Matt Western, Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington, spoke to The Boar earlier this month about his recent humanitarian mission to Ukraine.
Matt, alongside eight other residents of his constituency, drove two ambulances, two Land Rovers, and a large quantity of medical supplies to Ukraine at the end of September this year. The group travelled 1,500 miles over three days to deliver the vehicles.
Medical supplies and vehicles are some of the most needed humanitarian aids in Ukraine. The two Land Rovers provided were particularly useful to Ukraine’s Armed Forces. They are currently being used as ‘snatch’ vehicles: transports for wounded personnel from the front line.
The depot is secret, even though it is in Polish territory, because there was a humanitarian warehouse in eastern Ukraine that was attacked by Russian missiles and destroyed
Matt Western, Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington
How was the drive through Europe to the Ukrainian-Polish Border?
“We set off from Warwick [and] Leamington, and then we drove all the way across Europe, ending up on the Ukraine-Polish border. We actually went into Ukraine, albeit just on the margin, to hand over the ambulances to some of the frontline Ukrainian military.
“We alternated driving because we set off at 6:00 in the morning every day and we’d finish driving about 7:00, except on the third day when we set off at 6:00am on Wednesday. And I didn’t get into my hotel room until 6:00am on Thursday morning.
“The vehicles themselves are of a certain age and [the NHS] dispose of them through vehicle auctions. So, of the two ambulances they had, one had 460,000 miles, and the other had 550,000 miles on the clock, which you can appreciate is quite a distance.
“All the vehicles were literally packed to the ceiling with medical supplies, and those had to be dropped off at a depot. The depot is secret, even though it is in Polish territory, because there was a humanitarian warehouse in eastern Ukraine that was attacked by Russian missiles and destroyed.”
Words can’t describe [Auschwitz]…It’s one of those experiences that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to describe
Matt Western MP
During the trip, you stopped at Auschwitz. What was your reason for stopping there?
“It was really important that we stopped at Auschwitz as I’d never been, and as you know the reputation of Auschwitz goes before it. We wanted to go in context of the Russian attack on Ukraine with how Putin is or was describing this as a war against Nazis in Ukraine, which of course is a complete lie.
“With Putin, there is this President who has absolute control over all the institutions for his own ends and where that can take you. And, as a reminder of the last major war across Europe and the acts of a totalitarian regime, I just thought it was really pertinent to go and see and be reminded of those horrors.
“Words can’t describe [Auschwitz]. So, when we got back into the ambulances, normally you’re driving with a mate for all those hours – there’s a lot of banter and you make small talk and whatever, but after we started driving again it was just silence – we couldn’t talk. It’s one of those experiences that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to describe.”
And I’ll forever remember that, because you’re shaking hands with them, and you can just see it in their eyes, what this meant
Matt Western MP
Once you got to the Ukrainian border, how were the vehicles and supplies received?
“So, we met members of the Ukrainian military, and it was very emotional. I met with an officer and three others from the Air Assault Brigade. They were seasoned, aged men who were really grateful and moved by the generosity. And I’ll forever remember that, because you’re shaking hands with them, and you can just see it in their eyes, what this meant.
“Those vehicles are now helping save lives in an unnecessary war – it’s a very striking thing. Before this escalation in Israel and Gaza, that interest or concern in what was happening in Ukraine was beginning to falter. It was being displaced in international news. It’s really vital that we remember this conflict and that there is a real need on our doorstep to be doing more to support the Ukrainians, because it is devastating.
“The mission was set up through members of the Polish community in Warwick and Leamington and they’ve done an amazing thing – they really stood up. They set up a warehouse for humanitarian support, and they’ve sent over 19 vehicles full of supplies, and the remarkable thing is that’s just from this group.”
The ambulances are costing about five grand each and it’s very special to know that you’ve made a contribution to an ambulance that’s helping out there
Matt Western MP
How can university students in the UK help with the situation in Ukraine?
“As we enter the winter there will be real need for humanitarian assistance. I realise that for students, times are really tough – the cost-of-living crisis is biting hard for students. But just keeping the awareness of this war on the front pages is important.
“Financially, just urging people to do what they can. The ambulances are costing about five grand each and it’s very special to know that you’ve made a contribution to an ambulance that’s helping out there.
“We need to keep doing this really valuable work because of the weather conditions. Trying to take vehicles in through the winter gets more difficult because of the driving conditions, and you need to have special snow tyres fitted which would cost many hundreds if not thousands more to do so. So, they’re not doing it through winter, but come the spring, there will be more vehicles going out.”
I was nine years old when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation attacked Israeli athletes in Munich, and I was totally dismayed as a nine-year-old when that happened
Matt Western MP
With a similar situation unfolding in Palestine and Israel, do you think humanitarian aid like what you delivered to Ukraine should be sent to Palestine as well?
“Yes, it’s really shocking what’s unfolding in Gaza. I’ve met with the Medical Aid for Palestinians representative in London, and I’ve met with the Palestinian Ambassador and listened to some of the challenges. There is a real need for humanitarian aid. But it’s terrifying, because even the United Nations are losing people there.
“I’ve met with the Union of Jewish Students, and I’m concerned about what is happening – not just what happened in Israel but also what’s happening in Gaza and how this manifests itself internationally. My concern is just what damage this will do. Thousands of lives so far have been lost in the most recent escalation, which of course goes back over decades. I was nine years old when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation attacked Israeli athletes in Munich, and I was totally dismayed as a nine-year-old when that happened.
“Now to see what’s happened on 7 October – I was disgusted by the brutality – the maiming, the mutilation, the murder of children, women, and men. But Israel must be cognizant of how far it goes in its will to defend itself. And there is increasing concern about what this looks like in terms of taking out Hamas operatives, but the scale of loss of ordinary Palestinians is huge, and that is deeply distressing for all of us who care about the humanitarian situation.”
For those young people to miss out on their education because of Putin’s actions would be deeply damaging, not simply for the individual but also the country and would set them back socially, culturally, and economically
Matt Western MP
How can universities support Ukrainian students in general, and specifically those who decide to return to Ukraine to fight for or support their country?
“They should do what they have to do if they feel compelled to give up their lives and their studies. That’s for them – its unimaginable for the rest of us. If the UK was in a similar situation and there was a chance to go to Ireland, would you feel compelled to come back?
“The university sector has done a really good job in its outreach work to the Ukrainian university sector, to students and the support that it’s given. We should continue to do that because they have lives, and they have futures – the country has a future and it’s important that we do all we can in so many different ways to support them. The educational side is just as important as the humanitarian aid. For those young people to miss out on their education because of Putin’s actions would be deeply damaging, not simply for the individual but also the country and would set them back socially, culturally, and economically.”