Northwich school children wave off volunteers on their way to deliver Christmas presents to Ukraine

Granada Reports journalist ,Anna Youssef, saw the volunteers off as they made one final stop before their 6,000 mile journey.

A group of volunteers are driving more than 6,000 miles to deliver aid and Christmas presents to the children of Ukraine.

The Children of Ukraine Project was founded by Steve Holland, from Cheshire, and this will be their second Christmas journey to deliver presents to hundreds of Ukrainian children.

The first drive took place in 2022 but now Steve is making the journey again to deliver vital aid and some Christmas cheer to children in some of the most dangerous areas.

He said: "At the minute, especially in the mountain areas, it is -17°C and that is the first major priority we have to take into account with safety.

"The second one is that the further east we push we are going into the area of conflictl Kharkiv and areas of Zaporizhzhia."

The volunteers will be driving to Ukraine, with a trailer containing supplies and presents attached to the back of their car. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

This journey will be Steven's fifth in the last twelve months. This time, he'll be joined by former SAS Patrol Commander Melvyn Downes.

Melvyn said: "In my career, in the time I’ve served I have seen the best of humanity and the worst of humanity and this is obviously the worst.

"I know my skillset and hopefully I can go out there and deliver aid to why it is needed."

Both men will be heading through the most active areas in the ongoing war to complete their journey.

Steven said: "The conditions are awful. What the Russians intend to do in the winter is they will increase their attacks on critical infrastructure.

"They will hit out power plants which then results in lack of power, lack of heat and if you have ever been to Ukraine it is bitterly cold in the winter and these are the conditions they are facing every day."

Before they set off on their journey across Europe, both Steven and Melvyn made a stop at a primary school in Northwich, where pupils were waiting with gifts and Christmas cards for them to take with them.

One pupil said: "I think it’s nice that they’re donating things for Ukrainian people who don’t have a lot like we do."

The volunteers being greeted by the primary school pupils. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Another added: "We wrote about how we hope they’re okay and able to celebrate with their family at Christmas and we hope they have a happy new year and survive the war."

Steven has previously worked as a guide for production teams and journalists travelling into war zones - including Ukraine.

The idea to take an aid truck to Ukraine came about after Steven was working on an ITV documentary called Children of Ukraine.

At the time of his first trip in 2022, Steven said the children that he met during the filming of that documentary had such a lasting impact on him that he knew he had to go back and help them.

He said: "I saw first-hand the emotional and physical trauma that was caused. I was emotionally invested at that point."

"There was no way that I was coming home, as I normally would, and saying right, next job.

"These are innocent, innocent children, just like yours and mine. And it's not their fault and they need help."

Part of ITV's Bafta-winning Exposure strand, Children of Ukraine hears directly from 10 children, showing first-hand how the war has changed and shaped their lives as they live through the conflict.

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