Sloviansk, 24-28th January

Fairly early-on, as I was making notes for my January Despatch from Ukraine, the sad news of Chris Parry and Andrew Bagshaw (two British Aid Workers), was reported. Although they were not personally known to us at Op Safe Drop, we were all saddened by this news. We send their families our condolences. They were noble in their enterprise and gave their lives helping others .

Spurred on to the mission, we loaded vehicles in Lviv late into the evening; mostly warm clothing, blankets and sleeping bags. Homemade wood-fuelled cookers/ovens, were also stowed; as not to rattle during the long run forward to Sloviansk.
Satisfied with the secured stowage we were able to repair to our favorite place for supper and final briefing. Present: Toby, Chief, yours truly (J), Liam, Karl, Roman and Maks.

The announcement by the UK Government, that we would be sending Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks ( CR2 MBT) to Ukraine, meant that we all walked a little taller that night in Lviv!
The Union Jack we all wear as designated Aid Workers; we wore with added pride!

As an old Tank Commander, I am frequently asked now, for my thoughts about the decision to send Western Allied MBTs to Ukraine. My initial thoughts as a layman, should, in my view, be the response of all those concerned about the rule of law based freedom in the World; we have rightly put so much effort towards supplying Ukraine with military material to expel the invaders, let’s finish the task. Finish the task and prevent further suffering ( on both sides).
I have seen what the Ukrainian Military are able to achieve. I believe that if they use these additional MBTs, as a good Armoured Commander should; with dash and speed, in numbers. And with “all arms”, this will result in success for Ukraine.
I digress. We are focused on humanitarian aid. But the subject is a news focal point. And hugely important.

Security prevents too much detail. But the aid delivery was in the area of Sloviansk.
We covered ground that had seen intense fighting. The land either side of the road, more resembled a military training area than the agricultural expanse to which we had become familiar . But the villages we passed were in a far worse state than those used by soldiers training to Fight In Built-up Areas (FIBUA).
Tank hulks and those of other vehicles, remained where they had ended their fight. Burned-out and rusting.
Vast acres were scarred with artillery shell craters no further than 5 yards each from the next.
Bunkers, trenches and anti-tank ditches; positioned well, if judged by a Divisional Commander.
Trees were black and shattered. But still stood sentinel along the field boundaries and between the destroyed dwellings.

As we unloaded the vehicles, we could hear the “crump” of artillery shells exploding in distant villages. We all looked towards Dasha, with a questioning glance; ” that is war”, she responded phlegmatically!
Dasha is a teacher. An engaging, friendly and educated woman in her 30s. She now organises recovery and help in the local area. Before allowing us to continue our journey Dasha invited us in for coffee, biscuits and homemade cheese. We were shown a photograph of her home town near Bakmut; her house and the school in which she used to teach. Everything destroyed. “That is war” she repeated. Or is it!

Rested and replenished, we made good progress on the drying roads.
The vehicle’s weather display ranged between -2°c and -4°c. Usually -3.5°c was illuminated ( although it felt like -7°c for the most).
One vehicle with our excellent Ukrainian colleagues, Roman and Maks, travelled further south to Zaporhiza to pick up a family of 6 with their 2 dogs. The other two vehicles made their way to the eventual RV point..
We covered 1, 700 miles on this mission.

Last week a missile struck a residence in Kharkiv, killing 4 people. We had been having supper not 100 yards away, the previous evening. I only mention this to demonstrate the courage and determination our drivers show on each Op SafeDrop mission. They do this with immense charm and patience. With all the essentials packed into our little travel bags, it’s always important to remember the tin marked “Sense of Humour”.

I hope this gives you a flavor of what we are doing in your name.

To all of you who have supported us. We thank you.
To all of you who have so generously donated. We thank you.

Now is the time to press it home. Press on.
The Ukrainians are fighting for our way of life.
They are fighting for our freedom.
They are dying for us.

Please help us to help them. Please.

James Hewitt

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