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Five men stood by a van smiling. In the forefront is an image of the flag of Ukraine.

Armed Forces Veterans & the Salford community unite to support Ukraine.

Mark Hatfield and Martin Dunwoody are former 3rd Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and Veterans of the Armed Forces; they are also local men proud of their roots. First and foremost, they are family men with children and grandchildren; however, they stand shoulder to shoulder within their community to support families and children in war-torn Ukraine. Mark, Martin and other Salford family men have recently travelled to support Ukraine with two vans of medical equipment; this run was planned as the first run to open more doors for more runs in the future.

Mark said his motivation came as he watched the news reports on the television and saw the faces of the women and children. As an Armed Forces Veteran, Mark has experienced conflict, but he knew it could so easily be his family and his community who was next. The others felt the same; they had to help. Also, Mark pointed out; they didn’t decide to do this because they are Armed Forces Veterans, but as men in their community, they came together to help Ukrainians in need.

The first run was to open a pathway to future runs to support Ukraine.

Mark returned from Ukraine two days ago after delivering much-needed goods to support the Ukrainian people. However, it was a run intended to open up the gates for future runs; the next one is in a few weeks; it helped them identify what items the people of Ukraine needed most. Now, they are calling on their community to stand with them with donations. They call on local people, charities and community groups, local businesses and national to come together and help them achieve this.

Martin and Mark planned the first run to support Ukraine last month; they left Salford on a Friday morning and drove to London, where they spent the day loading the van. Mark said, ‘on reflection; we want to prepare ourselves better for the next time we go. We wasted a day, so, next time, we want all the items boxed, prepared and ready from one local drop-off point.’

The men travelled to Dover and boarded the ferry, and18 hours later, having travelled 1500 miles to complete their mission, they arrived at the Ukrainian border.

Women and children were everywhere; many children are travelling alone.

Mark explained, ‘When we arrived at Warsaw, officials directed us to a community centre, where had could take a shower and rest up before we made our way to the borders. The first problem we thought about was where we would take our delivery; who would want it? Also, where was it needed most to support the Ukrainian people? The second problem was paperwork, it was horrendous, and the queues were vast.’

Mark said, ‘the next run will be better, we have tried and tested this run, and we know what we face now. However, we weren’t ready to see how many people were at the border and how many lost women and children there were.’

Also, it was snowing, and everyone was jostling and pushing to get on the trains. Mark said ‘women were clinging to their children’s hands; God forbid they let go because they wouldn’t have found them again amongst so many people.’

‘ Worse still was the sight of children who travelled alone; their families had no choice; they needed to get them out safely. Sadly, many of them carried their belongings in carrier bags; some had even brought their pets. I thought to myself, have we brought pet food? And if we haven’t, we will next time.’

Ukraine needs support with communication as many have no phones.

‘I knew that Poland had taken one million refugees in the first few days of conflict; this explained the mass of people trying to get through the border. Also, there was a massive block in communication as many women and children, including children travelling alone, couldn’t log on to social media accounts because they didn’t have a phone. Subsequently, they couldn’t get in touch with friends or family to tell them where they were.’

‘The train station on the Polish border was manic; we could see that not everyone had a phone. We need mobile phones, tablets, i-pads or walkie-talkies because the phone companies were giving away pre-paid sim cards at the train station; this is a Gods send. Consequently, they can contact their families once they get a phone.’

‘Can you imagine how horrific this is for families? For the many men who stayed to fight? And the elderly and people with disabilities that had to stay behind?’

‘How do they get their voices heard without a phone? Also, not everyone is strong enough to face the journey out of Ukraine; they wouldn’t survive. How will they know if their family is safe? And finally, what of the displaced children who are now vulnerable; how do they get their voices heard?’  

Mark said, ‘you can see on the faces of the people at the train station how desperate they are. The horror of what has happened to them is intense. Yet, there is a sense of community with them; they help each other, and children laugh, play, sing, and raise spirits.’

We are family men first and armed forces veterans second.

The government, Mark said, doesn’t want serving soldiers to go to Ukraine. However, the men recognise this because, first and foremost, they are family men from Salford. They have families who are supporting them wholeheartedly. Secondly, Martin and Mark are ex- Lancashire Fusiliers and are Armed Forces Veterans; thankfully, they didn’t hang up their hearts when they hung up their boots.

Both Mark and Martin understand as Armed Forces how it feels to be away from their family; it was the motivation to help. Mark explained, ‘we saw the women and children and knew how easily it could be us; this could be our family, and our children and grandchildren could be next.’

‘Thanks to the last runs, the route we have planned for the next trip is better prepared. We know what the Ukrainians need, and more importantly, we know the best way to do it.’

Mark also supports Veterans who suffer from mental health problems; he is aware of Ukrainians’ potential mental health problems. Mark explains, ‘we are ex-Army, the survival technique is in-built, but this something natural to us, others don’t have this, and that is why we need to help them.”  

Martin and two others have stayed to support Ukraine and witnessed how communities come together and care for Ukrainian families in their local community centres and schools. Mark said, ‘I know one man who runs an Irish bar in Warsaw; he has two spare bedrooms upstairs. Every night he has two families that stay in safety before they move ahead the next day; however, he needs more sleeping bags and blankets; could anyone help out?’

We need individual boxes for families, children and people travelling alone.

The men arrived at the drop off point, and they saw for themselves the enormity of donations given to Ukrainian people from many countries. Mark said,’ the generosity is fantastic.’ ‘However, we are going back with everything they need for their next journey, in a box with everything they need now. It’s cold over there; they are freezing; they need hats, gloves, scarves, and socks.’

‘The boxes will go to every family and their children; also children and people travelling alone because they need essentials to keep them warm.’

‘However, firstly, we need boxes, so we now call box manufacturers to help us. The family boxes will contain knitted hats, glasses, scarves, gloves, coats, socks, water, nappies, medical supplies that include paracetamol, bandages, plaster, antiseptic creams, Calpol and sanitary products. Also, we need travel goods, such as lip balms, baby wipes and moisturisers; it is so cold, and the onus is to help them survive.’

‘They need heated gloves because it is bitterly cold, and everything must be compact. We need things they can wear now or tuck away in a pocket. Also, we need chocolate and sweets, especially glucose sweets, whilst they are travelling to give them energy. However, most importantly, they need a mobile phone to communicate.’

‘ Most importantly, we need communities to come together. We need charities and local organisations to help us get these things to one local drop off point; from there, we can individually box them and get ourselves back with what the Ukrainians need.’

We also need pet food, too!

We want to recognise the vital work children play in this war.

The men want a box for each child; one for a girl and one for a boy. The packages will have woollen hats, gloves, underwear, scarves, chocolate, sweets for the journey, a knitted toy and whatever we can to help them on their journey ahead.

I told Mark about the knitted toys we give to children in foster care; I suggested we ask the ladies who knit for us to knit for the children and support Ukraine? Mark and the rest of the men understand the power of a toy to a child; they are family men from Salford. They know how a knitted toy made with love from a stranger will give unlimited hugs and comfort to a child. More importantly, these powerhouses of comfort go back into their pockets, waiting for the next time the children need them.

Mark said ‘we know that a child’s smile is the same no matter their language. Also, we saw children keeping everyone positive as they were smiling, singing, and keeping everyone’s spirits up. However, we know what the children are doing; also, we need to understand; they are still children. We need to look after them whilst they are looking after others.’

We know children should not witness the horrors of war. However, as the children have shown, friendships and solidarity among children are strong; they too can spread the message of solidarity with kindness and compassion. Also, if a child wants to write a note to go in the boxes to let them know they support them, that would be wonderful. Please, send the letters to us, and we’ll include them in the children’s boxes.

What is the COVID situation in Ukraine?

I asked Mark about the COVID situation in Ukraine. Are they still wearing masks? I know that not everyone in the UK wears them now; is it the same situation in Ukraine and their countries? He said the borders run checks to see if people have had vaccinations; COVID is a massive threat to their countries. Also, it is mandatory to wear face masks, although the need for this is less in the manic masses at the train stations and borders; they are compulsory in the countries they are travelling to. Again, there is a shortage of facemasks; can anyone please help with this?

Another item Mark said they need is backpacks for adults and children. Many people carry possessions in carrier bags; sadly, they are all they have of their former lives; we must protect them.

Many areas in Ukraine have no electricity; they need generators.

Many cities and areas of Ukraine are without electricity; they need generators to provide ongoing help, especially in the community centres and hospitals. Mark said the US had promised to donate generators; however, they would still take them if anyone could support Ukrainian services?

Mark stayed at the train station, volunteering to help out on the border; after six days, he flew back to England last Friday to arrange another run. Martin and the others stayed on; however, Martin picked up a family, a Mum and her two children in Ukraine who had no means of transport. He has taken them to Berlin, and then he’s heading back to Salford to do another run; we need donations, please.

How can I help, and where do I go?

Verve CIC Ambassador, Claire Marie Street, is also a Director of a local charity, the Salford Veterans Community Centre. Verve CIC, Claire and her volunteers, Jann Brandt Cassidy, Helen Street and Owen Hammond, and many more volunteers have united together; because we have more impact. We are family people from Salford, and we support vulnerable people, families and children, no matter where they are.

We have the list of the goods the men need for the boxes, and together, we can help them get this done. However, speed is of the essence as the men are preparing to return to support Ukraine in the next few weeks. To achieve this, we need one drop off point for everything to come together and from where the lads will leave with vans loaded, saving valuable time to get the boxes to where they are needed most. To do this, we need your help.

We support Ukraine; Can you help?

Every Saturday morning, the Salford Veterans Community Centre CIC has a breakfast Club called the Troops Naafi, held at Pendleton Church, Salford. Claire and I will be there every Saturday to take any donations at Pendleton Church, Salford, from 10.00 am-5.00 pm. If you cannot get to the church, please let us know, and we will arrange a collection from you, wherever you are. We have a team of volunteers waiting because every item is precious; if you need assistance, reach out, and together, we can do this.

Can you help us to support Ukraine? We call on our community, our Armed Forces veterans, local businesses, and charities to come together. We will gratefully receive every donation, and the kindness and generosity of our community are legendary; together, we know what we have to do to help stand up for Ukraine.

Also, as Mum’s and family people, we call out to our children, schools, community centres and ask for letters we can send to the children of Ukraine to show how much we stand with them. Maybe you could knit or donate a small knitted toy; this could go with their friendship letter? After all, a smile from a child is the same smile no matter what language they speak.

If you want to donate or volunteer to help us to support Ukraine in any way, please send your details on the contact form below, and we will get straight back to you. There is also a Just Giving page to help Mark, Martin and the lads with their travelling costs; any help or support is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

We support Ukraine.


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