Great British Iconographer, Perou, joined the latest Medics4Ukraine medical convoy to document our journey to deliver life-saving supplies to the Ukraine frontline. Here’s is Perou’s very real diary of events alongside a selection of his photographs…
Luton to Poland
In 2007 I photographed Mark Hannaford, an enterprising explorer who set up the first professional company doing organised charity expeditions.
A couple of weeks ago, he invited me to join World Extreme Medicine & Medics4Ukraine on their second convoy of emergency medical aid to Ukraine.
I’ve been getting progressively more outraged by the news of the Russian invasion and jumped at the opportunity to do something more than I was (not doing already).
Not knowing much more than I was meeting Mark and advanced paramedic Luca at the airport in London, flying to Poland and driving into Ukraine, and that we’d hope to back by Wednesday. I packed my cameras and a kit bag, said goodbye to my sons and off chipped.
Lucy drove me to the airport where we said an uncertain goodbye. The convoy of medical aid: two big vans of specific frontline medicine and emergency medical equipment had been driven to a Polish fire station, from North England: 1400 miles by four volunteer drivers: Pav, Jamile, Annabel, and Tamsin who had set off some days before us.
We rendezvoused with them quite late, shared some pizza and bedded down on camp-beds (provided by the German Red Cross) next to a fire-truck. The fire-station kindly hosting us for a few hours before an early out.
Kyiv or Bust
Out at 5.30am for an early boost across the border to Lviv. Driven by SvL who used to work in events and marketing and now volunteers to drive between Poland and Ukraine, every day, taking over essential supplies.
Swapped vehicles and met Ukrainian WEP colleagues ST and N, loaded up with kit and the 5 off us (including me, Mark, and Luca) crammed into ST’s car and drove another 600km to Kyiv.
Fortunately, ST’s car is dual fuel and can run on LPG (gas) because there is almost no petrol and if you can find some to queue for, you can only get 10 litres.
We HAVE to make it to Kyiv before 10pm curfew and I had not appreciated how between the cities, Ukraine is endless fields and forests
It’s beautiful. Ukraine is the 4th largest producer of the wheat in the world.
We stopped 25km west of Kyiv to photograph some of the devastation in the Makaribs-kyi district. Where there was fierce fighting and the Ukrainians managed to fuck up and turn the Russians around.
Artem aged 13 and Dennis aged 9 are playing on this blown out Russian tank, that 3 weeks ago was full of Russian soldiers on their way to take Kyiv.
Kyiv is MUCH bigger than you could realise from watching tv news. The inner city is very charming: it has a Parisian feel: some cobbled streets, European architecture and there WOULD be outside seating for the cafes, but Kyiv is quite empty. The outside of Kyiv has vast sprawling blocks of modern flats
We manage to cross Kyiv, navigating slowly through roadside passport checks and roadblocks and make it to the doctor’s house who is hosting us tonight, in the countryside to the east of Kyiv.
Just a few weeks ago, all the villages surrounding his were occupied by Russian soldiers. He cooks us some amazing home cooked Ukrainian food: varnyky (potato and mushroom dumplings with pork) and marinated finest fresh white mushrooms his mother had picked from the forest.
After a delicious home cooked breakfast, drove back into Kyiv central.
Photographed the World Extreme Medicine guys in various meetings with Ukrainian MP’s, ministers, senior doctors, and military medial planners discussing what they do, how they can help and what’s in the ‘trauma boxes’ World Extreme Medicine assemble for delivery to the front-line soldiers and medics. (Almost everything you might need if you’re shot and/or blown up on a battlefield / in your house, in your village or town)
Although I’m just there to document the moments, its inspiring and interesting to meet these people and hear what’s going on, first hand.
I was outraged about the Russian invasion before I knew any Ukrainian people or had been to Ukraine.
I feel so much more empathy for them now but it’s still hard to imagine the horror of this being your daily reality: I am just a visitor: I can go home: I have a home to go to.
All the Ukrainians we meet are very grateful for the support they are receiving there are billboards and signs everywhere.
Here’s Mark and Luca from World Extreme Medicine with a sign that reads ‘THIS IS OUR LAND. WE WILL NOT GIVE IT UP!’
I really feel like Ukraine IS fighting for the free world and all Europeans: not just themselves. I feel deeply that they need all the support we can give them.
Russia is trying to eradicate Ukraine as a country: they are stealing cultural and heritage items from galleries and museums: trying to rewrite history to their own (fucked up and bullshit) narrative.
Love that they have these signs above the roads like here we might have ‘obstacle in road.’ They have ‘RUSSIAN SHIP, GO FUCK YOURSELF.’
Here’s me and a Ukrainian special forces soldier who was just back in Kyiv momentarily and met World Extreme Medicine to discuss what they need on the front-line (medically) and to take back some trauma boxes.
We decided to stay in Kyiv central overnight as it would save on driving to the countryside and back next day. The trendy hotel that we were staying in was full of young NGO’s and news reporters.
Apart from the soldiers, roadblocks, and empty city, it is possible to not really feel like you’re in a war zone, in a country at war here, at this moment weirdly.
After a final productive meeting we left Kyiv for the 600km drive back to Lviv
Stopped on the way to Lviv, at Berezivka where we were shown around by a local lad. Here, a few weeks ago, the Russians had been assembling before a push into Kiev but the met fierce Ukrainian resistance and got fucked. Unfortunately, they murdered and looted the villages there before they were turned around.
Here, they killed the village leader and her family and dumped their bodies in the sewer.
They killed another 50+ villagers too and dumped them in an open grave in the woods.
Almost ALL the house are damaged: some completely wrecked.
On our way out of the country, had to stop in (also charming) Lviv for ST and N to collect their permits allowing them out of Ukraine so they could drive us back to Poland. No men of fighting age are allowed to leave Ukraine without special permission.
As we were approaching Lviv, ST got an alert on his phone that Kyiv (where we had just been) had an air raid warning.
In Lviv, as I was enjoying this delicious borsch (beetroot soup with vegetables and pork) in a little local cafe the air raid sirens started there. Then thuds as missiles hit their targets. We ran out into the road to hear the haunting sound of air raids and see the sky filling with black smoke.
Russian missiles had hit some electrical power stations and railway lines going in and out of Lviv: trying too fuck infrastructure and routes for supplies and our intended border crossing was then closed.
Managed to get out of Lviv before curfew and decided to drive 2 hrs north to the next border which was apparently quite quiet. We arrived to 18km of lorries queuing to get across so decided to walk over the border, although there were no pedestrians allowed there.
At midnight, SvL drove to meet us on the polish side and drive us 2.5hrs back to the fire station where a kind fireman woke up and let us in for a few hours’ sleep. Long, long day.
Prof. Mark Hannaford
Up after 4.5hrs sleep I felt like was still shaking with tiredness. SvL who had slept at the station too, dropped us at the polish airport which is now absolutely surrounded by air defence missiles.
Flew home delirious and Lucy came to pick me up from airport.
At home, it feels totally surreal to be able to walk over the road to the shops to buy some bread as usual and realise that the war in Ukraine continues as it was: the Russians are still there: the soldiers are still fighting on the frontline and missiles are still hitting all over the country and killing civilians.
It’s been a great honour to be in Ukraine and with great people at World Extreme Medicine: I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to do something practical other than just shouting at the tv news.
World Extreme Medicine has a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the ‘trauma boxes’ that are already saving lives.YOU can do something practical to help too: you can donate.
World Extreme Medicine are covering all the logistics of their Medics4Ukraine missions so 100% of money raised goes on meds and equipment and I have seen how grateful the people are who are receiving these boxes.
There will be more convoys: as many as can be afforded so please think about digging in. Sadly, this war won’t be over immediately, and the Ukrainian people continue to need our help.
(Photos by Perou)