Volunteer Year in Ukraine

British aid workers continue to risk their lives to deliver aid to war-torn Ukraine, almost a year after Russia’s invasion

He knows that every time Jack Ross crosses the Polish border into Ukraine, there is a good chance he will lose his life.

British aid volunteers have made eight trips to the war-torn country since the Russian invasion.

There, his aid vehicles were attacked and his team opened fire, often narrowly escaping heavy artillery fire.

Now, 12 months into the conflict, Ross, like many of his fellow aid workers, says he is determined to keep moving forward.

“When you come to Ukraine, you have to accept that you may die,” the 24-year-old told the Epoch Times.

“If it happens, it will happen. If it’s my time, it’s my time. But what I want to do is try to help as many people as possible.

“I think life in England is very good. We take a lot of things for granted.

“When you come here and see people who really need help, people who literally have nothing, you just have to come and help.”

Portsmouth-born aid worker who runs a charity buns without borders, She is one of dozens of Britons who have risked their lives to help deliver humanitarian aid since the conflict erupted almost a year ago.

To date, there are no official figures on aid worker casualties in Ukraine.

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A woman walks out of a house hit by a Russian rocket in the center of the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 5, 2023. (Andrii Marienko/AP Photo)

However, the latest aid worker security report (pdf) said it expected a “significant increase” in deaths, injuries and attacks from the war.

Two British aid workers have been confirmed dead after being reported missing in eastern Ukraine last month.

Chris Parry, 28, and colleague Andrew Bagshaw, 47, were traveling to Soleder to help evacuate people when their vehicle was reportedly hit by shelling in January.

According to Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, it was confirmed on Saturday that their bodies were handed over by the Russians as part of a prisoner exchange.

minimize risk

Ross had just arrived in the country on his latest aid mission when the deaths of Parry and Bagshaw were announced.

“We shaved off some beards,” he explained. “One of our soldiers was only shot at once. It was by a Ukrainian checkpoint as he was driving after a curfew. He was safe and the van was I didn’t get shot.

“When we were in Donilpro, our van was hurled with bricks by a suspected Russian sympathizer.

“Again, in terms of artillery fire, it’s constant. We were in multiple areas where you could literally feel your teeth chattering. That’s how close the explosion was.”

He added:

“Then people from nearby Russian-occupied villages came and started taking pictures of us.

“Two minutes after that, shells started to enter the village and rockets flew over it and landed about a kilometer away.

Since starting regular aid trips six months ago, Ross said he has reduced the number of his aid teams visiting Ukraine, mainly for security reasons.

“When we first came, there were only three people,” he told the Epoch Times. “Next time 15 people. Next time 15 people, [then] reduced to 10 people. And now we are working around her six. ”

Ross added:

“But where everyone has different abilities, it’s not safe to bring everyone into the areas we go to.

“So I can’t conscientiously take someone who has no experience of war. […] In an area where a bomb could explode 100 meters from them.

“And they have complete panic attacks and breakdowns because it puts them in danger and puts the team in danger. Someone picks them up, throws him in the car, drives because I have to.”

“So I’m working with a very small team that has been doing this for as long as I have and trying to maximize the effort here.”

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Firefighters of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine smoke during a break after the Russian artillery shelling that hit the industrial area of ​​Kherson, Ukraine, on February 5, 2023. (Libkos/AP Photo)

foreign fighters

Closer to the front line, there are Britons who are helping Ukraine in other ways.

According to the country’s Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba, 20,000 people from 52 countries have applied to join Ukraine’s International Defense Corps in the aftermath of the Russian aggression.

Many of those fighters are from the UK.

One of them, Bill (a pseudonym), cannot be identified for security reasons.

In his 50s, he left his home in the UK in early January and traveled to conflict zones to support military combat.

“Initially, it was an offer to help with humanitarian issues,” Bill told the Epoch Times.

“And as time went on, I met individuals who were actually in the military. [from] There.

“When you are there, you see what the Ukrainian people are suffering from, the devastation. And you understand that this will not go away.”

Bill, also from the UK, has traveled to Ukraine with many people with military experience.

he said:

“I was there to train surveillance skills, and there were probably many classes with specialized units and military intelligence.

“The other was how to actually identify and disarm homemade IEDs, and to show how easy they are to make.

“And what that means is that these people… are ready to kill to take back the country.”

Aftermath of Russian military offensive on the outskirts of Kyiv
Local resident Halina, 67, looks out of the kitchen of her home damaged in a Russian airstrike in Hlevakha, a town outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on January 26, 2023. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

After three weeks of training with the Ukrainian Army, Bill is back in the UK, but intends to return six weeks before a suspected Russian attack on the one year anniversary of the invasion.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he expected Russian aggression forces to launch new offensives in Donbass and the southern regions, which make up nearly 20% of Ukraine’s territory, at the end of this month.

Bill added: “Ukrainian forces have actually regained most of the land they lost in the invasion, pushing Russian forces back almost to the first border.

“But they’re probably expecting a big counter defense in the next couple of weeks.

“So I’ll be back again, yes…probably in the next six weeks or so.”

It is not clear how many combatants, including foreign troops, have been killed or injured since the war broke out on 24 February 2022.

In November, Mikhailo Podlyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said between 10,000 and 13,000 soldiers had died. BBC.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia tend to release casualty figures, and Podlyak’s comments have not been confirmed by the Ukrainian military.

In October, U.S. commander-in-chief Mark Milley said about 100,000 Russian and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or wounded since the war began.

These figures have not been verified by either Ukraine or Russia.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as of January 29, 2023, over 7,000 civilian deaths have been recorded in Ukraine (pdf). 438 of them were children.

PA Media contributed to this report.