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Angels for Ukraine will support the country for as long as it takes

Angels for Ukraine will support the country for as long as it takes

Brooks Newmark

4 min read

Since the war started, I have helped evacuate more than17,990 women and children from the various war zones that keep emerging in Ukraine. I say emerging, as that is how the war has developed.

My story began with an Instagram post on the Polish border with Ukraine. It was the first week of the war, and a Latvian friend of mine, Raitis, posted that he was shuttling people from refugee centres in Tomaszow Lubelski and Korczowa. On an impulse I decided to join him.

By the time I arrived in Poland, the centres were overflowing with thousands of individuals – mainly women, children and a few elderly men. Most had only a small bag of belongings with them, whatever they could grab as the bombs started raining down on them from the Russian invaders. We then began shuttling people to other capitals in Europe, including Berlin, Paris, Luxembourg and Riga. 

What started as a few days’ volunteering swiftly became weeks and then months. While my Latvian friend had to go back to work, I remained and suggested we move into Ukraine. We found three buses in Lithuania and another Latvian (an old friend of Raitis), Maris, joined me. We based ourselves in Lviv and began shuttling people on our buses for free from Lviv and Kyiv to the Polish border.

Targeting civilians is a war crime, yet Russia was doing this daily

As the Russians were pushed back from Kyiv, we moved our operation to Vinnytsia and Zaporizhia, which many of the women and children fleeing the Russian slaughter in Mariupol manged to reach. We would then collect them and take them to Lviv in the west of Ukraine. Lviv was relatively safe and they could stay with friends and family in nearby villages. Most of the Ukrainians I came across preferred to stay in their own country; some of them who did leave only wanted to go as far as Poland, in the hopes that the war would end soon – and they could return home. 

As the war shifted from the north to the east so did my operation. Having set up four hubs in Lviv, Kyiv, Vinnytsia and Zaporizhia, we then set up two more in Dnipro and Kharkiv. The Russians were increasingly targeting civilian areas in the east and driving them out of the major cities and towns. Targeting civilians is a war crime, yet Russia was doing this daily – and in places like Mariupol, Izyum and Kharkiv, hourly. 

By now I had access to more than 16 buses from two national bus companies and several ambulances from the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem and had moved more than 9,200 mainly women and children to safety. 

Then in mid-July we received a call from one of our local government contacts in Kharkiv. Could we help evacuate 1,000 women and children from a Russian controlled area in the east of the Kharkiv region? I said yes immediately. But we needed to find more buses and more ambulances. The date was set for Monday 25 July. After several calls we managed to find 20 buses, three ambulances and a handful of vans that we could use as makeshift ambulances.

After several challenges, including avoiding a mortar shell fired at my car on the way to the rendezvous point and moving 500 metres of anti-tank mines between the Russian and Ukrainian checkpoints, we eventually managed to help 1,015 Ukrainians get away from Russian-occupied Kharkiv Oblast.

Brooks Newmark at Pechenihy (Russian/ Ukrainian checkpoint in Kharkiv Oblast) on 25 July

As winter approaches and the war shifts between Kherson and Kharkiv we continue to focus our efforts on moving Ukrainian women and children to safety from Russian controlled territory, and towns and villages under attack from the Russians. 

Like many volunteers in Ukraine, my two partners and I in this mission, which we’ve called Angels for Ukraine, are committed to support Ukraine and the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes. 

Slava Ukraini!

Brooks Newmark is a former MP and minister for civil society

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