A sports stadium car park in Hull on an unusually mild October night seems a world away from the ongoing war in Ukraine. That is until the first of 35 4x4s flying the now familiar blue and yellow Ukrainian flag start arriving. As they do, most of the drivers sound their horn.
They are the sixth convoy of vehicles assembled since the start of the conflict by Jeeps for Peace, an Edinburgh-based group of volunteers. Many have been donated, others bought second-hand from farmers as word about the charity’s work has spread via social media.
Jeeps for Peace
Two of the trucks are towing trial bikes. Another open hatchback is carrying a stack of crutches and walking aids. A previous convoy has even featured an ambulance donated by a Lions Club in Ireland.
Within an hour or so, they will sail from Hull on a ferry bound for Germany and Poland before arriving in Lviv where they will be handed over to the Ukrainian authorities to be used to take supplies to remote areas and evacuate wounded soldiers.
Founder Stuart McKenzie gives a thumbs-up to the latest arrival. He said:
“We have sent 150 vehicles so far. Most have come from Scotland but we are starting to hear from people across the UK wanting to help with what we do. As well as the vehicles themselves, we also bring donated medical aid with us and some military-related stuff which we can’t really talk about.”
Once deployed on the frontline, the average lifespan for one of the donated 4x4s is around three months. By then, they have either broken down or been blown up.
“There is a constant need for vehicles like these because although they are quite rugged, they’re not really designed for the battlefield”, said Stuart.
“The one advantage they do have is that they are right-hand drives. Russian snipers always aim for the driver so when they are being used by the Ukrainians, you will often find a shop dummy sitting in the passenger seat acting as a decoy.”
The inspiration to make a difference in Ukraine
McKenzie decided to set up the charity having previously worked in Ukraine for 28 years. When the Russian invasion started last year, he loaded his wife, two children and his frail mother-in-law into his car before making an 18-hour journey to the safety of the Polish border.
Now based back in his native Scotland, he said:
“Our lives have been turned upside down. One day I was running a successful business and my family were settled in Kyiv, the next we were fleeing for our lives. I can only see the war being a long one and I don’t really know whether we will ever be able to go back home – because it was our home.
“We were lucky but I know people still in business there who have lost family, friends and employees. People underestimate how much this is damaging the country’s economy because the workforce is dwindling.”
After the last of the vehicles arrive, Stuart stands like the conductor of an orchestra in front of them to signal the volunteer drivers to gather for a photo-call.
They are a mix of retired businessmen, ex-military personnel and the odd farmer taking time off for the journey. There’s even an ex-Scottish rugby union international among their number.
“We’re just like a certain parcel delivery service but without the same budget!” he laughs.
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