SPECIAL FEATURE: Horncastle team's second mission to Ukraine

After a successful trip to the Ukrainian border to help those in need, a team from Horncastle has completed a second, five-day trip, which was just a gruelling as the last.

The refugees and team on their borrowed St Hugh's bus.
The refugees and team on their borrowed St Hugh's bus.

Helen Bayly-Stark, of Scrivelsby, has described her journey to the Polish-Ukrainian border, along with her son Jonty, 25 and Tim Haller, to transport much-needed supplies to those fleeing the conflict and to bring eight refugees – two ladies in their 40s, two mums, four children aged 16, two 14-year-olds and a nine-year-old and a dog amusingly called Mr Poops – back to the UK.

Luckily, the two families are being sponsored by families in Edinburgh, and Helen arranged to pick them up and bring them to the UK where they could then travel to live with their sponsor families in Scotland.

Helen said that her desire to help was born out of her frustration at not being able to do more to help those in need in the besieged country, and the team completed a successful mission to bring supplies and take nine refugees back to the UK in May this year.

Jony with Mr Poops on the bus back to the UK.

The team pledged to do the same again and they set off on Wednesday (August 10) with a van, loaned by St Hugh’s School in Woodhall Spa, full of donations of medical equipment including bandages crutches, medical supplies, Tena pads, nappies and more.

They set off and arrived at the Polish/Ukraine border late on Friday, where they unloaded all their supplies at a warehouse, which would then be taken on into a hospital in Ukraine by volunteers.

"People have been so generous,” Helen said, “All of the supplies wee donated by local people and I was also able to buy more with the monetary donations given.”

On the journey over to the border, Helen received a message from one of the families they were rescuing who said that there was bombing in their town and that Russian forces were bombing very close to their house in Sumy, in the north-west of the country, and they had had to take shelter in a bunker where they had been living for over a month.

Some of the supplies the team bought to the Ukraine.

Arrangements were made by the families to meet Helen and the team at a train station near the border, but worryingly, they were four hours late due to transport delays.

Helen said: “We received so many desperate messages from the mums begging us to wait for them – they’re so desperate. I asked if they needed anything and as they had no money, they were so desperate for food and water.”

Thankfully they finally arrived safely and the team then treated the families to a slap-up meal in a nearby cafe and managed to reassure the women’s husbands that they were safe.

The team then set off to Wroclaw in Poland where they would pick up their two other ladies who had fled from Kharkiv in the north of Ukraine – as well as Mr Poops.

Mr Poops the dog.

“The two ladies were so brave,” Helen said, “One of them had a picture of her son printed on her t-shirt as they had to leave their husbands and sons behind, and they were quiet on the journey back here – and who can blame them?”

As the two ladies in their 40s were brought to the UK on non-sponsorship visas, they are being looked after in refuges until they can find work in Scotland.

Mr Poops had a sad story of his own, as he was scheduled to leave the country with his owner but sadly, her aunt and uncle were killed in bomb strikes and she is having to stay behind in Ukraine to adopt and care for her two orphaned nephews.

But Helen was contacted by his owner who asked if she could pick him up and bring him safely to the UK, and so he was also picked up from Wroclaw, much to the delight of the refugees.

The Ukrainian refugees on the bus on the way back to the UK.

"Mr Poops was a dream to have on the bus,” Helen said, “He was perfect for the children to cuddle and fuss, and he cheered everyone up – luckily he didn't live up to his name and didn’t poo on the bus!”

The group travelled safely to Calais where they boarded a ferry back to the UK, and after a long drive, finally arrived back at Helen’s house late on Sunday.

“We had a lovely evening together that night,” Helen said, “We had a lovely meal and they’re such lovely, kind people."They insisted on helping and clearing the table and couldn’t do enough.”

The refugees were then treated to an early morning swim with Jonty before they boarded a train in Newark on Monday morning to take them to Edinburgh, where their host families will pick them up.

Luckily, the current rules in England, Scotland and Wales state that Ukrainian refugees can get free onward travel by train, bus, coach or light rail from the major airport or port they arrive at.

To be eligible, you must travel within 48 hours of arriving in the UK, hence why the refugees staying with Helen had to catch their onward train to Edinburgh as soon as possible, and as there are rail strikes coming up this week, they had to get the next available trains.

On the ferry back to the UK.

"It was very emotional putting them on the trains and waving them off,” Helen said, “

"We only had a short time with them, but they felt like family. They were just the nicest people.

"After everything they had been through, they didn’t moan or grumble once – they were amazing.”

Mr Poops will be staying with Helen and her family in Scrivelsby until he can go to his temporary home with his owner’s sponsor up in North Lincolnshire.

Helen, Tim and Jonty have extended their thanks to everyone who has already donated money or supplies to their cause, with a special mention to St Hugh’s School – where Tim and Jonty, as well as Helen’s other children, attended as children – for the loan of the bus.

"It was such a lovely bus for us to have travelled on, and they were wonderfully supportive,” Helen said.

Now, Helen is planning a third trip to Ukraine to bring more supplies and aid to those in need, and is hoping to raise as much money as possible to get out there again.

Donations of medical supplies will again be needed for the return journey, including bandages, gauze, paracetamol, ibuprofen, crutches, wheelchairs, sanitary products, incontinence pads and more.

Dried food such as pasta is also needed.

These can be placed in the donation trolley for Helen at the Co-op on Conging Street in Horncastle, or by contacting Helen.

Sponsorship jars are also situated in Bar Unico, Big Chair Company and Just One More Bike in Horncastle town centre.

To fund this next trip, Helen is planning a number of fundraising events including a run, bike and row challenge which will see well-wishers being sponsored to run, pedal and row on static machine’s in Bar Unico the equivilant of 1,700 miles from Horncastle to Ukraine.

You can also be sponsored to swim a certain distance too.

You can get involved and lend your support by emailing [email protected] or make a donation to their GoFundMe page here.

The Ukrainian refugees getting the train at Newark to Edinburgh to meet their sponsor families.