Preparation for our trip to the Poland/Ukraine border had taken around a month, and on Sunday 20th March 2022 at 9.10 am, Lee Lashenko and myself, Tony Parsons (aka Tony the Scarecrow), left our picturesque stadium at Sea Mills to a rousing sendoff from well-wishers and supporters.
On board our articulated lorry was 30 tonnes of humanitarian aid, which included 3 tonnes of medical supplies, new blankets, towels, tents, haversacks, clothes, shoes, toiletries, nappies, sanitary products, fluids, non-perishable food, etc, etc.
Together a loyal, small team of volunteers, including Darren, Kirsty, AJ, George and Christina had tirelessly worked on consecutive evenings to help me sort, wrap, parcel and product list everything on board our trailer. Also, numerous supporters who gave up their time at our football and social club doing the same from kind donations.
To give everyone an idea of how things came together a lot of thanks must be given to Robert Wilcox of Massey and Wilcox Transport, for providing me with a lorry unit, Gary Bath of Bath International Transport for supplying a correct height trailer to pass under European motorway bridges, and his specialist, experienced European haulage knowledge, plus Stuart Wring from Wring’s Transport for the use of his yard and facilities.
These three wonderful transport companies were key to us having any chance of progressing and much help was also given in coordinating ferry bookings, goods passes and fuel cards with financial assistance also being offered to do their bit in the whole operation. My sincerest thanks, gentlemen.
As for the journey itself, well that was one massive adventure from start to finish and I will now attempt to summarise and explain the trip that for one was very humbling, and also one I will personally never ever forget as it still sinks in to this day.
Day one commenced with us leaving the club with lots of the community waving us off. Our first aim was to reach the port of Dover and catch the ferry crossing to Dunkirk, France. Initially, we had some early challenges to overcome, with the M4 shut completely due to an accident, then the dual carriageway through Bracknell grinding to a complete halt because of a fallen tree, and me making a mistake by trying to turn on a grass verge and getting stuck, literally, for three-quarters of an hour! Thanks to some quick prayers, an understanding police force and a lorry passing in the opposite direction I was soon pulled clear and back on the road again. Who would be a lorry driver?!
In all seriousness this was the only driving hurdle we faced on the entire trip, so to get a mistake out of the way early and on home soil too, was probably a blessing. Thankfully the road ahead was smoother. By Sunday evening we had crossed the Channel and parked at Jdeppe, Belgium.
It is at this point I would like to thank two European drivers from England called Pete and Tony who shared a meal with Lee and myself on the ferry, and also imparted valuable knowledge to us on European driving, tolls, speed limits, European road kits including first aid boxes and red triangles that are obligatory, behaviours of each other countries police forces and customs and other good, sound road information. Their knowledge that they passed on I believe really helped me avoid any problems with the authorities.
We had put some yellow and blue homemade sticker crosses all over the unit and trailer and this was a good visual aid to our mission, and also drew the attention of many foreign drivers who asked about our journey.
That included Tarchi (Tony) and Goran from North Macedonia, who wished us good speed and had to mention they supported Vardar FC from Macedonia. Football really is a universal language! Following a long hard day of driving on Monday, we stopped at Staufenberg services in Germany for a much-needed rest.
Tuesday saw us start off very early in the morning, and that evening saw us reach a little village outside Katowice, Poland, where we parked with only two other lorries outside the Hotel Sylvia. We explained our story to the very kind hotel staff, who offered us a free hot shower each in a spare couple of suites. It was a lovely venue, and we were also able to have a lovely hot meal in their restaurant before settling down.
Wednesday saw us reach our destination of Rzeszow, which is a city close to the Ukraine border and the city of Lviv. George Peszynski, who is 85 years old and the former Polish consul to Bristol, had written me a letter in Polish before I departed Bristol, which basically asked the Polish army and police force to give Lee and myself every assistance in our humanitarian mission.
I stopped on a main road called Aleja Armii Krajowej, and after ringing George in England for advice he told me to contact Polish police for directions to the aid warehouse.
Within ten minutes an armed convoy of police arrived, I showed my letter of authenticity written by George, and wow, the police sirens went on, roads were blocked, and traffic stopped as we went on an amazing ten-minute journey to our destination as if a royal party or head of state was visiting! An incredible welcome!
It did not stop there, as at the City Hall Peter Pezdan, the warehouse manager, along with his staff and volunteers, greeted us with such warmth and friendliness and Lee worked tirelessly to offload the trailer with the help of our new friends.
We were able to have some lovely photos taken together and were also given some hand-drawn pictures from many local Ukrainian children, with marvellous thank you messages attached. This was a lovely gesture, which Lee and I greatly appreciated. There was a real sense of achievement in having driven and delivered the most important load I personally have ever been responsible for.
Now it was a quick turnaround as after two hours we had to say farewell to our newfound friends. Overnight stops at Staufenberg Hoof, which was a lovely German village that we stumbled across after our driving hours for the day nearly ran out, and Eindhoven (Holland), before we eventually arrived home at 3am on Saturday 26th March 2022.
By midday, we were on our way to Cinderford Town for a very important victory, 2-1, in our epic end-of-season run!
That night as I settled down to a good night’s rest, I had recurring dreams of an extraordinary week where I was a witness to unprecedented history unfolding, including the amazing fortitude of the Ukrainian refugees we met at various service stations in Poland, who although frightened, showed such courage and bravery. They remain firmly in our hearts and prayers.”