Sunflower Update: Kyiv Run

Had a successful run into Ukraine last week with Oro (see photos). Delivered two pallets of aid and a box to the Kyiv area, spent a few days in Ukraine. We go to Ukraine again tomorrow morning, but this next run is likely to be shorter, perhaps just to Lviv.

The new van (Shylah) was a champ. Ate up the highway, and made the drive from Kyiv back to Warsaw (1000K with diversions) on one tank. The van didn’t cost as much as you would think (about $8000, plus another $1500 for upgrades, equipment, mechanics, and legal fees). We raised almost all the money from a couple of wonderful donors, and I want to say thank you to them again! We are putting that money to work, living very dirt cheap on the road, and keeping that diesel engine turning over for days. I am glad we spent a bit more than we were intending, and got the next level up of used vehicle. All the ones we looked at that cost much below our van were super clapped out.

While in Kyiv I bought a bunch of stuff for a future fund raiser or auction (photo post of the stuff coming), including some very nice hand painted wooden eggs, military patches and Ukrainian patches, some Putin Face toilet paper with some choice comments, and some surprisingly cool fridge magnets. Let me know if there’s anything from Ukraine you think would be good to pick up for fund raising sales.

The Hotel Dolynskyy in Lviv and The Hotel Ukraine in Kyiv are worth their own posts, which hopefully I will write and get up. This is true for many things, like the collection of destroyed Russian equipment in front of St. Michaels in Kyiv, or the wall of international martyrs in Maiden Square. This is most especially true of our short trip to Bucha, just outside Kyiv, and the site of one of the worst Russian massacres of the war so far. That is a topic that can’t be handled in a light update post, and requires a more serious moment.

On last weeks run got through the border into Ukraine pretty easily, but that was really not the case going out. Got to the first border crossing around 7:30pm, but had to drive an hour to another one. Finally got into Poland after 4am. And they tried to turn us back. Apparently, the spare fuel in the cans we were carrying, which are necessary in much of Ukraine (and which we’ve crossed back and forth with a half-dozen times) were now prohibited by some EU regulation, and then we weren’t allowed to just empty them into the tank, and then the person who could accept the payment of our hundreds of dollars of fines wouldn’t arrive for hours. There was a lot of pleading and explaining done in a couple languages, and a bit of us just flat refusing to go back, and then finally some sympathy from the border guards, and eventually we were allowed back into Poland without paying any fines.

Kevin is up to lots of exciting stuff that are also worthy of their own update soon, and that will play out in the near future. I’ll hint at some of it. There is a warehouse of aid in Lviv that needs drivers to get it into south Ukraine, there are tourniquets being bought in the USA and shipped to Ukraine. He has also arranged and given some deeply moving donations to support the animals trapped in a zoo near the front lines in Mykolaiv. He has been traveling for a bit, but we are likely meeting up this weekend in Ukraine. 

As a last update, we were fronted three sets of protective vests and helmets yesterday. We are intending to pay for them (if we ever have any money), but the people who had them decided our safety was more important than getting paid up front, and they just want the best for us. A profound thank you to them! We are not planning on going anywhere that they will be constantly needed, but if they are suddenly needed somewhere, then that is a real need, and it is best to have them. Yes, the vest looks a bit silly on my sternum, but they are made for regular torsos and don’t come standard in hefty boy gorilla sizes.

Some photos also of the border line, the lovely sunflowers next to it (which are everywhere in Ukraine) and other stuff.

Thank you all!

Sunflower Update: New Van

Meet our new van, Shylah!

It is a 2008 Citroen Jumper, can carry up to three pallets of aid supplies in its large cargo hold, has a rare crew cab configuration that will allow us to transport up to six people plus driver (small people), it is a diesel, and it gets really outstanding fuel mileage. With a full tank and some gas cans we can get it halfway across Ukraine and back.

We had it tuned up, put new tires on it, added a tow package, and kitted it out with emergency equipment, some tools, pillows and blankets for van sleeping, and some USB ports. Tomorrow is its first trial run into Ukraine.

This van was made possible by a couple of anonymous donors. However, the primary donor picked the name, Shylah. It is named for the fiercest and kindest of his pet rabbits, so if you know who that is say nice stuff to him.

Myself and Oro leave early tomorrow morning to pick up a couple of pallets of aid supplies from HelpUkraine.Center in Lublin, Poland and then begin the long trip to deliver them to Boryspil, near Kyiv, Ukraine.

This will also be the test run for a whole new approach to border paperwork that many of us, but most especially Kevin, have been working on for a very long time. This is an entire other post worth of stuff, involving our Polish Sunflower Foundation, registering vans in Poland, powers of attorney, customs forms, letters of intent, and much more.

We owe a big thank you to Vivek Chaturvedi. He fearlessly, and with endless patience, battled the Polish bureaucracy for us and emerged victorious. At one point there were three angry women on their side of the cubicle yelling at us to go away. I would have crumbled, or gotten upset. He maintained, and with a combination of cajoling, pleading, and strongly insisting, managed to get us legally registered, a new license plate, and the right stickers and paperwork. The Polish bureaucrat is a formidable creature, but Vivek was raised in battle with the bureaucrats of India, and there is no comparison for that level of obdurate intransigence. The van is now a legally registered to our Sunflower Project Polish Foundation (of which Vivek is a Vice-President officer), and should be ready for whatever the Polish and Ukrainian border officials throw at us. 

Kevin is leaving Ukraine now for Romania, having just delivered aid supplies to Kyiv, in addition to helping out some Ukrainian refugees with delivery of personal supplies from Poland to Ukraine. We will all meet somewhere in Poland or Ukraine in a week or two.

It is amazing, also, to have Oro Whitley here with us! He has brought the best can-do attitude, and will be using his skills as a professional photographer while volunteering and helping deliver aid supplies.

Ok, there is so much more, but that is more than enough for now. Enjoy these pictures of the van!

Oh, and, yeah, we could very much use fuel and operating money, so send us something in PayPal if you are so inclined.

Thank you so much!

Sunflower Update: Two supply runs and a nostos

I am writing from the desk at my old apartment in Kyiv; I found the place where I lived before the Russian invasion listed on Airbnb and rented it for a couple of nights while passing through the city. Climbing the three flights of stairs and walking across the threshold to meet the landlord felt like the last steps of a muted nostos, even if my journey wasn’t by sea. 

After shaking hands and exchanging thoughts about the war, the landlord departed and I was alone in the familiar geometry of the flat. There was snow on the ground when I left in February, yet now the doors and windows moved and shut differently in the humidity of mid-summer. Later, as I walked down the dingy stairs and out the front door of the building, I noticed a sign in Ukrainian saying that, in preparation for winter, the hot water for the complex would be off for the next month. I leaned against the wall next to the basement stairs, lit a cigarette, and stared at a hand-written sign reading “укриття” with an arrow pointing down. The old lady who once tended the building and surrounding park was nowhere to be found.

The next day, after a cold shower in rust-tinted water, I drove to the left bank of the Dnipro River to deliver a load of nitrile exam gloves, wet wipes and backpacks to a local church, whose drivers would take the supplies to the front line the next day. After a meal of homemade borsch and a discussion of the multiple meanings of the story of David and Goliath with the pastor, I headed down the unkept mud road in my Nissan Patrol toward the city center. 

That was the second of two deliveries on this trip, the first being a load of personal effects given to me by a Ukrainian refugee family in Poland. The mother asked that I forward along the boxes via Nova Poshta to her husband in the east. I sent the goods from the post office in Lviv before heading to Ukrainian Catholic University to pick up the load of backpacks and sanitary goods from their volunteer coordinator.

While packing my things and checking the cupboards here at the flat in Kyiv, I discovered a host of personal items that I had left behind during my frantic exit in February. A single cup French press, a coffee grinder, a thermos, Christmas lights and ornaments, super glue, masking tape, a pile of dried rose petals, half burned candles, unused birthday balloons, a cake pan, lacquered chopsticks, and an unused diary. I stuffed it all in a brand new trash bag, threw it in the back of my truck, and will head south for Romania shortly.