From Kirkby Lonsdale to the Ukrainian border

Below is a report from parent, Jozef Mycielski, on his recent humanitarian trip to the Polish-Ukrainian border:

A week after the war began in February I wrote to my Polish lawyer / army reservist / Scout cousin, Zbyszek, in Krakow, Poland, and asked him to let me know when and how help might be needed after the inevitable initial surge of support. A couple of weeks ago he contacted me saying that the Polish Scout Association required help and sent through a list of goods that were desperately needed at the border with Ukraine at Przemyśl. My first stop was Casterton, Sedbergh Prep School – their Parent’s Association, without hesitation, said yes to a (second) collection of specific goods. In a matter of days transport was secured (through the amazing Sedgwick family of Lunesdale Decorators) and the word was out around the Kirkby Lonsdale area; the support and kindness took off. It was through the response of this community that what unfolded was possible. For that, I will be forever grateful.

I contacted three close friends based down south who all said yes to sharing the driving, supplying another vehicle and collecting goods. We knew that in ten days we were heading for the Polish / Ukraine border.

In the purely practical sense, our trip to Przemyśl has barely scratched the surface of the overwhelming humanitarian crisis that has been an unwelcome consequence of the Russian invasion. We read, on the day of our return to England (23rd May 2022), that eight million Ukrainians have been internally displaced by the conflict and a further six million have left their homeland altogether. Four million are believed to be in Poland.

The four of us who travelled in two separate vans were inspired by the Tanzanian Proverb, ‘Kidogo kidogo inakuwa nying’ which translates as, ‘Little by little, little becomes a lot.’ We wanted, no matter how little, to do something, anything, to help. Inspired by the response from family, friends, our children’s schools and often complete strangers, we became conduits for the ‘little’ and whilst it may well have just scratched the surface, it proved to be some scratch, some surface! As Gandalf reflected in the Lord of the Rings: ‘Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small, every day deeds by ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay.’

In our own small way the four of us; Ian Jamieson (London); Tim Parker (Sussex), Nick Higham (Sussex) and Jozef Mycielski (Kirkby Lonsdale), have tried to keep the darkness at bay and when we see how it inspires others to jump in vans and drive east towards Ukraine or to encourage others to make donations of money, medicines and toiletries, we now see how “little by little, little becomes a lot.”

Scouts
Jozef (second from left, back row) and friends with the Polish Scout Association, Przemyśl

We saw, at first hand, how the Polish Scout Association is organising aid with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that would have made Robert Baden-Powell glow with pride. We delivered approximately 20 cubic metres of aid to the Scouts for immediate dispatch to the border and into Ukraine itself. This aid was donated by the Casterton Sedbergh Prep School family and Kirkby Lonsdale community and the communities that surround Ian, Nick and Tim too.

Donations At The Border
The donated items driven out from Kirkby Lonsdale

We were introduced to a Pole, Gabriella, who runs the Humanitarian Aid Centre in Przemyśl (a former Tesco superstore) and who works tirelessly to give the homeless, the desperate and the displaced sanctuary and hope – providing food, accommodation and the means to work through the bureaucracy required to seek refuge in other European countries. She currently looks after 70 families. Through the generosity of so many we were able to buy many shopping trolleys full of food and goods to support these families. Gabriella said that it felt like Christmas!

Purchasing Food
Shopping for Gabriella

We were humbled by Kamil a Polish aid worker (www.polandwelcomes.org) who, almost single-handedly, looks after 400 Ukrainian women and children in a disused school in Jarosław about 20km from the border, providing the only loving male presence with the kind of affection and joy that any doting father would be proud of. Again, through the generosity of so many of our community we were able to deliver a van load of food and sanitary products to this vulnerable group and witness, first-hand, the massive impact of this simple support.

We were introduced to a kilt wearing Scotsman, David Fox-Pitt of Siobhan’s Trust (www.siobhanstrust.uk), who travelled to Ukraine from the Dundee area, three days after the invasion, towing a pizza oven. He has now served over 100,000 free pizzas, boosting the morale of those fleeing their country as they were stuck in endless queues while their papers were being processed.

Their contributions, along with our efforts and those who have sponsored us so generously, especially the parents, teachers and pupils of Casterton, Sedbergh Prep School, Sedbergh School, Eastbourne College and Great Ballard schools, the people and businesses of Kirkby Lonsdale and the many complete strangers who were sufficiently moved on hearing of our journey to the Polish / Ukraine border to give spontaneously and trustingly – all these are living proof that ‘little by little, little becomes a lot.’

Our aim is to continue supporting Gabriella, Kamil and David through Poland Welcomes and Siobhan’s Trust. They may need us for months, maybe years. Please kindly consider continuing to keep Ukraine and its people in your thoughts and help, when and where you can.

Eden Aid, a local charity sending weekly aid convoys was brilliant in advising us. Please also consider engaging directly with them, they need help including drivers and goods – www.edenaid.org.

Most importantly, thank you all. You are a wonderful community with a huge, generous, loving heart. Ukrainians, Poles and Scotsmen looked me in the eye and asked me to thank you all for making the lives of displaced Ukrainians that little bit better. I am proud to do that now and proud to be part of this community.

Jozef

Sincerest thanks to the Kirkby Lonsdale family without whom this would not have been possible and to all the individual donors of goods and funds which made this happen. You are all a crucial part of the Kidogo family: Casterton, Sedbergh Prep School, Sedbergh School, Town End Garage, Eden Aid, Kirkby Lonsdale Golf Club, The Zero Pantry, Stephen Hailey Building Services, Kirkby Lonsdale Motors, Lunesdale Decorators, Kendal Sports, Sedbergh Soap Company, The Bath House, Miniml Refill, Queen Elizabeth School (QES), St Mary’s School PTA, Bain & Savon, Snow Goose Soaps, Kirkby Lonsdale Chamber of Trade and BDS Fuels and so importantly all the unnamed individuals in our community that contributed in so many kind, crucial and personal ways to this collective effort.

For further information or if you think you can help please contact Jozef at [email protected] or call 07796 691832.

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