In early 2018, The Ambassador Platform decided to set up an office in Lviv, Ukraine, for our Product and Engineering team. Since then, we’ve built strong friendships with our colleagues who live there and visited the country many times, including a 3-week trip in January 2022.
When the war broke out, just weeks later in February 2022, the impact on our team was immediate and enormous. Most left the country with their families and had to make new lives for themselves with no prior planning and in unfamiliar countries. Others remained behind to face the likely scenario, as we all thought at the time, that Russia would have a swift victory and they would soon be occupied.
As the months have gone by, it’s becoming clear that Russia is having anything but a swift victory. In their frustration, they are punishing the Ukrainian civilian population by targeting utilities this winter, hoping to degrade the morale and spirit of the population. The cost of generators, battery packs and other essential supplies in such a situation has tripled due to limited supplies and desperate demand.
At The Ambassador Platform, we decided to take action and do what we could to deliver essential supplies to help the people of Ukraine this winter. We partnered with the Ridni Charitable Foundation and with the help of our amazing community of partners, investors, friends and family, we raised over £18,000. With the guidance of the Ridni team, we were able to procure specific items for families that they support and drive them out to Ukraine in a rented van.
I set off at 8am on Boxing Day from North Norfolk, collected David, another director of The Ambassador Platform, in London and carried on down to the Channel Tunnel. We decided to keep driving through the night which meant the traffic was very light and we could make good progress (other than a 10-minute unscheduled conversation with the German Border Force who pulled us over to check our papers).
The border crossing into Ukraine the next morning was a big unknown for us. We had heard that rental vehicles may not be allowed and Ridni had given us a huge amount of paperwork to give to the border guards, none of which we had read or understood. It was a 4.5-hour process, most of which was spent standing in the cold staring at a small square window wondering when a hand was going to emerge to give us our passports back, but eventually, we got through. We arrived in the beautiful city of Lviv at 7pm on the 27th of December, amazingly still talking to one another after the 35-hour journey and very little sleep.
The next morning we visited the Ridni Centre. This is a facility set up in partnership between the Ridni Charitable Foundation and Lviv City Counsel to look after both orphans and any family the orphan may have. We learnt that 90% of the orphans there do have parents who are alive but, for one reason or another, are unable to support their children. Ridni’s strong belief is that the best place for a child is with their parents so alongside providing a safe and fulfilling environment for the children, they provide a wide range of support services to the parents and foster parents who may become involved to help them overcome the challenges they are facing in supporting their children.
We met Sister Julia who is the leader of the Ridni Centre and she said with pride that 37% of the children who live at the center return to their parents. Sister Julia not only runs the center but she has nine adopted children, all girls, who live at her home. She told us that one of her girls lost all of her immediate and extended family when a Russian tank had fired at her house earlier this year; she was the only survivor and is now blind with limited mobility in her arms as a result of the injuries she sustained.
We spent the rest of the day delivering items to other families in difficult life circumstances due to the war whom Ridni supported. These people did not expect to find themselves in need of charity. Like we all do, they took security as a safe assumption. Talking with our team over dinner that evening, I asked them what they had learned from the war, and their answers were, “try to have a second passport for another country” and “try to have a house with its own cellar”. Not advice I had heard before but if you remove the assumption of peace and security in your country, worth listening to.
The next morning, we woke up to an air raid siren and rather than going for breakfast with the Ridni team, we went down to the cellar in the hotel which was a makeshift bomb shelter. We sat there with about twenty other local people and soaked in this bizarre experience and reflected on how we’d got here. David used the time to write up his memories from the trip and I tried to catch up on sleep. Suddenly there was a boom in the distance. A long way away but you could tell it was a large explosion and not just a lorry driving past outside. Two more explosions then followed. Lviv had been hit. David and I looked at each other and agreed this was a bit closer to danger than we expected to come. A woman who worked across the street as a lawyer saw these two foreigners totally out of place and out of their depth, and said something to her friend in Ukrainian which caused some laughter; I’m sure at our expense.
The strikes caused a power and cell phone reception outage in the city which lasted until we left the following day. This was a great opportunity to see how resilient Ukrainians are to these attacks and how important it is that we in the west continue to supply Ukrainians with the materials they need to cope. No one complained and, after the air raid siren stopped, we resumed our plans for the day unchanged. That evening we went out for dinner and, bar the hum of generators throughout the city and darker than normal streets, you would not notice anything had changed. Generators are a game-changer. They fill in the gaps when the power is out and allow life to go on. Without them, you’re sat in the dark waiting for the lights to come back on for much of the day during winter.
Now we have returned to the UK and the trip is over, I want to sincerely thank everyone who has supported this trip with time, money and attention. I hope we managed to pique your interest in this issue and show you a trustworthy channel in the Ridni Charitable Foundation through which you can support the ordinary people suffering in this conflict.
If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch and you can click here to see our trip video.