Delight at arrival of vehicles in Ukraine

ON April 27, Katie Hines and her partner Ed Chalmers set off on a 1,300-mile journey across six European countries, writes Emma James.

Working for the charity Driving Ukraine, their mission, first discussed in the April edition of Wells Voice, was to deliver ‘Hilda’, their refurbished Toyota Hilux Double Cab Pickup along with vital supplies to Ukrainian troops in Lviv and beyond.

The pair took possession of Hilda two weeks before departure and performed daily prescribed checks to ensure road worthiness. In a previous life, Hilda had belonged to a shepherdess in the north of England but was about to serve a very different purpose as Katie and Ed, who grew up in Wells, loaded her up with trauma kits, computer screens and football nets. The latter were donated by the Wessex Youth Football Club and were destined to act as a layer of protection against Russian drones.

“We began our adventure at seven in the morning,” explains Katie. “We were both excited and a bit nervous as we were the last two to join up with the rest of the group and we didn’t know any of them. We all met up at Folkestone Services and we recognised each other because of our 4x4s with Driving Ukraine stickers.” One of the couple’s sponsors, Burns The Bread, had donated 100 bottles of water, Glastonbury pasties and flapjacks. The whole team was in good spirits as Katie and Ed handed out pasties to their new comrades.

The intrepid couple were joined by four other pairs of drivers. Katie says: “It was such a nice mix of people who wouldn’t normally have crossed paths as they were from such different social circles. There were two Geordie roofers; two members of a group on X who work to fact-check propaganda coming out of Russia; two ex-Sandhurst Officers in their 60s and Sir Simon Rasch and friend Philip De Nahlik. Sir Simon had been a page-boy at the late Queen’s wedding!”

Travelling in convoy as much as possible, the team stayed in touch by sharing locations on WhatsApp. The vehicle at the front was able to highlight road issues and closures. The one at the rear was the support vehicle carrying breakdown equipment.

Each morning began with a team meeting where objectives were discussed. When Katie and Ed were asked on day three, in Poland, if they were ready to enter a war-zone, their reason for being there was brought into sharp focus. The group was joined by a Ukrainian guide and interpreter who ran between the cars as they waited to cross the border.

After a two-hour drive, the convoy arrived at their destination. “We couldn’t believe how beautiful Lviv is,” says Ed, “absolutely stunning. Looking around, we noticed the military presence, the tank traps and billboards for army recruitment as well as humongous potholes.”

The team drove straight to the garage depot where some graffiti artists were using their skills to give the vehicles their camouflage colours. They were greeted by 22-year-old Maxim, too young to be conscripted but determined to assist the war effort along with his friend whose leg had been amputated following injury on the battlefield. The importance of their mission hit home as Katie and Ed listened to his story: “After I was injured, there was nobody to evacuate me. I’m sure that if there had been a vehicle available, I would still have my leg today.”

“Everyone was delighted when we turned up,” says Ed. “There were hugs and handshakes all round. But the two roofers didn’t even get to turn off their engine. They were told to take their stuff out of the vehicle and within ten minutes it had gone. We later saw a photo of it, in Odessa, with an anti-aircraft gun in the back. We also saw harrowing footage of one of the UK vehicles which had been blown up. Hilda is going to be its replacement. She has had her camo paint and is now in Kyiv.”

After an emotional visit to the Field of Mars Cemetery where all Lviv casualties are buried and freshly dug graves were visible, thoughts needed to turn to the return journey. Buses, trains, taxis and planes were all required. Katie describes their farewell meal in Krakow and a 4am flight into Bristol: “We were picked up by Ed’s sister and five minutes after arriving home we logged into work. I took a 9am call.”

Do they have plans to return to Ukraine? “Yes, we’re going back in October,” says Katie. “Maybe sooner as the charity might buy three ambulances and I have the HGV licence needed. And we’re interested in becoming team leaders ourselves now we know what to expect.”

To date, the couple have raised £5,115 for Driving Ukraine, vastly exceeding their goal of £2,000, and are grateful to all donors and to their sponsors: Haydn Davies of Wells Reclamation, Burns The Bread and Wessex Youth Football Club.

Katie explains how they feel about their adventure: “We didn’t do it for ourselves but we’ve got so much out of it. Both of us just want to do more now.” Ed continues: “Sometimes you can get depressed at the state of the world but being able to meet other people and do something together which makes a difference – it takes away some of the weight of the worry. You just have to look for the good people.”

Donations to the cause can still be made at

Picture: Katie Hines and Ed Chalmers at the Field of Mars Cemetery in Lviv