'Their entire life is in a plastic bag': Leeds man describes carnage at Poland Ukraine border after travelling to help

A Leeds man who travelled to Poland to help fleeing Ukrainian refugees look after their young children has spoken of the carnage at the border as locals head for safety.

By Alex Grant
Thursday, 17th March 2022, 11:45 am

Greg Cairns and his old army buddy Kevin Neilson travelled to Poland last Friday to help struggling refugees.

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The pair, both army veterans who served in Iraq, flew into the Polish city of Krakow before hiring a car and driving for the Polish border with Ukraine.

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Greg Cairns (R) and his old army buddy Kevin Neilson (L) travelled to Poland last Friday to help struggling refugees.

Fleeing Ukrainians continue to file into neighbouring Poland to escape the warzone which has become their home as Russian troops continue to attack the country.

Speaking exclusively to YEP, Greg spoke of the utter devastation he witnessed as they attempted to help locals.

"You are talking about peoples lives. Some had a suitcase while some had a few plastic carrier bags. People were tired, they were frightened and they were desperate." he said.

"You didn't know the distances some had travelled and some were stuck on the Ukrainian side of the border for anywhere between seven and 30 hours."

Fleeing Ukrainians continue to file into neighbouring Poland to escape the warzone which has become their home as Russian troops continue to attack the country.

Ukrainian forces continue to monitor the border and as such have the passageway to safety closed at certain points.

"When the border would reopen there would just be an influx of people, maybe 20 bus loads and more on foot but there was a clear lack of co-ordination on the Polish side." Greg explained.

"People could get some chocolate for their kids, get some sanitary products but then with language barriers they didn't quite understand it was free. We were trying to hand money out and there was that natural scepticism."

Greg and Kevin have now raised over £10k through a GoFundMe page with all the money going towards helping fleeing refugees.

Central to Greg's desire to help was the thought of people struggling to feed and cloth their young children with Greg having left his 18 month old son to go and play his part.

"I was just becoming increasingly angry and upset at what was happening with women and children on their own and you have to put yourself in their shoes." he said.

Greg and Kevin were helped in their quest to provide needs with British supermarket firm Morrisons having donated boxes of goods.

The pair experienced a close call as they turned down the opportunity to cross the border and visit the Ukrainian peace keeping base.

Having turned down the opportunity over fears their hire car insurance would be voided they later discovered the base had been hit by Russian missile strikes that same night.

"We just feel very fortunate and lucky that we decided not to visit the base. We definitely got away with one." he explained.

Upon returning home to Leeds in the past few days Greg has found the sheer contrast in the opposing realities difficult to fathom.

"It feels like coming back from a warzone except without the fighting. It's the numbness in that such a situation is happening versus the normality of home." Greg explained.

"I don't think people here are quite grasping it because while we are all complaining about rising diesel prices, people are crossing the border with their entire life in a plastic bag, all while not knowing what has happened to their husband, their father, their son."

Greg and Kevin plan to return to the border in early April with the GoFundMe page still raising funds.

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