Community stands with Ukraine
A WOMAN'S mission to help the people of her native Ukraine after it was invaded by Russia sparked a phenomenal community response.
Vera Stadon asked for donations in a Facebook post and, after they soon filled her living room, she teamed up with Viv Roberts, the manager of Emersons Green Village Hall, who offered her a room to store them in.
Within days, as word of the appeal spread across the Kingswood area, tons of supplies had been donated, from medical equipment to military kit.
Dozens of people brought, sorted and loaded donations. Joining British and Ukrainian volunteers were Poles, Lithuanians and even some Russians living in the area, while donations were brought from across the region and as far as Wales.
The donations were then taken to the Poland-Ukraine border – the first load by a Ukrainian lorry which had made a delivery in the UK and had been due to go back empty.
Five van loads and a further lorry load were taken by volunteers, including drivers from the Emersons Green depot of delivery firm DPD, Staple Hill mechanic Nathan Calder and his friend Wesley Hawkes, members of Bristol Manor Farm football club and a Bristol father and daughter, Kev and Rhi Draper, who have stayed in Poland to help bring refugees away from the Ukrainian border and give food and drink to people waiting to cross.
Vera, who lives in Mangotsfield, said: "I cried a lot when I saw the news of the big disaster happening in my country.
"My friends started calling me, saying we should get some aid together. I never thought it would be that big – all I wanted was to send one van.
"Suddenly my living room was overflowing, so I asked Viv if she could help.
"It's devastating and horrible what's happening in Ukraine, but the help and donations are amazing – people's power is sometimes more than the big charities. I've been either overwhelmed with joy or crying at why I have to do this. I've had so much help."
Vera was given leave from her job with Bristol City Council while she organised the donations and looked for transport.
Supporters "exhausted every military store in England" to find helmets and other protective equipment, while also bringing medicine and first aid kits, dried food, nappies and sanitary products.
Vera, a married mum of three, has lived in the area since 2008, having moved to the UK in 1997.
Her mother, brother and sister-in-law and their three children were still in Ukraine as the Voice went to print.
Some are waiting for visas to be processed, but Vera fears that her mum, who is 75 and lives close to a Ukrainian military base, would not be fit enough to wait in the long queues of people waiting to leave the country.
She said: "At the moment they are still safe but for how long, we don't know."
The village hall received donations for just over ten days before stopping after running out of space. The remaining donations were taken to a warehouse in Patchway and were starting their journey to Ukraine on March 20.
Village hall manager Viv Roberts said: "It's just been a phenomenal, overwhelming response – I've never seen anything like it.
"The emotion and support between the volunteers and people dropping off donations was second to none, and heart-warming to see.
"The local people were amazing but we also had driving for an hour and a half to find us and drop off stuff.
"We also had one couple come in and donate £500 in cash and another gave £250.
"The volunteers were amazing – they were here for the morning, all day and all night until the hall locked up."
Among the volunteers was Anthony Davies, who works for DHL at Emersons Green.
He said: "It moved me so much that I had to do something – I couldn't just sit at home and watch it on the telly any more."
Vera is sharing updates about future donations and fundraising on the Facebook page Emerson's Help Ukraine, and is also helping to find translators for the families of three children with cancer who have been brought from Ukraine to Bristol Children's Hospital for treatment.