A war veteran has said “in times of darkness there are glimmers of light” as he helped deliver £15,000 worth of medical supplies to Ukraine after a maternity hospital was hit by Russian bombing.
Matt Simmons, 41, has transported aid to Poland twice before since Russia first invaded but on Sunday completed his third trip – this time venturing into western Ukraine – to get supplies to the hospital in Zhytomyr.
Mr Simmons is a founder of community interest group Bridge to Unity, which was first set up as Ems4Afghans to help Afghan refugees in response to the Taliban’s takeover.
The group has crowdfunded nearly £45,000 for its cause in Ukraine, teaming up with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Poland named Zintegrowana Sluzba Ratownicza (ZSR) and getting crucial medical aid, including an ambulance, over the Ukrainian border.
“I’ve had donations from all over the world,” the ex-RAF aircraft technician from Emsworth, Hampshire, told the PA news agency.
“What’s really been apparent is the coming together of everyone.
“No matter where you’re from, everyone wants to support Ukraine.”
Mr Simmons and fellow Bridge to Unity volunteer Hannah Jarvis arrived in Ukraine in the early hours of Saturday to deliver supplies such as bandages, first aid and resuscitation kits and other trauma-related items to Zhytomyr.
Around half of the medical aid went to the maternity hospital in the city.
Mr Simmons and Ms Jarvis were also able to drop off individual first aid kits heading for Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, as the rest of the supplies they transported from the UK are now being used to help a field hospital being built by ZSR.
“It was always really important to us that it’s not just going to go somewhere and sit in a warehouse and they don’t get put to use, that (the supplies) get to the right place,” Mr Simmons said.
“The Carpathian battalion, one of the army units in Ukraine, they put a picture (online) with our supplies and they said it was the best supplies they have ever had.
“We couldn’t have done it without the support of people.
“It really is down to that support of people, making connections, for us to be able to support the NGOs.”
Financial support for supplies came from a number of sources, including fundraisers by Edgeborough School in Farnham, Shire Fit gyms, and a Bridge to Unity-organised raffle at a local pub.
Mr Simmons and Ms Jarvis stayed with a contact in the Carpathian Mountains for a night before driving back to the UK on Sunday.
He praised the kindness shown by local people he has met travelling to and from Poland and Ukraine.
“It was four o’clock in the morning and she was still waiting up for us because it took so long to get over the border,” he said.
“She made us traditional foods and gave us tea, made up beds for us to get our heads down for a few hours. She was absolutely lovely.
“It’s like a whole coming together of the world really, and strangely in times of darkness there are glimmers of light and it is bringing people together.”
Mr Simmons also hailed the team effort at Bridge to Unity which makes possible the donation of vital medical supplies – a project that took six weeks to plan and prepare for.
“I’m the one that goes down to Ukraine but so much hard work goes on back in the UK to make sure everything’s sorted, (from) Alexandra, Melanie and Becky,” he said.
The group’s next plan involves furthering its support of the Polish NGO working to get a field hospital in Ukraine up and running.
“I’m looking at sending down the team (and) have volunteers actually ready to go with a vehicle,” he explained.
“And not just making a trip and coming back, but I saw them in talks about this – where we’d have a base down there.
“We would help them logistically to take supplies across the border to help kids at the field hospital.
“And if they need medical volunteers coming to and from the border then we can help transport them.”
To donate to Bridge to Unity’s cause, go to: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bridgetounity