When our APPG delivered aid to Ukraine it was deeply personal for me
My work for the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group means I have had the privilege of meeting various Ukrainian MPs and have been invited to the country on a number of occasions.
Time has passed rapidly since Vladimir Putin’s invasion on 24 February 2022 and I felt that it was time to visit Ukraine and show my support in person. I didn’t want to visit for a conference or tour but did want to show the United Kingdom’s support and solidarity, whilst doing something practical to help.
The idea of an anniversary aid convoy made up of MPs and other individuals was born of a discussion with Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko, chair of the British Group in the Ukrainian Rada. The idea was met with some scepticism at first; some people didn’t think it was something an APPG should be doing and others thought it impossible to organise in the short timeframe we had – just a few short weeks.
From the get-go, however, there were numerous individuals and groups who invested all the time and effort they could manage into making the convoy a success. People from all walks of life, and from a broad political spectrum, united in their support for the people of Ukraine.
After driving a new van, donated by Adderstone Foundation, full of aid down from Newcastle to London I met with Kevin Foster and on Sunday 19 February we set off from Dover. A Labour and a Conservative MP spending four days together in a van might sound like a recipe for disaster but, fortunately, the only banter was about my diet of Coke Zero and Space Raiders!
We were then joined by Scott Benton, the Conservative MP for Blackpool South, and my Labour colleague Anna McMorrin with whom I crossed the Ukrainian border. Both put in lengthy shifts driving the vans carrying aid, the same as other volunteers.
Our journey took us through Dortmund, Berlin, Wroclaw and Krakow – all of which have themselves been devastated by war, genocide, and totalitarianism. We used our rest stops to reflect and pay tribute to the victims. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, the Berlin Wall Memorial, and the site of Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Krakow were all pertinent reminders of the horrors of the past.
Visiting Schindler’s Factory was particularly emotional for me. They had an exhibition displaying photographs of displaced Ukrainians in Krakow, telling their stories; their experience of war and subsequent resettlement. There were strong parallels with my own family history, and it’s important to connect the atrocities of the Holocaust with the struggle of Ukrainians today.
The convoy concluded in Lviv, at the Operation SafeDrop warehouse. The warehouse is an incredible facility, donated by a Danish businessman, which holds tonnes of vital aid ready to be distributed to the areas most in need. Supplies were amassed before being directed to Dnipro, Chernihiv, Kherson, and other areas devastated by this brutal, unnecessary war.
Five MPs travelled to Chernihiv, an area just miles from the Belorussian border, to personally deliver the aid there.
Make a Difference Foundation, based near to my ancestral city of Lviv, is an awe-inspiring organisation with an Anglo-Ukrainian team working round the clock. It wouldn’t be possible to name every person who helped make the convoy a success but I want to give particular thanks to them, along with Stella’s Voice and Havant Council who formed the backbone of our organisational efforts.
The goodwill of charities and businesses, as well as support from the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, meant we could collect and deliver medical aid, demining equipment, generators, clothes and other critical supplies.
This was the first time the APPG has worked with friends and partners to deliver vital aid to Ukraine, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Alex Sobel’s family originally came from Lviv
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.