Big-hearted couple, Krzysztof Piedel and wife Magda, are preparing to leave home again for the war zone to deliver relief to vulnerable
A Polish man who risked his life to bring aid to Ukrainian civilians and soldiers trapped inside the war zone has launched an appeal to bring more help to the frontline.
Krzysztof Piedel and his wife Magda are hoping to buy a second-hand ambulance and fill it with vital aid to bring direct to a hospital outside the city of Kyiv.
The couple, who are in their mid-30s and live in Co Armagh, have been so moved by the desperation of the Ukrainian people that they have already raised funds for two trips to the war-torn region.
Grateful for the support of friends, family and work colleagues they now hope that the people of Northern Ireland will dig deep to donate to their latest fund-raising drive.
Kris, who works in Almac Pharmaceuticals in Portadown and lives in Lurgan, has used two weeks of his annual leave so far to travel to Poland and Ukraine to help out.
He explains how he got involved: “I have a colleague who is from Ukraine and he was worried about getting his mum out after the war started.
“I offered to try and help. Magda was visiting family in Poland at the time and she put out a call for help on Facebook.
“Through friends of friends, we managed to get her a lift from the border and a house to stay in until she could get a flight to Dublin.
“It was incredible how people were so willing to help.”
As the refugees started to pour out of Ukraine in their millions, Kris felt he needed to do something more.
Magda, who works in the Clann Eireann Youth Club and EA Silverwood Centre in Lurgan, set up an appeal on Facebook and colleagues and friends of the couple helped to raise £4,000.
In early March, Kris flew to Poland, hired a van and drove to the Ukrainian border.
He says nothing could have prepared him for the desperate scenes he found there: “When I got to the border there was a big queue.
“It was minus eight degrees and people were standing for hours waiting to cross.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening and it was difficult to see the babies and the mums as well as old women standing in the cold just waiting to get to safety — 99% of them were women and children.
“Many of them had witnessed really bad things. I had a family in my van and the mum couldn’t stop crying. Her son who was just 15 and he told me that his father had been shot in front of them. I started crying as well, it was so difficult.”
Afraid to waste time sleeping, Kris caught just three hours on a camp bed each night before working non stop helping people cross the border.
After covering the cost of his van hire, he used the money raised by friends and family to buy equipment for a refugee centre in Boniewo.
The centre which was sheltering over 50 families was not equipped.
Now thanks to Kris and those who supported him they have new microwave ovens, tumble dryers, kettles, an iron, beds, mattresses, bed linen, baby thermometers, underwear, hygiene items, food and toys.
Kris returned to Northern Ireland after a week feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, but compelled to go back and do more.
This time he travelled with a friend who works with a Polish mission in Dublin, bringing aid direct to people trapped inside Ukraine.
Admitting that he was frightened he says: “I think only stupid people would not be scared going into Ukraine now. I just tried not to think about it as we had a mission and that gave me comfort in my head.
“We wore bullet proof vests and drove past destroyed buildings and checkpoints in the streets. We drove 500km to bring medical equipment including an ultra sound machine, medicines and medical dressings to a military hospital close to the capital Kyiv.
“We had to get Ukrainian soldiers to escort us as it was so dangerous.
“We also delivered some military equipment to the frontline soldiers and brought some food for abandoned animals that have been left starving in the streets.
“One woman asked if we wanted to eat but all she had was potatoes. Even though the people have nothing they were thinking of others.
“We talked to a teacher whose school had been destroyed just five minutes before the pupils were due to arrive. He was in a small room and was very lucky to survive but others were killed.
“The soldiers we met were very motivated and it didn’t surprise us as they are fighting for their families and their children.
“The Russians are saying they are not targeting civilians but everywhere we looked flats, houses, hospitals and schools were destroyed. It was very difficult.”
The hospital which Kris brought aid to is overwhelmed with casualties from the war and in desperate need of medical supplies including bandages and simple first aid kits.
Many of their ambulances have been destroyed by the Russians.
Kris and Magda now want to raise £15,000 to buy a second-hand ambulance and fill it with aid to drive back into Ukraine.
Magda adds: “The need inside Ukraine is so great that we feel we must keep on helping.
“We have already asked all of our friends and family for support so many times that we can’t ask again so we are hoping the people of Northern Ireland will get behind us.
“Even if there is a hospital that could donate an old ambulance to us, we could fill it with aid and bring it out sooner.
“It will be scary going with Kris into Ukraine but we feel that as well as donating money and items, it is important that people go out to help physically.”
The couple plan to use donations to buy medical supplies, non-perishable food, underwear, hygiene items, baby foods, military boots, power generators, masking nets, binoculars, torches, power banks and foil blankets.
— To support their appeal, you can visit their gofundme page here.