Kris Jepson reports
Back to Gateshead, businessman Ed Blackbird and his three friends, arrived home after a two week trip to Ukraine to deliver aid.
The men had driven more than 4,000 miles to get to the capital Kyiv, enduring delays at some borders due to red tape and then having to navigate the safest routes within Ukraine to avoid Russian missile attacks.
Ed Blackbird, who had previously delivered aid to the Poland-Ukraine border at the start of the conflict in March 2022, told ITV News Tyne Tees it was worth it, just to give the children he met a little bit of normality.
He said: "We met a lot of soldiers on the frontline. They were very humbling.
"They have families who aren’t having an income at the moment, so they’re desperate for their families to survive, so we did gift some heaters, generators, to this particular charity who look after soldier’s families, which was lovely."
His friend, Tom Sykes, was struck by the welcome they received from doctors and nurses at a hospital, where they delivered generators and heaters.
He said: "One evening we delivered generators to a hospital. They set up warming centres for doctors. I met a doctor there who was absolutely freezing. I gave her a box of the hand warmers you’d use for hiking.
"You would think I had given her a million pounds. It was just amazing"
He added: "The guy who owns the dog rescue centre said ‘I don’t want your help, but we need your help’ and he was so humbled by setting up heaters and generators with rehoming the dogs and getting them used to being inside again."
The men visited an orphanage, where they handed out Christmas gifts to the children, but the underlying reality of the situation was hard to ignore.
David Laws said: "The children at the orphanages just had dead eyes, trying to make them smile and they were just like (man stares), you know, and there was nothing in their eyes. They had lost their mams and dads."
He added it was "awful, awful, upsetting, really, really upsetting".
Stephen Law, also described how elderly women had braved sub-zero temperatures in an old swimming complex for three hours as they manufactured camouflaged netting for tanks used on the frontline. He also visited the orphanage.
He said: "It’s so humbling that those children have nothing now. Their homes have gone. Their parents have gone and they are being cared for privately by charitable organisations.
"There is no state backup for them and it is frightening to think of the future for them."
Just after Christmas, Kyiv came under Russian missile attack and the men were very close to a series of explosions. At that point, realising they had done what they set out to achieve, they decided to leave rather than take shelter.
They have been asked to return to Ukraine in May to deliver more aid.
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