Wednesday, 28 Feb 2024

Granddad risks life on FOUR brave missions delivering aid to Ukraine

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A 78-year-old grandfather has risked his life by delivering aid to war-torn Ukraine four times in less than a year – and will head out again despite his family’s alarm.

William Lewis was so “incensed” about how the UK government first reacted to the conflict that he “really felt he had to do something” to help its citizens.

The grandfather-of-seventeen forked out £5,000 of his own money on a Citroen minibus at auction and appealed for donations of clothes, toys and nappies.

He has since driven the 2,200 miles from his home in Dorking, Surrey, to Ukraine on multiple occasions, spending thousands more on petrol and hotels.

William said his family, including his five daughters and partner, are frightened every time he leaves but have stayed supportive.

He said: “I worry my family because it is dangerous, but I’ve worried them most of my life. They know me and I think they’d rather be supportive than try to dissuade me because they know it wouldn’t work.”

William intends to return to Ukraine as many times as he can in the same minibus even though it now has more than 100,000 miles on the clock.

He hopes to go back next month and go further east beyond Kyiv as he has paid for, and arranged, the distribution of generators that will provide heat, light and water to homes and hospitals in that area.

“I want to try to do more,” William said.

“I’d love to take a tank over there but I know I won’t be able to do that.”

During his first visit, in March last year, the dad-of-five took eight refugees to Hamburg, Germany – more than 1,000 miles – because he could not get them into the UK.

I worry my family because it is dangerous, but I’ve worried them most of my life

William Lewis

Recalling his journeys in Ukraine, William, a former pub landlord, said: “The roads are mainly barricaded and manned with heavy artillery. I had no problem getting through them as people are very friendly.

“I haven’t been far enough east to see the devastation the missiles have been creating. I have been through quite a lot of villages and towns but life goes on there. People are doing their best, going about their daily business. Kids are being taken to school and businesses are open.

“There is a curfew. I broke this and got stopped several times by police. I didn’t have any choice because getting through the border is very arduous and takes a long time. It has never been less than three hours for me to get out of Poland and into Ukraine.

“Each time, the police accepted what I was doing once they saw what I was transporting.”

William still feels the UK government should do more to help people in Ukraine.

He said he believed Vladimir Putin should be issued an ultimatum: “Get out of the country or we’ll declare war on you”

William said: “I understand the implications of that but how we can let a bully hold us to ransom is beyond me.”

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The selfless pensioner added that he believed rules surrounding volunteers sponsoring refugees in the UK ought to be relaxed.

He said: “The volunteers are put through the mincer but they just want to support these people. They have their homes checked and they’re asked so many questions.

“I think the volunteers homing refugees are champions and they must be considered so.”

A spokesman for Support Ukraine Ltd, which coordinates the organisation of various aid missions in the country, said: “If we had more people like William, the war would be over by now.

“The difference between William and other volunteers is his initiative and vision.”

William is still raising money for generators that will be sent out to Ukraine. You can donate via his JustGiving page here.

Pascale Harvie, president and general manager at JustGiving, said: “William’s dedication and the action he’s taken on the ground to help people in Ukraine is truly commendable.

“As the war broke out last year, we saw an extraordinary response on the platform from people across the world. Over 21,000 fundraising pages were set up and over £52million was donated to help people access basic necessities, such as food, shelter and clothes.

“I want to thank every single person like William who is going above and beyond to help the people of Ukraine.”

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