Ukraine: Refugee aid stacked high in Lancashire as first shipments ready to go

If the besieged people of Ukraine think they have been forgotten by the West, the towering stacks of shipping boxes in a charity warehouse near Preston show they haven't.

By Brian Ellis
Tuesday, 1st March 2022, 4:28 pm

Britain may not be able to put boots on the ground to assist in their struggle, but the aid effort is in full swing to help with the exodus of refugees who are fleeing the fighting and seeking safety in neighbouring countries.

The Chorley-based charity International Aid Trust, which has been serving the needy of Ukraine for the past 30 years, has mobilised its resources and will be sending out the first 15-tonne load of warm clothes, bedding and toiletries on a 1,900 mile trip to neighbouring Moldova in the next 24 hours.

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Julie Rowlandson stacking boxes ready for the aid trucks to arrive.

"That is just the first lorry load, others will be following," said Julie Rowlandson who is the community ambassador for the IAT.

"The generosity of people here in Lancashire has been terrific. Donations are coming in all the time. People are asking us what they can do to help and all we can tell them is 'please give what you can.'"

The main warehouse for IAT is on Sherdley Road, Lostock Hall, where staff and volunteers are sorting and packing essentials to be driven on an arduous 35-hour overland journey to Moldova where more than 70,000 mainly women and children have crossed the border from Ukraine in the last three days.

Lostock Hall is the main reception centre for aid, although all the charity's 11 branches - eight of them here in Lancashire - have been reporting a flood of gifts for displaced Ukrainians forced from their homes by the fighting.

John Irwin sorting out children's woolly hats bound for Ukrainian refugee children.

The appeal is specifically for clothes, bedding, sleeping bags, footwear, cooking pots and pans and toiletries. The charity also wants supplies of dried food such as rice and pasta, with a long 'best before' date.

"We need that to be at least a year in case things get held up - that way it can still be used," explained Julie, who has been out on two aid missions to Ukraine during peace time.

"After this first load, which is being sent to Moldova to help those who have crossed the border there, we will be quickly preparing the next one and looking at the logistics to see where that is most needed.

"It may be that goes through Poland because we have some contacts there as well. But we will see. The main thing is we get this first shipment underway."

Aid workers in Lostock Hall packing toiletries ready for a 1,900-mile trip to the Moldova-Ukraine border region.

The International Aid Trust has around 10 Ukrainian staff and hundreds of volunteers working in the war zone. They have decided to stay put to help disabled and elderly people and families in poverty who are unable to flee from the Russian invasion.

An IAT network of 1,800 churches is also helping cater for displaced people by giving them food and shelter in the countryside and in the, as yet, calmer west of Ukraine.

"It's absolutely shocking what is happening," said Julie. No-one expected it to get to this stage.

"There has always been that threat since Russia invaded Crimea. But I don't think anyone expected a full-scale invasion, with troops trying to take the capital Kiev.

Paul Halton unloads more donations at the International Aid Trust warehouse in Lostock Hall.

"The heroism being shown by the Ukrainian people is phenomenal. From the messages we have had through it is clear their faith is keeping them strong. They say 'God will have the last word - no matter what happens this is not the end.'' And it is that kind of trust that is keeping them going.

"There is a very strong national spirit in Ukraine. It has been a very peaceful land until now.

"Before Russia invaded Crimea our team were doing lots of wonderful children's holidays in the Crimea for kids of poor families. I went out there to help at a couple of those. It was sad to see those trips end, but what is happening now is far worse."

Conditions in Ukraine after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 prompted founder Bernard Cocker to set up the charity.

He based the IAT in Chorley and set about taking aid and bibles across to the newly independent republic. That has now been going on for more than three decades, with the charity helping with homes for children, elderly people and working within prisons.

Today they send aid to many other nations too including destinations in Africa, Mexico, Cuba and various Eastern European countries. They are also involved in work in India, Sierra Leone and the Philippines.

Of the charity's 11 UK centres, two are in the Midlands and one in Anglesey. The rest are dotted about Lancashire, with Lostock Hall being the main aid warehouse and the furniture store based in Pall Mall, Chorley.

All the shops are drop-off points for aid to the Ukraine. Other centres like St Lawrence's Church in Chorley and All Saints Church in Hesketh Bank have also volunteered to collect.

"We have 15 tonnes ready to go, then we will start a second truckload straight after that," said Julie. "So the sooner people can get things to us the better, because the people of Ukraine are desperate.

"The things we are asking for are the things which are most urgently needed.

"We are all just hoping and praying that because there has been such strong resistance by the Ukrainian people and the international community is getting behind Ukraine in different ways, Russia might think they have miscalculated. But we just don't know.

"It is very encouraging the strength of character being shown by the people of Ukraine. They have faith in God that their prayers will be answered."