BALLYMAGORRY man has vowed to return to Ukraine with more vital supplies, following his second aid mission into the war-torn country.
Simon Patterson, a successful freelance MotoGP reporter was yesterday (Wednesday) on his way back through Europe having just dropped off essentials to a group of Ukrainians in the port city of Odessa.
Speaking from outside Barcelona, Simon also paid tribute to the resiliance of the Ukrainian people, as the Russian invasion continues.
“Last year, I was contacted by an old school friend who told me about his co-worker who was based in Odessa,” he explained. “He said they were in desperate need of medical supplies, blankets and other essentials and could I help through my social media following. Of course I was only too happy to assist in any way so after putting out an appeal, we were able to raise £25,000 which went towards the supplies and two of us drove to Odessa last March.”
Following that successful trip, Simon repeated the same plea this year and, once again, travelled to Odessa with another essential consignment of vital aid.
“We took our usual route, beginning from Rosslare across to Europe and down through the continent,” he continued.
Simon explained, “It was all plain sailing until we got to Romania. The plan was to go through Romania so we could avoid most of Ukraine and steer clear of any fighting. At the Moldovan border we were denied entry, that particular crossing was reserved for Romanians, so had a detour to southern Romania and enter Ukraine that way, finally reaching Odessa on Friday evening.
“It’s very obvious that Ukraine is a country at war but we saw little signs of it in Odessa. As it is a port city, Odessa was heavily bombed at the outset, but the people feel like they’re in a better place now than what they were. You can sense tension in the streets from the people, and people are used to Russian troops patrolling the area. But there is a strong resilience from the Ukrainians which is heartening to see and everyone I spoke with is 100 per-cent proud of what the country is doing.”`
Having spent Friday night in Odessa talking with his contact Dmitri, Simon and his driving partner were all set for the long journey home when an unexpected air-raid delayed them. Simon then spent hours underground in an air raid shelter for what was ultimately a false alarm.
He continued, “Once the warning went off, people were hurrying to their safe places. Air-raids have become part of day-to-day-life now for the Ukrainians and although they were rightly taking it seriously, no-one seemed to be losing sleep over it. Seeing the troops in the streets and with the constant underlying fear of bombs going off, it did remind me of growing up during the Troubles so, in a way, I could empathise with the Odessan people – although they’re in a much worse situation.”
Having completed their second journey, does Simon have any plans for a third?
“Absolutely,” he said. “Not sure when it will be, but we will be fundraising again soon.
“Dmitri impressed upon me the need for vehicles, so the plan is to obtain a couple, again loaded up with supplies, and leave them there when we return to Ukraine.”