“They’re not messing around. There is an enormous threat, just because we don’t feel it back home doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”
This is the warning from an Omagh man who is on the ground in Ukraine, doing his best to help those in need as war rages on across the east.
“It has to end. This is absolute madness,” says Jonathan Baynard (33). “The potential for this to drag into World War Three should be taken seriously by everyone. It wasn’t that long ago that a mainstream Russian media outlet showed how they would attack the UK and Ireland.”
With a few awkward back-and-forth emails, I found myself connected to this brave volunteer via Zoom, speaking from Kyiv on a Saturday morning — with a beautiful blue sky, lush greenery and impressive architecture in the background.
Jonathan, who studied at Queen’s University, has spent the last nine years working across eastern Europe as a member of Legenda, an NGO that recovers remains and provides closure to thousands of families.
Through this work, one of Jonathan’s main skill sets is bomb disposal.
Legenda has found over 20,000 bodies to date, painstakingly filling in the holes that wars have torn throughout Europe.
In Jonathan’s mind, history could soon repeat itself and he had to put himself forward.
“When the war broke out, one of the main justifications from the Russian Federation was that they were going to de-Nazify Ukraine, they thought their soldiers would be welcomed with flowers,” he adds.
“It came into my mind, I’ve actually found thousands of Russian soldiers from the First and Second World Wars.
“We were often on Russian TV and those people were buried with full honours, it all clicked in my head that I was a part of the propaganda machine.
“I got really angry about it and thought I had to go to help the Ukrainians because this wasn’t fair.”
Kyiv is relatively safe at the moment, although conflict is never far away. Jonathan spoke of air raid sirens erupting at 4.30am the previous night.
Crossing the border from Poland in May, he took a seven-hour taxi to the capital. On his way, he witnessed the carnage and destruction left by the Russians.
His work now involves making these areas safe.
“Nothing was spared, it’s an absolute mess,” he adds.
“Watching [the Ukrainians] being eradicated, village by village, city by city, is a human tragedy… are we doing enough everywhere? No, we’re not.
“They don’t need clothes, they need real people like myself. If you have a vehicle, you can drive and you can help. If you don’t mind putting yourself into a bit of danger, well then, come for this cause.”
However, Jonathan says people are scared. And understandably so, there’s a curfew in place, the majority of people have lost someone they know or have somebody fighting on the frontline.
The world is watching and this is a country traumatised for all to see.
He adds: “In terms of warfare, it has never been so well recorded, every person on the front has a mobile phone.
“If you want to inform yourself, you can — to ignore it and be blasé isn’t right.”
Jonathan is asked about the ‘fade factor’: Is Northern Ireland doing enough? Have we taken enough refugees? We’re months down the line with no progress, and for many here it could soon become a case of out of sight, out of mind.
He replies that this war is affecting all of us through inflation, the energy crisis, and cost of living.
“There are crises happening because of this,” he adds.
And the threat of a volatile, unpredictable Russia continues. But he is optimistic at the recent breakthrough on trade talks regarding grain export.
On Russia’s position, he says: “They understand that they’re affecting the whole world right now. It’s positive, but to get them to the table, what will that take? I have no idea.
“It’s going to take an incredible amount of diplomacy.”
For now, all notions of diplomacy are set aside as missiles continue to rain down on Ukraine.
As Jonathan says: “They need all the help they can get and they need it now.”