A retired firefighter has completed two perilous journeys delivering medical aid to Ukraine – with the help of Europe’s top trailer maker.
Peter Bee, 65, and his 70-year-old next-door neighbour Glyn Jordan, from the village of Needham, South Norfolk, made a pact over a beer to embark on the 2,200-mile round trip with as many essential supplies as they could get their hands on.
With the support of their local community and businesses in Norfolk and Suffolk, the ex-HGV drivers have raised up to £100,000 in cash and vital medical supplies in less than a month which they delivered by road to Lviv, east of the Polish border, courtesy of a BV106 Ifor Williams Box Van Trailer.
The trailer was loaned free of charge to the pair by IWT dealer Agroco Trailers, based in Needham Market, Suffolk, which handed over a cheque worth £1,000 to boost their efforts. The firm has also supplied further trailers for collecting and ferrying around donations ahead of their journeys.
The best pals, who have been liaising with the charity Caritas in Ukraine, have delivered thousands of pounds worth of trauma kits, tourniquets, bandages, medicine, saline and irrigation solutions for wounds, nappies, baby milk and sanitary supplies – much of which they purchased off Amazon – to the war-torn city.
Despite the high-risk missions, the pair have no plans to stop.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” admitted Peter.
“What made me do it is the fact I have grandchildren myself. I saw a woman on the news whose son had died. She was inconsolable and my wife and I just cried. I said this shouldn’t be happening, we have to do something. By doing something it gives us hope.
“I’m 65 and my neighbour is 70. We were sitting in the pub and I said, ‘what you doing next week?’. He said ‘nothing!’ so I said ‘let’s go to the Ukraine’. That was it.
“I’m an ex-fireman and lorry driver. We thought we’d just get some stuff together and it all just blew up and got way out of proportion. The first time we took around £30,000-£35,000 of aid down into Ukraine. It was difficult getting over the border as they thought we were carrying guns onboard.
“They checked everything while we were holding our hands in the air! Understandably, they are very nervy and it took us a couple of hours to get in and around nine hours to get back.
“The second time we managed to get the right paperwork to go into Lviv and handed over the supplies directly. Two cruise missiles had gone over the day before and we had to be back by 10pm because of the curfew as we would’ve been shot.
“When they opened the boxes, they sobbed in gratitude. This is happening on our door, on our watch. We have to help these people and children.
“We estimate we’ve brought £80,000-£100,000 of aid so far. It’s unbelievable. We couldn’t have done it without the help we’ve received from the village who’ve sorted it all out. Local people have really pulled together it’s been a fantastic community effort.
“Nick from Agroco has been tremendous. We’ve pinched every available trailer he has to ferry this stuff around and he doesn’t mind at all.
“I’ve always used IWT. The weather conditions were really appalling enroute and we were driving through blizzards. IWT is the only trailer to take you there. I wanted to get there and back, and I knew if I took an IWT I wouldn’t have any problems.”
Nick Ruffle, a partner at Agroco Trailers, said the firm had already put a couple of box vans aside in case they were needed for aid efforts and were delighted when Peter approached them with his plans.
“I said we would offer the trailers free of charge and it all snowballed from there,” said the 36-year-old, who has two daughters aged six months and eight.
“We’ve since become a drop-off centre for them and have had no end of stuff being delivered. Members of the public and staff have been dropping medical supplies off, first aid kits, paracetamol, sanitary items and trauma bandages. You feel good for being able to do something, of course.
“I just cannot imagine my wife, having a six-month old baby and an eight-year-old daughter, having to up sticks with whatever they are wearing and can carry and having no certainty.
“We always try to help out charities if we can. We are proud to be offering our trailers for as long as they’re needed.”
The scenes confronting both Peter and Glyn on arrival in Ukraine have only spurred them on to do more to help the stricken people.
“They have nothing, everything has been taken from them. It’s harrowing,” said Peter.
“I talked to one woman who’d just driven from Kyiv with her child. She said her husband had stayed on to fight and she didn’t know where she was going.
“I’m an ex-fireman and I’ve seen most things but it’s just appalling. That’s why we have to go back.
“We had even more aid the second time, about £40k of high-end supplies for the hospitals. We received £8,500 in a cash donation. A man came up to me in the village hall where we are based and just said ‘I can’t help you, I’m an old man but I’ve been successful in business and I want to give you this envelope to give to the people’.
“A local football team gave us £1,100. The public have been tremendous beyond belief.
“It’s just spread from word of mouth. We’ve been totally overwhelmed with the generosity shown.
“We only have to pay for our diesel, it’s just fantastic. Even Stenaline have said our travel is free which means we can buy another £500 of hospital goods from Amazon.”
Lois Wynne, from Ifor Williams Trailers, said: “We are delighted Ifor Williams Trailers has been able to play an important role in these aid missions and our thanks go to Nick for coming to the rescue when help was needed.
“The plight of the Ukrainian people has touched all our hearts and it is incredibly humbling to hear about the heroic efforts of Peter and Glyn and many others in responding to their situation with considerable risk to their own safety.”
Although a pre-planned holiday with his wife will temporarily interrupt his charity efforts, Peter said he planned to get straight back to collecting aid when he came back.
“They need our help. I’ve never felt so humbled,” he said.
“I’m a roughie toughie guy but they get to all of us. I’ve never seen so many excited people over food, medicines and nappies – we take it all for granted.
“They are such humble and proud people. When I went across, I talked to a 19-year-old soldier. He said, ‘I’m frightened, I don’t want to die but I will die for my country’.
“I’m not frightened. My wife is concerned obviously. But I’m 65. I’ve had my life. Other people fought for my freedom. We promote this western idea of freedom and we must defend it. I like my freedom. I’m cautious and I’m not silly. When I see the faces of the people who come and hug you and the children smiling – my God that’s worth everything. It’s so moving.”