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, 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.

Armed Forces Veterans open a pathway to future runs.

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 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 travelled 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.’

Armed Forces Veterans supporting communication.

‘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 contact 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, 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. They help each other, and the children laugh, play, and sing, as they 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, primarily, 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 ex-Armed Forces how it feels to be away from their family. It was their motivation to help. Mark said, 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 is something natural to us, others don’t have this, and that is why we need to help them.”  

Martin and two others have stayed on to support Ukraine. They witnessed how communities came together and care for Ukrainian families in 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. But he needs more sleeping bags and blankets; could anyone help?’

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

The men arrived at the drop-off point and saw 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, they will go to 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, and nappies. We need 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 tucked 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 must 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, and sweets for the journey. Also, they will have 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 others understand the power of a toy to a child; they are family men from Salford. They know that a knitted toy can give unlimited hugs and comfort to a child. More importantly, these powerhouses of comfort go back into their pockets, waiting for the next time they are needed.

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 spread the message of solidarity with kindness and compassion. Also, if any child wants to write a note of support to the children of Ukraine; please send them. We will 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. However, the need for masks is less in the manic masses at the train stations and borders. But 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. You see a lot of people carrying possessions in carrier bags. Sadly, they are all they have left of their former lives.

Some 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 community centres and hospitals. Mark said the US had promised to donate generators. But they would take them if anyone could help.

Mark stayed at the train station, volunteering to help 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.

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 volunteers, Jann Brandt Cassidy, Helen Street and Owen Hammond, united to support Ukraine. 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. Together, we can help them get this done. However, speed is of the essence; the men prepare to return to support Ukraine in the next few weeks.

Every Saturday morning, the Salford Veterans Community Centre CIC Breakfast club is 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. We will arrange a collection from you, wherever you are.

Can you help us to support Ukraine? We are calling on our community, local businesses, and charities to come together. We will gratefully receive every donation. We know that the kindness and generosity of our Armed Forces Veterans and it’s community are legendary. Together, we must do what we can to help stand up for Ukraine.

Also, as Mum’s and family people, we call out to our children, schools, and community centres. Could children write letters 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. A smile from a child, is the same smile, no matter what language they speak.

If you can donate or volunteer to help us to support Ukraine in any way; please contact us on the form below. 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 appreciated. Thank you.

Armed Forces Veterans & the Salford Community support Ukraine.

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