A Bath woman has described her unnerving experience of crossing the border from Poland into Ukraine.
Bunny Bush travelled to Eastern Europe last Monday (March 7) to help bring aid to "a friend of a friend" living near the Polish border. She had hoped to drive a car full of provisions into Ukraine and hand them out, but in the end, she had to go on foot.
Now safely back in Bath, the 52-year-old opened up about her time there, during which she met many people helping at the heart of the crisis. While still in Poland, Bunny spoke to Bath Live about conditions for refugees and what she planned to do next.
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She said: "My partner and I landed in Rzeszów on Monday morning and it is about an hour and a half drive from the border. So we drove to Medyka, which is on the Polish side.
"From there, we could see all the people coming through the checkpoint. Most of them were on foot and there were very few cars. Every so often a coach would come through, full of refugees, and they would have blue flashing lights on them - as if they were police coaches.
"All I can say is, it was really sombre. There was no crying, even from the children - no tantrums and tiaras - we were just met by blank expressionless faces.
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"It was mainly women, children and older people coming through, and very few men. There were so many animals too - dogs, cats, and even birds in cages.
"When you smiled at them and said hello, you got nothing back. There were no frowns or glares, but no smiles either - just empty faces. They have just been through so much that they are just traumatised."
Bunny travelled to Poland with the aim of helping a friend of a friend, called Anna, who lives in Ukraine. She hoped to bring her some provisions as her food was running low and she could not travel.
"Anna is sitting at home with her children and they are running out of baby food. She has got her elderly mother living with her, who has just got over Covid, so she can't travel. I don't think she would be able to manage the train," Bunny explained.
So, on the Monday evening, Bunny headed to the border in a hire car with her partner and some friends who were also hoping to help out. But, when they got to the checkpoint, things began to go wrong.
"They wouldn’t let us through the border in our vehicle, because it was a hire car. So, at the border, there are two gates and no-man’s-land in between and the guard told us to leave our car with several others in a car park in no-man’s-land," she said.
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This was not the news Bunny wanted to hear. She had brought several bags of provisions for Anna, and other Ukrainian families, which she would be unable to carry through on foot.
"We had to stuff as much as we could into our backpacks and pockets and then go through on foot," she explained. It was dark by that time and the temperature had dropped to -2C.
Bunny and her companions set off into the Ukrainian wilderness on foot, some of them searching for hotels on Booking.com. Eventually, they found one nearby that appeared to be still taking in guests.
"When we got to the hotel, the lady who owned it said she had sent us an email to say they weren’t taking any bookings from Booking.com. She said there was a school down the road where people were sleeping, so we headed there instead.
"We were so lucky she spoke English or we would have been sleeping in a ditch all night. But, as it was, the school was lovely and warm, and full of Ukrainian families who were sleeping on the floor," Bunny said.
So, she bedded down for the night and drifted off. However, she did not get more than a few hours' sleep before she was awoken.
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"About halfway through the night, these men burst in with guns and shone torches in our eyes. Then they said something in their own language and I said ‘Do you speak English?’
"They didn't reply but just turned around and left. Then a short while after that, another man got up, packed his stuff and went outside."
The next morning, Bunny had to ring Anna and tell her they would not be able to bring her the provisions as planned. "I had to talk to her and explain why we couldn’t come, which was really, really hard," she said.
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After a small breakfast, Bunny and her friends headed back towards the border. By that stage, they had tried and failed to find a hire car company still operating in Ukraine.
"I suppose we could have bought a lot of provisions while we were there and given them out, but that's their food. We would only be making matters worse if we started buying it up," she explained.
So, with a heavy heart, Bunny approached the checkpoint to cross back into Poland. However, she did not want to depart Ukraine without leaving something of Bath behind.
"I found this stone, just two days before we were due to fly over, and I decided to bring it with me. Before we left Ukraine, I set it down beside a bowl of dog food - so hopefully, someone will see it when they stop there with their dog and pick it up," she said.
However, even getting back into Poland did not go smoothly for Bunny. When she and her companions reached the border guard they asked if they could reclaim their hire from no-man's-land.
"He just 'no' and he would not budge. He made us stand there for 25 minutes in the cold while he let other people through and we could see them going and getting their cars.
"In the end, I had to wait until his back was turned and then sneak under the fence to get it. I jumped in and drove it round to pick my partner up," she said.
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Bunny spent the two days after that taking aid to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and said she had seen "no international aid groups" while she was there. "No Oxfam tent - nothing. It's mostly Polish people who are helping," she said.
Although she flew home to Bath on Thursday, this may not be the last Ukraine sees of Bunny. She said she was now working out how to return with a vehicle she could take across the border.
"I have to decide whether to buy a car or a van over here and drive it to Poland, or buy a car over here," she explained.
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