It's two days away: Northern Ireland truck driver's rollercoaster of emotions on Ukraine aid effort

13 March 2022, Poland, Budomierz: Refugees from Ukraine walk towards an aid station at the Budomierz border crossing between Ukraine and Poland. The border crossing is located near the village of Jaworiv, by a military base was shelled with rockets during the night. Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. Photo: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa
People are fleeing Ukraine into neighbouring Poland amid the Russian invasion. Credit: PA

A Northern Ireland man delivering aid to the Ukrainian border has told UTV of his disbelief at the reality facing those caught in the midst of the war with Russia – just over two days’ drive away.

Richard Hogg, the organiser of the Stendhal Festival in Limavady, travelled from Toomebridge with a lorry loaded with vital supplies to aid refugees fleeing from Ukraine into neighbouring Poland.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster,” he said.

“You get there and it’s all the buzz of getting there, and then you find it’s very real and people are in need.”

  • Video: Richard Hogg talks to UTV about feeling compelled to help

The number of Ukrainians who have left the country amid Europe’s heaviest fighting since the Second World War has already eclipsed three million.

Richard helped deliver emergency aid to a distribution centre close to the border as Russia’s invasion nears the three-week mark.

“You could actually hear the jets that were going back and forward,” he said.

“And then we stopped off at a little cafe just about 30 clicks from the border and a bus came in with basically just women and children on it and yeah, it’s really upsetting. Really upsetting.

“These are people like us, just getting moved out of their houses and they’ve got nowhere to go. They’re reasonably well-dressed, but their clothes, they’ve obviously had on for quite a few days and they’re just white-faced, empty eyes and shell-shocked.”

  • Video: 'You could hear the jets'

Richard said he had felt compelled to do something to help after watching what was happening in Ukraine unfold on television.

However, the scenes on the ground had an impact on him.

“I was trying to keep it together as much as possible, but there’s wee kids there, babies and toddlers, and young women and older women, and there was a couple of older guys there as well,” he said.

“It just beggars belief that in this day and age this sort of thing can happen, it really does. It brings it right home that this is what’s happened.

“And don’t forget, this took us two-and-a-half days to get there from Toomebridge. It’s not that far away, it’s really not.”

  • Video: 'Two-and-a-half days from Toome'

The aid delivered included clothes, nappies and more, but in terms of exactly what is needed, seeing items being stored at the distribution centre was another jolt about the realities of war.

Speaking about one of the volunteers on the ground, Richard said: “He opened one of the sheds and we looked in and it was full of wheelchairs and crutches and you just think: ‘Oh. That’s a bit real.’

“And then he also said he has to set up a centre for widowed mothers and kids, because he said ‘I’ve done this before for Crimea…’ And it just doesn’t make sense.”

  • Video: 'That's a bit real'