley, proprietor of B-Fast transport, who supplied the three lorries used to transport the goods.
He also thanked Councillors Philip McKinney, Darren Guy and Ryan McCready for orchestrating the relief effort.
“They worked tremendously hard. We got to know them fairly well over a short period of time. They actually rang us several times to see how we were and to make sure we were safe.”
Finally, he gave a big shout out to the people of Derry for rallying to the cause.
“The schools, between the parents and the children with all their donations, deserve a lot of credit. I mean there were three trailer loads of stuff going up there and it was all good stuff that they donated. It’s been an unbelievable response from both sides of the community. It was a joint effort. You know, they are fighting about flags here back home. They need to go up there and they’ll soon get their eyes opened.”