Discover more from Flour Power: by Felicity Spector
24 hours in the life of a Ukrainian volunteer
Remember that post about 24 hours in a teacher’s life that went viral? It vividly showed how tough it was. This imagines a day in the life of Ukrainian volunteers - based on real events last winter.
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05:45 - have been up all night planning the highly complicated route through front line areas in Donetsk oblast, working out meeting points with 11 different battalions. One of the volunteer drivers is sick so spent several hours calling round, found a guy who only just returned from Bakhmut but says he is ready to go back on the road again.
08.00 no sleep - back at the office, ready to pack the van with all the supplies. There is everything from optics for weapons, generators and power stations to warm clothing and tactical medicines. First, though - coffee from a stand in the street outside the office.
09.00 between 3 of us, we have managed to load everything in, and we set off to Poltava, the first stop in a 1,000 mile journey.
16.00 the front wheel of the van gives way, so we have to find a tyre shop open on a Sunday night during blackout - by a miracle there is one! Get a new wheel sorted.
17.00 load up some food supplies for military base from some supporters in Poltava - an air raid siren comes on but we don’t bother to take cover. Luckily no missiles are flying this way.
22:00 make it to Kharkiv, pick up our friend with another van of supplies and head off through de-occupied territory: there are many block-posts as it is a highly restricted yellow zone area and after curfew - but we have a military pass so we are waved through.
01.30 we made it across a temporary bridge into Donetsk region, driving through pitch black forest, and finally manage to locate the place where we will be able to rest for a few hours on the floor of a (thankfully warm) kitchen area in a building where soldiers stay between rotations to the front.
02.00 park up and go inside to get warm - someone shares a box of pilaff rice, the first meal we had today. The guys have sleeping bags and unroll mats on the floor to catch a few hours of sleep.
07.00 every phone alarm clock goes off, everyone tries to ignore it in vain. There is strong instant coffee with a healthy amount of sugar.
We unload everything from the van, some supplies are for the base, the rest can be sorted and reloaded in a coherent order ready to give the right kit to all the various battalions we will meet on the way.
08.30 set off towards XXX. The area can come under frequent Russian shelling but this morning the skies are thankfully quiet.
09.30 the road is difficult to navigate, there are Grad rockets sticking up from the asphalt and huge potholes, made worse by tank transporters and armoured vehicles rumbling past. But we meet up with the first group - military scouts who go ahead of the main group of forces to pinpoint Russian positions. They bring out some large shell cases which they’ve signed, which we can auction off to raise more money for fresh supplies. In the valley below there’s a lot of distant noise from artillery.
11.00 we are in XXX, driving past a school building which was shelled again yesterday. Every window is shattered and doors hang off their frames. We stop in a lay-by to hand over more supplies before taking the road to XXX - it’s the last town before Bakhmut where the most intense fighting is going on.
12.00 the place where we had planned to meet the next unit has just been hit by a Russian rocket so we have to meet in another spot a short distance down the road. As we are waiting for them to arrive, there’s a series of explosions somewhere. This time it’s not close to us, but later we hear that two people were sadly killed.
13.30 we press on to some other villages we can’t name for security reasons. Frequent block-posts: Don’t have the phone camera on. Turn off tracking and location. Don’t forget any of these things.
16.00 it’s getting dark and there’s driving rain but we have more handovers - one at a bus stop and one in a deserted car park. We record some videos with the soldiers saying thank you for the donations. We ask the commanders to write short dedications in some books which we will put up for auction as part of the fundraising drive. ‘We are not tired - how about you?’ writes one.
19.00 On the way to XXX, the security guys at one block post ask two of the drivers to go inside for questioning. They want to know if we have any weapons in the van. Yuri shows them a knife he has, which was found at an abandoned Russian position in liberated Kherson region. The block post guys are fascinated and wave him back on his way. The Russian knife turns out to be a great hit at future block posts.
22.00 we are in another location that can’t be disclosed - home to a military kitchen which cooks for injured soldiers, other troops and volunteers. Also, there’s a chance to use the bathroom for the first time in 14 hours. Buses of soldiers arrive and sit around a long table, where they’re given hot soup and a selection of bread and cold salads. There’s little electricity or water but it’s a warm, comforting place. We are also offered some soup, first food of another long day.
Yuri is chatting to some paramedics outside and finds out they need the donated boxes of IV drips which are still left in the van, seeking a good home. He hands them over, everyone is happy.
22.30 back on the road, again pitch black and very hazardous driving conditions - so bad that towards midnight suddenly the van veers off a section of road which has simply run out - and careers into a field. Miraculously the van is undamaged - and a passing lorry driver stops and helps push it back onto a more reliable stretch of highway. On we go.
06.30 after a thousand miles of pretty much non stop driving we are back in Kyiv. We head back to the office to unload the shell cases and some other military paraphernalia and make the first cup of coffee in almost 24 hours. And breathe.