After the palpable sense of relief when we finally breached the border into Ukraine last night this morning brought the realisation that there is still a lot to do. Ultimately we must reach the airport at Chișinău (the only one in Moldova) for a flight that departs at 8.40 pm. Before then we must complete a raft of jobs in Odesa, negotiate the border once again (on foot this time since Jenny will be staying in Odesa) and work out how to reach the airport some two hours away. We could find no help at all online explaining how to do this last part!
The day dawned with a beautiful tranquility entirely at odds with the reality of what is happening in so much of Ukraine. Dan thought that he heard an air-raid siren sounding in the far distance. It was only fleeting and although we listened for longer we heard nothing more. To the road again.
Traffic at places was heavy and the extent of the militarisation of Ukrainian society is very apparent. So many men are in uniform. We passed through heavily defended checkpoints (thankfully simply waved through – it does seem that driving around in an ambulance confers certain privileges). We have not posted images of these given that their location is understandably secret. The images on this blog of security in and around Odesa are all screenshots so as not to carry useful metadata.
Aid worker Paul and the local aid-working team (from the American charity UAO) updated us on the wonderful work that they are doing – including sharing details of one lady who had been told by others that she had a muscle sprain when in fact she had a bad hip fracture and was in agony. She is now receiving proper medical care through their efforts. Seemingly the Ukrainian authorities are meant to provide a visiting medical service to local communities but most of these communities have never seen this service – the only medical support they are receiving is from this group. After Dan had joined a Zoom call to make a presentation to colleagues back in London Paul kindly took us on a whistle stop guided tour of some of Odesa’s most famous sights.
We had set ourselves a deadline of midday to leave Odesa. We know by now to leave plenty of time for the unexpected and leaving at midday should give us 4 or 5 hours of leeway. The first step was to be at the border by 1.30.
For some reason as we left the aid office Jenny wouldn’t accelerate. Having travelled 2,000 miles in rude health she seemed to pick this moment to enter “limp home mode”. This really wasn’t great timing – did she not want us to leave? We pulled over, checked under the bonnet for anything obvious. Seeing nothing clearly amiss we restarted her. This time there was no problem and off we went. We had not factored in time to buy Ukrainian compulsory car insurance (at a ramshackle dry cleaners!) which took a surprisingly long time to arrange. In fact we left before the documents were available, having arranged for Paul to pick them up on his way back past.
Delays had already eaten into our margin for error – it was now after 2.30.
Crossing the border on foot is the way to go! Waved on, walk around a barrier and up to the same lanes the cars use, hand over your passports and are we good to go? Not quite. Of course not. An entirely pointless 45 minutes later (we could see our passports sitting unchecked on a desk!) we had the requisite stamps which of course had to be checked by yet another line of defence before we were released back into Moldova.
At that point our luck (and that of a waiting taxi driver) improved dramatically. As we entered Moldova a voice said “taxi?”. We foolishly agreed to our driver’s exorbitant initial price and climbed, exhausted, into a beautifully quiet and smooth car bound for straight for the airport.
It was at about that time that we received a message from Paul that Ukrainian air defences had shot down three Russian cruise-type missiles over the Black Sea off the coast of Odesa. It seems that this is what that morning’s air raid siren had been alerting people to and served as a timely reminder of the threat under which Ukrainians – including the Odesans we had met earlier that day – are living. It is somewhat unsettling to think what damage these missiles might otherwise have done – quite possibly in Odesa itself.
Chișinău airport itself is beautiful. New, efficient and clean with plenty of restaurants, comfortable areas in which to sit and sockets at which to recharge devices. This contrasts sharply with Luton …
Although our flight was delayed by 20 minutes the greater delays were of course on the ground at Luton. There were no steps, the queue for passport control was monumental. Once through it was approaching midnight – taxis home brought to a close another very long day for us both. Home. Exhausted but exhilarated.
It was very strange to have been in Odesa in the morning and Luton that night. We live in a remarkably connected world and the war in Ukraine really is that close. Time it right and a Londoner can travel to embrace an Odesan in their home town on the same day. We can only hope that the assistance that we helped to enable will do something to demonstrate to people in Ukraine the immense affection that we feel for each other and the huge desire that so many of us have to take practical steps to ease the suffering of all those caught up in this awful aggression.
Thank you all for the huge help that you have provided. In many ways it is now that the Jenny’s real work starts. She will need to be refuelled and maintained (not least to work out the real reason that she elected to enter “limp home mode”!). She will need to be insured and be equipped with winter tyres. If all of these things happen then she can transport medics and aid to where that help is needed most throughout the coming winter.
Together we can keep Jenny – and indeed this wonderful project – on the road. Please do continue to donate if you are able to do so. We plan post a further update shortly about all of the wonderful work that Jenny is already starting to do.