Liverpool Council worker uses leave from work to volunteer at Ukrainian Polish border

A council worker who says he ‘could not just sit around and do nothing’ has taken leave from his job to fly to the Ukrainian border to help refugees.

Paul Straton flew 1,300 miles from his home on Merseyside to Przemyśl close to the Polish-Ukrainian border, after seeing thousands fleeing their home and war with Russia.

Since arriving the former police officer, who now works for Liverpool Council as a fraud investigator, has been handing out chocolate and snacks to exhausted families nightly, often staying until 3 or 4am.

He has also helped to provide laptops, alongside his brother Gary who used to serve in the armed forces, to the local reception centre, set up in haste to try and process the volume of evacuees coming through the city.

Paul fills suitcases and trolleys up with chocolate and treats for those crossing the border and is often the first face they see.

Paul says: "We decided to go out and buy as much chocolate as we can.

"We stand right on the border so the first thing the kids see when they enter Poland is us, they have a smile on their face and they take as much chocolate as they want.

"That's the impression we want of Poland for them. It’s a bit of laughter for them, it takes away - they don’t know what's happening.

"It just gives them 10 or 20 seconds of happiness, and the mother too."

Paul and his volunteers hand out chocolate and yoghurt treats to the children and the mothers streaming across the Medyka border in Poland.

More than 1.7 million people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring Poland, with a steady stream arriving on foot through the crossing at Medyka.

From there refugees are bused to the local reception centre in a disused shopping centre at Przemyśl, where their details are taken, and they are able to find transport to their final destination.

Paul and Gary have joined forces with other Brits they have met along the way, as well as the company MitMark, to do what they can for those displaced by the bombing and fighting in Ukraine.

Adam McQuire, another volunteer from Toxteth, has been helping out with Paul, getting aid to people where it is needed the most.

He says: "It is heartbreaking, I had a little boy, must have been three-years-old asking where his mum and dad were, there was no answer, no one knows, he was there with his big sister but no one knew where the parents were.

"It is constant as well, it’s day, it's night.

"It feels ridiculous to be upset and emotional as someone who is not them, particularly when they are so stoic, but it's impossible not to be, it’s tough to watch."

Adam McQuire is a volunteer from Toxteth who has been helping out where needed on the border.

After meeting with the mayor of Przemyśl and asking what they could do to help, Paul bought the local supermarket out of chocolate.

Paul and his brother have also bought laptops for the reception centre in Przemyśl to help volunteers their register families coming through.

Screens have been put up across the centre which logs families whereabouts, sending the information live to anyone who wants it via a website.

Paul adds: "We have been trying to help people get supplies through to the border, to the reception centre, and to the train station in town where it’s needed."

At first, when they began handing out the sweet treat, Paul says families were reluctant to accept the gift.

"At first they weren’t taking it, they were really mistrusting," he says. "They were so polite they would only take one chocolate off you, and when they went to take two the mum would pull them back.

"We've had to start learning Ukrainian as quickly as we can just to say ‘no, it’s ok’, and we learnt the words for mother, so they kids get a small load of chocolate, and the mother a large one.

"There’s no backpack left unfilled, and that‘s sort of our motto, because we call them the little heroes in backpacks as they come through with these amazing women."

Hundreds of volunteers great those who are crossing the border.

And Paul says "It’s been the same since we arrived, it goes from a massive flow of people to a steady trickle, but it’s the same faces, really frustrated, the mum’s look absolutely exhausted.

"These amazing women have been through so much, the young kids and the children don’t really know what’s happening, so when we hand them chocolate, or anyone hands them anything here, they have a big smile on their face and it just makes things a tiny bit more bearable."

Paul, who has returned home, is now desperately trying to raise money for local charities to help those who have been displaced, before heading back out to the border again to do whatever else he can.