30 hours on the road for the people of Ukraine
Gedanken von Hans-Peter Meyer (hpm)
To say it right away: The following text describes a trip that was completely unspectacular. Deadly boring and without really important events and findings. That's just the way it was and there is nothing to gloss over. Against this background, everyone should think about whether he wants to read this text at all. It will be boring. Deadly boring!
But one after the other.....
When at the end of February 2022 the Russian dumbass Putin was of the opinion to annex the Ukraine, I did not suspect yet that I would write this dull text here once. It was a shock for all normal thinking people, who could not imagine in their worst dreams what has happened since then. It was the same for me.
There may be an ounce of truth in the fact that it was not necessarily a hoot on the part of the West to expand NATO ever further eastward. There may well be many things that a Russian (I deliberately choose the masculine form here and refrain from any gendering) could get upset about. There were quite a few things THE Russian could and was allowed to be afraid of. BUT: This does not entitle HIM in any way to do what he does since then. He does not have the right to hurt or even to kill even a single differently thinking living being. Unfortunately, he does it in a thousand ways and it must be opposed in a thousand ways.
My work colleague Alexander Varychev (I call him Alexander, others say Sasha) is from Ukraine. He grew up in Lviv - that's what he calls it exclusively today. It's the Ukrainian form of the name of the city, which until recently had a population of just over 700,000. He used to call this city Lvov according to the Russian way of speaking. Today he avoids that. Old "good" Germans still say Lemberg. I agreed with myself to say only Lviv from now on, too.
For 20 years I have been working with my colleague at the University of Heidelberg. He didn't speak a word of German when he came to us. But he knew what a feldspar, a pyroxene and a hornblende are. Ideal conditions to get a job at the Institute for Geosciences in Heidelberg. So one thing led to another and meanwhile we are a good and effective team in the field of microanalysis. Everything was good. Or at least almost everything. But I don't want to go into that here.
And now this! Little Vladimir has Ukraine invaded and wants to annex it. That was already quite funless. It is clear that this must affect the life of normal thinking people in general and the life of a Ukrainian in particular all the more.
(Image source: Internet, Der Stern)
The daily news on television got - and still gets - under your skin. At first, you thought, there's not much more to come. It will soon be over. Little Vladimir makes a run and everything is finished. It turned out differently. Very different. And with the unexpected course of the "special action" the images changed. They became worse. Every day a little bit more. And every day we thought that it could not get any worse. And every day we learn that it can get worse. And I dread to find out that it can always get worse.
(Image source: Internet, RTL News)
Early in the course of the unspeakable events in Ukraine came the thought that you can't just sit around at home and do nothing. Somehow, you can't. So what to do?
Alexander (Sasha) had already activated his connections in Ukraine. He had and still has many old friends in his former homeland. From them he was provided with direct information. It was realized that people in western Ukraine, where the war had not even arrived yet, were also active on a daily basis and were providing great assistance to the regions that were already fully involved in the war. In Lviv, extensive logistics developed to support the regions where it was banging daily and hourly.
Meanwhile, far from Ukraine, a reporter from the local press in Heppenheim contacted Alexander's family. She wanted to know how it felt for them to have to follow events from afar. The resulting newspaper report can be found here:
After that, one thing led to another. Alexander had started to financially support his extended family in Ukraine. I had also made my contribution. And then came what was to come. We thought about helping other people as well, and for that we also asked acquaintances.
Alexander asked his acquaintances in Ukraine what they specifically needed. The answer came quickly with a long list. We concentrated our efforts on medical material, especially for the care of severely injured people. Also on outdoor accessories that you need when you have lost the roof over your head.
The institute management was asked and was immediately ready to distribute an appeal in the institute by mail. Two days later, we were off and running. We were very pleased with the response. Donations in kind came in and quickly donations of money, because we wanted to buy the things ourselves.
Very quickly, AGAPE-eV approached us. This association with its chairman Martin Maier, another work colleague from the university, has projects in Bangladesh and builds wells there, among other things. The association offered us not only money, but also the logistics of the association in terms of finances. So we had very quickly the possibility to answer donations also with a donation receipt. Thanks to Charlotte!
This turned out to be a big advantage, because with the prospect of a donation receipt, donations are usually a little easier for regular taxpayers to handle. Therefore, our long-time partner in cooperative research from Augsburg also left us several larger amounts of money in addition to many donations in kind from the staff, which were very very helpful. Also within the institute we received donations from 20 Euro (students) up to a maximum amount of 1500 Euro. We were overwhelmed.
Now it was a matter of managing the money sensibly and also getting the things that had really been requested. And this is where the problems began. Until a few days ago, we didn't know what a "tourniquet" was. Now we know. And we also know that it is currently almost impossible to buy it in Germany. No matter where we asked, everything was sold out. There seemed to be other people who need something like this. Also "Israeli bandages" are currently in short supply in Germany.
Dealers who sell medical supplies are completely overloaded. Their Internet portals only say that they cannot deliver or that there may be delays in delivery. But most of the items are sold out.
Even with the largest mail order company in the world, which starts with "A" and ends with "ON", it could be read everywhere that things are currently not available. Or delivery times of more than 4 weeks. And we didn't want to wait that long.
There were delivery possibilities from China. Some things would have been possible. We made use of them, but to be on the safe side only to a very small extent. Finally, we found sources that could deliver relatively quickly. But that was more or less a stroke of luck. After we had ordered there, some things were soon sold out.
In the meantime, we had already found another source from Heidelberg. A childhood friend of Alexander, with whom he was and still is in daily contact, had acquaintances in Poland, not far from the border to Ukraine. And he regularly made courier trips with relief supplies across the border. Marek was a constant contact for Alexander. Marek's connections to a hospital in Lviv then made it clear what we should get and then wanted to get.
Through Marek's contacts in Poland, we then ordered medical supplies in Poland. That went absolutely smoothly. We didn't even have our car full in Heidelberg when the first shipment of dressing materials had long since been delivered across the border to Lviv.
Picture: Andrej got the first delivery long before we left. We ordered in Poland and had it delivered directly to him. Works great!
However, we were still slowed down in Germany by long delivery times or sold-out dealers. At some point, however, the decision was made that we should drive soon. In the meantime, the car was full to the brim.
My VW-Mulitvan has 7 seats. Of these we removed one seat. So we had the possibility to take up to 4 other people with us on the way back. Blankets for the return trip and Corona tests were packed and then we started our journey. The day before the departure was still intense, because also at our workplace at the university some things had to be done.
But then it finally started. It was Tuesday, April 12, 2022, when I said goodbye to my wife shortly before 11 p.m. in the southernmost town of Rhineland-Palatinate. She had - as usual - packed everything for me. As usual, it was way too much what ended up in my travel bag. But that's okay. You never know how long you'll be gone.
We didn't know at that time that it was only 30 hours until we would arrive back home healthy - but dead tired. As already mentioned at the beginning: It was a lightning-fast, but totally uneventful trip. Actually much too boring to write a report about it. Against this background, I would like to point out to the readers at this point of the report that it is not worth reading any further.
Shortly before midnight I arrived in Heppenheim. My co-pilot lives there. From now on the team was complete. Our destination was clear: Rzeszow (pronounced Scherschoff) in Poland. This is one of the hubs for refugees and aid transports. We deliberately did not want to drive right up to the border. It must have been rather chaotic there. We had our known partners and knew where to drop off.
First we went north. Past Frankfurt and then even further north. Only at Kirchheim did we change direction to the east. Then we entered the eastern states of Germany. We were on the A4, which runs from Paris to Kiev. We would not leave this road from now on our 1300 km outward journey. For someone who rarely comes to this area, it was a more than pleasant feeling to be allowed to drive on this highway. The road was fantastically developed, in many areas three lanes. And there was almost no traffic at that time. The cruise control was set to 120 km/h and the car rolled and rolled. Absolutely stress-free.
On the road many vehicles of large logistics companies, which we passed constantly. All vehicles that were full of packages. Certainly also one or the other package that we had ordered and that had not arrived in time. But we can solve that - as we know by now - in another way.
The time in the car flew by. Somehow we didn't really notice it, but at some point then it dawned on the eastern horizon. We had not even stopped. We had already left Dresden behind us. The border to Poland was getting closer. A last long tunnel just before Poland. And when we drove out of this tunnel again, the day had begun.
In front of us was the border, which we crossed without actually noticing it. The car just rolled across the border. Very unusual for me. A good 15 years ago I used to drive this route regularly. Always with aid transports in the direction of Belarus (today Belorussia). At that time for the children who had suffered from the Chernobyl reactor disaster. At that time we organized convoys with up to 3000 packages and I was responsible for organizing these trips. I remember with horror the hour-long controls at the border to Poland. It was even worse at the border to Belarus. And you always had to hand out a pack or two of cigarettes to make things go a little faster. Those were adventures back then. Every trip was different. Every trip was an adventure.
And today? The car rolls over the border and in no time we are in Poland. Man ey! That's boring. Just rolling across. Nobody is interested in what's in our car. And at that time I didn't know that it would remain as boring.
After a short stop for gas in Poland - diesel there cost almost 30 cents less than here - it was Alexander's turn to drive on. The roads in Poland were also fantastic. The shaken Palatine by choice only dreams of this in his home country. The stretch to Wrozlaw (formerly Wroclaw) was still familiar to me from the earlier convoys as a mogul track, where you had to drive over a bump in the road at regular intervals every few seconds. Sleeping was out of the question back then. And today? Everything is tip-top! Smooth as a child's bottom, this A4 highway in Poland.
Maybe that's one of the reasons why we just kept on driving. Basic food supplies in solid and liquid form were available. We had them with us from the beginning. So we both reached into our supplies from time to time and rolled on.
A look to the south showed us the distant peaks of the Giant Mountains. There was still snow there. The view went far. It was a fantastic sunny day. The fact that the sun was shining into our car from the front for a long time was the only thing that was a bit annoying at times.
I was in the Krkonoše Mountains once about 15 years ago for sampling. There were orbiculite rocks there that had been known for more than 100 years. In my dissertation in the last millennium I had examined such rocks. With pleasure I would have made a side trip there. But unfortunately that was not on the plan today. Besides, one had to assume that the stones were still hidden under a blanket of snow.
So we drove on. Three lanes! Always with 120 km/h. Past Katovice and then later Krakow. Already 30 km before Katovice the downhill roads showed that we were going there. And even 30 km behind the city, it still read Katovice. Somehow we couldn't get away from this city. We somehow did not experience a real rush hour. There was quite a bit of traffic on the road, but except for one traffic jam that lasted a bit longer than 10 minutes, it was always moving along at a brisk pace.
What was interesting was what else you saw. We were not the only aid transport heading east. We overtook other packed vehicles - not only from Germany - and were also overtaken by others.
The most memorable were several relief transports with many fire engines. These were accompanied by Polish police. Up to 15 red vehicles behind each other. One convoy from the Ortenau district and one from the Spree region were particularly memorable. As we were to learn later, these were not firemen who wanted to help with clean-up work ("Butcha" was only a few days ago). They were vehicles that had been collected and donated by German fire departments. They were to be handed over to the people of Ukraine to provide their services.
In the meantime, the sun had moved further south, while our journey went further and further east. Our destination was getting closer. The destination was entered into the Navi. It was only about 20 km to our destination. The navi told us that it would take just under another hour. Bullshit! Something was wrong. We agreed that it would have to be much faster.
We were to be mistaken. Tough as chewing gum pulled the track in the city of Rzeszow. Traffic lights that were on red for geological periods, only to show a short green phase. Cars without end. By the way, not only Polish ones. We could also see numerous Ukrainian vehicles. We had already noticed them again and again during the trip. All of them heading east.
It was the time when little Vova (= Vladimir) had started the retreat with his military near Kiev. In the news it was heard again and again that many Ukrainians were already returning. About 25,000 a day, some of whom we saw.
The goal was getting closer and closer. We came out of the city again into a more rural area. Individual houses with three-digit numbers were there. The navi said we were there. But we were not there. The reason was a completely confused system of house numbers, which could not recognize any comprehensible system of order. It could have been any single house. We wandered through the area. After what felt like half an hour, we thought we might be standing in front of the right building. We drove into a courtyard, which in the some transporters stood. On them were partial stickers, which could have represented something like "Relief transport Ukraine". Didn't look so bad.
Not a soul to be seen. Far and wide. It all looked rather mysterious. We looked at each other and didn't know what to make of it. We walked up to an apartment building that was on the grounds. It took some time until someone came out of the house after ringing the bell.
It was a middle-aged Pole. He must have lived here. We explained our request to him. He knew. He showed us a truck. We were to load all our things onto it. We looked at each other again. We were not really afraid. Alexander's friend was in Lviv. We could not ask him.
After we had loaded with a bad feeling all things on the truck - which had no license plate - we asked then, how he wanted to drive with this vehicle to Lviv. It was clear to see that this vehicle was not ready to drive.
He made it clear to us that he would transfer everything to an open vehicle without a top before the trip the next day. He was only using the defective truck as temporary storage so that the things would not get wet. We were queasy.
There it was still full- our car
And then in 5 minutes everything was loaded onto the truck.
To say it in advance: All our concerns dissolved into thin air 2 days later. Our things landed without exception in Lviv, from where Alexander's childhood friend sent photos. Especially of two very small packages, in which we had specifically placed some more valuable things, which were intended for medical emergencies.
The man then asked us to his house for a coffee. The plan was actually for us to spend the night and then return home the next day rested. But the next day would have been Maundy Thursday. And on such a day one does not voluntarily go on the highway in Germany. Since we were reasonably well and not too tired, we decided to turn down the overnight opportunity and head straight back home.
That was actually all. 14 hours of driving to just before the Ukrainian border and then loading everything into the other vehicle in 5 minutes. And then after a (not very good) coffee we started our journey home again.
It couldn't be more unspectacular! But what did we expect? A handover with a lot of hoopla and a band? A bouquet of flowers as a thank you? Big hugs for our help?
A whole box full of tourniques has arrived in Lviv.
Bullshit! It was just as it should be. We were one of many many vehicles that made a long trip bringing relief supplies. We hope that we brought things that people can actually use and that will be helpful in alleviating the suffering that the aggressor Vladimir P. is inflicting on the people of the country. We won't really get into whether we succeeded in doing that, but the response we received 2 days later makes us confident that we might have.
Our "Israeli badages" and "Decompression needles" have also arrived.
The big warehouse that we had expected in Rzeszow did not exist. As we were to learn later, many things are brought decentrally from Poland to Lviv, in order to be collected and sorted centrally there. Against this background, it was very helpful that we had labeled the packages in Ukrainian.
And now? The first part of our unspectacular journey is over. Now comes part 2 and it is even more boring.
We had planned to take fleeing people with us. We had up to 4 places free. The only place where we could expect fleeing people in this Polish city was the main train station. From this station we could see pictures in news broadcasts more often in the past weeks. That was quite impressive.
So we made our way to the station. The same tough driving as before. For a few kilometers we need a very long time. Finding a parking place can be considered as winning the lottery. It was only a small lottery win that we had, because the parking lot was a good kilometer away from the train station. In the absence of Polish currency, instead of a parking ticket, we simply placed a Ukrainian flag in the front of our German car and hoped that no one would tow us there. You never know!
In front of the Rzeszow train station
Once we arrived at the station, everything was different than expected. The station hall of this city with 200,000 inhabitants was then but rather small. Not to say teeny-tiny. Only a few people stayed here. There were maybe 20, and not all of them wanted to go in our direction. What was noticeable was about a dozen young people with yellow warning vests. They were "volunteers". Most of them were probably from Ukraine. They were doing voluntary service here at the station to send other people on their way. However, these "volunteers" were rather bored. They talked intensely among themselves, but had little to do with the travelers.
Alexander approached a young Ukrainian lady wearing a yellow vest and explained our request or offer to her. There was a family that could have come along, but they had probably just bought tickets and didn't want to go our way either. The young lady told us to come back in half an hour. Maybe someone would be there then.
So we did. But even after our walk through the city, no one was found who wanted to leave the station in the direction of a western country. A young scientist from Kiev would have come with us, but she wanted to wait two more days to find out that her sister was still in Kiev. We didn't want to wait that long after all.
There we were. With an empty car, but no potential passengers. Is that a bad sign? No - actually a good sign. Because we got the impression that the number of people returning was larger than the number of people currently leaving.
The young Ukrainian woman, from whom Alexander learned that her mother attended the same school in Lviv as he did, assured us that two weeks ago it was quite different. Two weeks ago, there were still 40 buses with refugees arriving in the city every day. That must have been quite a challenge at this small station.
We were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our car was to remain empty on the return journey. Also good! Only one week later we saw pictures again, on which refugees were to be seen in this city. Vladimir started again. This time in the east and south of Ukraine. And that then again caused more people to flee.
Anyway, we left empty. It was around 4 p.m. when we went back to our car, and then we got into the after-work traffic of Rzeszow. But then that was over quickly, too.
After we reached the outskirts of the city, it was there again. The feeling of being able to drive on a highway that carries the car as if by itself. And again, the sun was the only thing that could nag us. Because it was in front of us again. This time from the west. It was guiding us in the direction we were now heading.
And again we drove almost nonstop. The driver was changed occasionally, but otherwise 120 km/h was set again. Well before midnight, the trip to Poland was over for us again. The highway was empty. Sometimes we were all alone on the highway. There was no one in front of us or behind us.
It was different on the opposite lane. There was always a lot of traffic. It had already started after Breslau. The traffic on the opposite lane was getting heavier and heavier. There was a traffic jam 12 km long, which we drove past. And that was not the only traffic jam we experienced here. It was already spooky. Our lane totally empty and on the opposite lane a never ending dense traffic.
It was the day before Maundy Thursday. Many Poles were on their way back home. And they all met us. We could be very thankful that we didn't make our trip 24 hours later, because then we would have been part of this huge traffic jam heading to Poland now.
Even after we got back to home soil near Görlitz, the traffic didn't let up. The queue just didn't want to end. Even as far as Dresden, there was heavy traffic, although it was approaching midnight by now.
We rolled and rolled and rolled. And gradually tiredness set in. And a certain satisfaction. And so it went on until we arrived in Heppenheim at about 3:30 and finally in the Southern Palatinate at about 5.
A journey came to an end that was completely unspectacular. And whoever has read this far is actually to blame, because there wasn't really anything important to report.
We hope that what we did was not completely unimportant in the end. But whether that's true, we'll never know.
And now? Now we are back home. We go back to our work and we live in peace. We are doing well and we have everything we need. We couldn't be better off, actually.
And in Ukraine? People are dying there. Every day, every hour, maybe even every minute. They lose their families, their belongings. And there is little we can do to change that.
Nothing in the world can justify invading a country like that and killing the people in that country. You can't have any sympathy for the brutal things that little Vladimir is allowing to happen there. Hopefully, he will be held accountable for this at some point.
Alexander's friend Marek with a small but valuable package.
We will continue. We still have some of the many funds that have been given to us. That's a good thing. Unfortunately, it will be the case that more aid will be needed. And then we will have the opportunity to spend these funds wisely and send them to Marek and his Ukrainian friends. We are waiting for concrete requests and then we will make sure that these requests will be served.
If it is necessary, then we will leave again. Maybe then the trip will take a little longer than 30 hours. And even then we hope to do something that will help the people in need. Our account details with AGAPE will remain the same.
Herewith I - Hans-Peter Meyer - end my current thought splinters about our trip to Rzeszow and apologize one last time that I actually had nothing important and interesting to report.
Written in Berg (Palatinate) on 26.4.2022
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