Wima-Austria_Supports Ukraine

Slava Ukraini

We heard it in Switzerland (but that’s another story) and are shocked, as is the rest of the world.
Russia is in war with Ukrainia!
On the way back, we make the first plans what we, or WIMA, can do in this situation

WIMA has a division in Ukraine too and so we learn first-hand about the development of events through the various channels.
It is disturbing to hear how this war is affecting the civilian population. My Ukrainian colleague is sitting in a basement in Kiev and is hosting about 100 other people who have sought refuge.
She reports ongoing air raid alarms, shocks from explosions and hidden snipers shooting indiscriminately at people queuing for scarce goods.

She has supplies, but of course they will not last indefinitely and it is uncertain how long payments from abroad can be fixed in Kiev.
Very quickly, two plans develop.
Plan 1:
Monetary donations are collected internationally and converted into needed goods donations via WIMA Romania. These donations are then transported to Kiev and other cities by Red Cross transports, accompanied by a Romanian WIMA.
Due to the fighting, however, these transports are still uncertain, and so for the time being a large part of the 17,000 donated €/$ remains frozen and awaits further developments.
Plan 2
Try to support WIMA Ukraine members to flee and pick them up from the borders.
But this plan is hindered by the courage of the Ukrainian WIMA’s.
Like a captain, they want to leave Ukraine only when all is truly lost. Until then, they want to support their men, who are now all fighting in the army. One WIMA has also signed up to serve in the army.

So our dilemma in WIMA Austria is – what do we do with the money we have donated so far? Do we freeze it, do we try to transfer it to Ukraine, do we help elsewhere?
The solution is simple: we just do everything. Our plan:

  • 600 € will be transferred to Ukraine,
  • 200 € will be transferred to Romania.
  • We collect donations in kind (mainly food and hygiene materials) and transport them directly to the border. And, if the opportunity arises, we will also gladly take someone with us to Austria.

Point 1 +2 was relatively easy and quick to implement, the 3rd point needs a little research, preparation and volunteers to drive to the border and handle everything there on the spot.
Collecting and shopping for donations also requires a few rounds through Vienna.

The journey from Vienna is possible in 7-8 hours, i.e. a weekend should be enough to get there and back – with a stop at the border.

There are different routes to Košice – our outward route takes us through the Low Tatras via the E58 directly to Košice, for the return we then choose the above-mentioned route through the High Tatras.

We hurry to check in, because the rest of our convoy, consisting of a French camper with Francoise and Dominique and Verena with her German car, is driving through tirelessly.

I am accompanied by Laura, who maintains the coordination of the individual communication channels throughout the journey and assists with navigation.
All along the route, buses come towards us, they are from private companies, the fire brigade or regional lines. All of them have the railway station in Košice as their destination. The EU announced a few days ago that Ukrainian refugees can travel free of charge by train within the EU, hence the railway station.

Yesterday we contacted Petka, a Slovakian acquaintance from the WRWR, with the request to clarify the local measures for us so that we can better prepare ourselves.
We learned that the churches have set up a coordinating office in the diocese in Košice. From there we are passed on to a collection point in Sobrance, which accepts donations in goods. (in the Greek. orthodox Church)
But we drive straight to the border on the off-chance (the last place was called Lúčky – if that’s not a good omen).
It is already late and we want to get to know the local conditions in the light.

Finally, we arrive in a line of cars and trucks lined up in three rows, about 1 km before the border.

It is a hectic and at the same time quiet hustle and bustle in front of the border crossing. Donations are loaded into waiting Ukrainian trucks, which then drive across the border. We also load our goods into one of these trucks. Closer to the border crossing are the tents of various aid organisations (I noticed Malteser, Caritas and Red Cross, but there were many more). They are also waiting for donations in kind and distribute them or cook them for the refugees. The refugees cross the border in pairs or small groups. Sometimes a Slovak soldier carries a small child the last few metres from the border station to the tent city.

Some cry, some laugh, all look for familiar faces in the waiting crowd, or try to get their bearings on the site. For many, the Maltese tent is a good start, because trips and accommodation in half of Europe are registered here. Our convoy also registered there to be able to take people to France, Germany and Austria on the way back.

I’m also trying to launch a drone to get a better picture of thesituation on the ground, but unfortunately the border crossing is in the flight path of Uzhgorod airport. And without special permission, I can’t get the drone to take off here (even though no plane is sure to land there at the moment). Afterwards, we make our way solo back to the hotel to rest a little and also finally eat. Before that, we stop briefly in Sobrance to check out the collection point at the Greek Orthodox Church. And, indeed, there are a number of vans there and there is a lot of activity unloading the vehicles.

On the way back we learn that our French WIMA’s have managed to find 3 women – mother/daughter and friend – with destination in France (Nantes and Normandy). They are also on their way back from the border. We fill up at the OMV gas station and leave the Shell on the right (at this time they still have Russian petrol in the tanks) 😉
A little later, Verena will bring Albina and Roman with her, who will stay at the hotel with us. Albina worked in logistics at Amazon and speaks very good English. Roman is just tired… Nevertheless, they eat a little something with us and then go to sleep.
For me there is a special treat to get a dessert from Laura, which, at first glance, masquerades as a cookie mousse variant – yessss! but then the taste reveals the true content: banana!

OMG, and this to me, I don’t like these things, no matter how healthy they are; although maybe just because of that? hmmm.
The reason Laura cheated this well-disguised devilish stuff onto my plate is an inside joke and I’m certainly not going to explain it!!! Nyet.
Variety is then back on the plan as we invite the 3 ladies from the camper into our hotel shower – the hotel staff just ignore us.
Again, we notice that the Ukrainian women speak English (or French) quite well, all have or had a good job and firmly believe that they will soon be able to return to Ukraine. All of them have spent hours and days on trains and other means of transport. Often standing or sitting on the ground, just taking a suitcase and a bag, but not really realising their status as refugees yet.
We are not alone in the hotel, other people, often German speakers, are also there and the car park in front of the hotel also shows number plates from near and far. And we also meet refugees who have been taken to the hotel and are staying here overnight.

After dinner and a shower, we just fall into bed, we just manage a few lines in Whatsapp and Co and then we are already asleep.
We want to have breakfast and do some shopping before we drive to the border again to maybe pick up someone there.
So we get up early, the sun shines in through the window, it could be a wonderful day, but we both know that’s not the case.
We queue up in front of the restaurant, also today a group of refugees and helpers are already in the hotel lobby and waiting as well. I go out to the car park and find our Franz. WIMA’s already in a mood to leave. There is an au revoir with a photo and then they are on their way to France with their three ladies. Bon voyage, mes amies!

When the breakfast buffet is ready, we can enjoy our breakfast, which is also perfect.
Verena, Albina and Roman are also there and are already looking forward to the onward journey to Munich where they can stay with a friend of Verena.
We quickly pack up and set off for the TESCO supermarket, which we discovered yesterday, to fill our car to the ceiling once more and set off for the border once more.

The route and the local conditions are already known. Undaunted – but not unchallenged by the Slovakian military 😉 we drive right up to the border crossing and hand in the items we have brought with us directly at the Caritas tent this time. Here, refugees receive a kind of first aid with necessary food and daily necessities.

In the meantime, Laura heads to the Malteser tent to ask about potential passengers, while I look for a parking slot on the side of the access road to enable me to wait for passengers.
I park into a save space and chat very briefly with a Ukrainian who has come from the UK.
He is here at the border for the third time with his van, with stops in Poland in between, to have goods brought to Ukraine.
I was just thinking about going back to the border to look for Laura, when she comes along with her mother and daughter in tow.
We manage to stow luggage and people in our car and then we drive off to Topoľčany (north of Nitra).
This time we take the northern route from Košice past the High Tatras. There is an impressive amount of snow with temperatures around freezing point.

We stop at a petrol station to fill up and have a snack. As I leave the petrol pump to make way for the following cars, a Ukrainian women passing by tells us: You are doing great thinks! Many thanks! Its nice and at the same time a little bit embarassing, so we continue, always in the direction of Topoľčany.
The landscape is also very beautiful on this route and definitely makes you want to go on a motorbike tour in Slovakia.

After about 5 hours of driving, we arrive in Topoľčany and find the brother or uncle of our “passengers” too.
It is a short goodbye and we make our further way back home.
The area becomes more and more familiar, and after Bratislava we come across a French/Belgian military convoy on the motorway, moving tanks towards Hungary.
Once again we are reminded of what was set in motion with this totally unnecessary war.

We are both tired, happy and sad at the same time.
One thing is for sure it won’t be our last trip

If you have any questions about how you can help, please contact us, we will be happy to give you tips from our experience.

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