Mechanical technician witnesses ‘eye-opening’ scenes demonstrating Ukrainian pride

Matt Simmons travelled into western Ukraine last month to help deliver aid.

Man next to an ambulance
Man next to an ambulance

A mechanical technician has described the “eye-opening” scenes he witnessed in western Ukraine, which highlighted the “powerful emotion and pride” of Ukrainians – many of whom had lost limbs in the war.

Matt Simmons travelled into western Ukraine (Lviv and the surrounding area) with a team of two fellow volunteers from community interest company Bridge to Unity – veteran Hannah Jarvis and student Liberty Rose – three weeks ago to join volunteers at Polish non-governmental organisation (NGO) Zintegrowana Sluzba Ratownicza (ZSR), in their mission to deliver aid to Ukraine.

They first visited an organisation called Eskulab, which is outside Lviv and provides medical supplies and packs of dried food and energy bars that were being sent to troops on the front line.

Women peeling vegetables
A group of women peel vegetables at the Eksulab organisation near Lviv (Bridge to Unity/PA)

“I walked in and there was this group of women peeling vegetables on these upturned buckets for hours at a time and they looked so happy with what they were doing and they obviously know the benefit that it’s bringing to troops,” the 42-year-old from Emsworth, Hampshire, told the PA news agency.

He explained that the vegetables then go through a drying process before being packed and given to soldiers.

He said medical supplies were imperative for troops, since Eskulab would “often get a call from a unit on the front line who would say that one of our soldiers needs more medicine or medical supplies”.

“That’s where our donations have been going and ZSR have been taking our donations to this organisation and so it was really nice to see the impact our work was having,” he added.

Group of people
Matt Simmons with fellow Bridge to Unity volunteers, ZSR volunteers and people at Eksulab (Bridge to Unity/PA)

The team also visited a military hospital outside Lviv, with Mr Simmons describing what he witnessed as “eye-opening”.

“We thought we were only going to the hospital to hand donations over,” he said.

“They invited us inside and it just so happened that they had this concert running at the same time for Ukrainian soldiers that were there and it was a really eye-opening experience.

Group standing in semi-circle
Members of ZSR and Bridge to Unity at the military hospital (Bridge to Unity/PA)

“There were around 100 people, who were a mix of patients, their families, soldiers and staff.”

He said there was a singer present who sang the winning Eurovision song from Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra, as well as some of Queen’s most popular songs, and that others present also joined in.

He added that the ZSR and Bridge to Unity volunteers were invited up to the front while the Ukrainian national anthem was sung and they were thanked for the support they offered to the people of Ukraine.

“It was so emotional, especially because there were soldiers there who had been injured and many had amputations and lost limbs,” he said.

“There was one man whose face was completely scarred, he was in a wheelchair and lost both of his legs and he must have been involved in quite a recent bomb blast.

“Despite this, when they sang their national anthem, they all put their hands on their hearts and sang with really powerful emotion and pride for their country.”

Mr Simmons said he spoke to one of the soldiers through a translator, who said that he wanted to “get better and get back to the front line”.

“That was their mentality – they have that deep sense of pride for their country.”

After spending time in Ukraine, it became apparent to Mr Simmons that much of the infrastructure had been bombed and getting enough power and electricity was a massive problem.

Group of people standing in a line
ZSR volunteer Maria, Matt Simmons, ZSR volunteer Kamila, Ukrainian singer Slavia, Liberty Rose, Hannah Jarvis and ZSR volunteer Grzesiek (Bridge to Unity/PA)

The family of one of the volunteers at ZSR – a woman called Maria – who joined the group on the trip – lived just outside Lviv and Mr Simmons spoke about the conversation they had about the struggles they face.

“When we dropped Maria to her parents’ home after we went to the military hospital, we had to go up this track which was pitch black because of power outages,” he said.

“They said they didn’t know when they would have electricity as it could go off any time in the day or night.

“There are five of them in the house – Maria’s grandmother, Maria’s brother and his girlfriend and Maria’s parents, so they face a lot of struggles.”

Similarly to those at the military hospital, Maria’s parents displayed a deep pride in their culture, giving Mr Simmons and the team a traditional cake and a bag of sweets.

“That’s something we found across Ukraine – everyone was so proud to meet people that had helped their country and introduce us to Ukrainian culture.”

With winter beckoning, Bridge to Unity hope to continue supporting those who need help in Ukraine through its JustGiving fundraiser, with the intention of venturing further into central Ukraine.

Mr Simmons said that the £12,500 target will be used to fund supplies including small generators, power banks and sleeping bags, as well as a pick-up truck.

“ZSR travelled into Kherson a few weeks ago and really struggled to get in with the ambulance to deliver aid because of the infrastructure and the roads which have been destroyed,” he said.

“So the pick-up truck would allow them to get into areas that need aid.”

The team is also set to do a donation drive in Emsworth, Hampshire, to raise much-needed funds.

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