Ukrainian lorry driver 'devastated' by war destruction after returning home from the North East

family photo
Anatoliy Chornyi and his wife Credit: Family photograph
  • Watch Kris Jepson's report from Tuesday 28 February:

Anatoliy Chornyi was stranded with his lorry in County Durham in February 2022, just as war broke out in his home country, Ukraine.

Unable to contact his family and get back home in the initial days of the war, he was helped and supported by people in the North East. Eventually he was given shelter in Darlington by Ukrainian expats.

Speaking one year on, he told ITV News Tyne Tees: "The one thing that sticks in my mind about that time is how nice people were and how welcoming everyone was in taking care of me when I was in the North East, like the lady who allowed me to use her shower. It was amazing."

Anatolyi with his Darlington Ukrainian friends Credit: Lena Rusa

After a week, he returned to Ukraine with a lorry full of humanitarian aid collected by the Ukrainian diaspora in Darlington and vowed to fight for his country.

As he crossed the border, he saw thousands of refugees leaving the country. As he approached the capital, Kyiv, Anatoliy said he started to see the devastating effects of war.

He said: "I was driving to Kyiv because that’s where the main fighting was at the time. I went through this little village, not far from Kyiv and looking around, the majority of the buildings were destroyed.

"It was absolutely devastating to see with your own eyes. It wasn’t military buildings, but a maternity hospital with a massive hole in it, houses, blocks of flats, places where people lived. It was shocking to see."

Upon his return to the capital, he was told he could not join the military, so went back to his home town to be reunited with his family.

He said: "I was very, very happy, because I’d been away for so long. It was an unbelievable feeling to see my wife, kids and the dog."

Anatoliy with his dog Credit: Family photo

After a year of fighting, he is still optimistic his country can secure victory, but said he has now been desensitised to the shelling and Russian attacks.

He said: "One time when I was driving, I saw a couple of missiles flying above my head and when I arrived in the town there had been a couple of explosions.

"When I saw those two missiles I honestly didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t scared. It just felt like yet another thing flying above your head. I’ve heard the missiles when back in my home town and because this has been going on for so long, you just don’t feel scared anymore."

Anatoliy catching up with friends in Darlington Credit: ITV News

Anatoliy was so grateful to the people of County Durham, he wanted to send a message to them.

He said: "I want to say a huge big ‘thank you’ to the Ukrainians for taking me under your wing and for the people of the North East, ‘thank you’ for the massive help and the way you’ve helped Ukraine and continue to do so."

He will continue delivering aid to those most in need in Ukraine and has become friends with many of Darlington's Ukrainians. One of those who helped him was Lena Rusa.

She told ITV Tyne Tees: "We just became friends. Not just me myself, but all the other Ukrainians that took part in humanitarian aid campaign in Darlington and we know now all of Anatoliy’s family.

"We speak to his wife. We’ve seen and spoken to his daughters. We go and see him as well, when he gets as far as the North of England."