This month, local community councillor and army veteran Hannah Jarvis returned from her fourth aid run to Ukraine - marking her second time going over the Polish-Ukranian border to deliver medical aid.
Hannah is one of the incredible volunteers at Bridge to Unity, a Portsmouth based charity that aspires to offer community aid to those in need. As previously reported by The Chronicle, Bridge to Unity has been instrumental in the efforts to help Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February.
On top of tirelessly working to stockpile a range of medical equipment to support refugees, they have also formed a strong professional relationship with Zintegrowana Sluzba Ratownicza (ZSR); a not-for-profit organisation based in Poland that is made up of voluntary medics providing emergency support to those crossing the border from Ukraine.
Bridge to Unity has made invaluable contributions to this operation, which includes raising £60,000 to purchase an ambulance for ZSR’s use. In return, ZSR played a vital role in helping Hannah and her fellow travellers over the border.
On Thursday, November 9, Hannah, Charity Director Matt Simmons and volunteer, Liberty Rose flew to Poland where they spent the night. The next morning, they then found themselves travelling to the Polish-Ukranian border via two ambulances, courtesy of ZSR.
Hannah admitted that she was full of nerves as they were aiming to go as far as Lviv - the furthest that they had ever ventured into the country.
This was likely due to how terrifying their first experience had been. When trying to cross at the Slovakian border; her and Matt were stuck and held at gunpoint for six hours at the hands of Slovakian soldiers and police who refused to let them through to Ukraine with Hannah unsure whether or not she would be returning home.
However, Hannah remarked that this trip was completely different. “The first time going to Ukraine, we saw all the short-term effects that the war was having on civilians – mothers holding babies who had never met their fathers and so many people ill from having no medicine. This time we witnessed the long-term... people trying to live with war and recover.”
Their first stop was a hub made up entirely of women. Formed three days after the war broke out, these amazing people had been working relentlessly, cooking meals and transporting them to those who continue to fight for Ukraine on the frontline. Hannah was astounded by how extremely professional their set-up was.
Bridge to Unity was able to further contribute to their cause, by supplying the hub aid including antibiotics and trauma kits for the soldiers that could be delivered with the food.
They then travelled into Lviv, which Hannah described as “a beautiful city but with clear clues of war”; buildings covered in scaffolding and sandbags piled in front of monuments in the hope of protecting them from irreparable damage.
A military hospital in Lviv was their final stop and while initially intended as a drop and run job, would proceed into what Hannah calls “one of the most surreal moments” of her life.
She and the volunteers were invited into the hospital where they not only treated to a buffet and vodka, but taken to a concert that was specially organised for the soldiers.
“We were thanked on the stage and then the soldiers sang the national anthem to us... it was surreal and completely rousing.”
In a poignant observation, Hannah commented, “There were about 150 men in that room and not one man had two legs, they were all amputees... seeing it on that scale was very upsetting, as someone who fought in Afghanistan, I didn’t realise how much of an effect it would have on me.”
What made this all the more difficult, was the fact that the vast majority of this number was made up of young men from all walks of life, many of whom were civilians prior to the war and never expecting to be involved in conflict.
In spite of this and the horrors that they have endured over nearly a year, Hannah was struck by their generosity and spirit.
After spending four full days in Ukraine, returning to the UK left Hannah feeling overwhelmed and still trying to process what she had seen.
This was made all the more disconcerting, as the city of Lviv found itself hit by Russian Forces. Fortunately, Hannah confirmed that all was fine in the military hospital she had visited mere days before the attack.
Her eye-opening experience will be Hannah’s last trip to Ukraine with Bridge to Unity as donations have dried up.
They now shift to community-based support, aiding Ukrainian refugees. If you would like to contribute to the cause, go to www.bridgetounity.co.uk