But then Euan is not everyman. He is one of a large band of volunteers risking their lives to deliver humanitarian aid into deepest Ukraine. And he was just checking in to tell me of his latest mission. It was a grim story.
Call it fate, call it Kismet, call it chance, but I firmly believe I was meant to meet Euan. When the slight unassuming Scot called into our Saving Ukraine 2022 humanitarian hub in Halifax asking for help I happened to be there. Euan had teamed up with a group of like-minded individuals determined to get to places where others dare not. One of them, a nurse, even got married one day, asked for aid instead of wedding gifts and set off the next, to spend her honeymoon driving through Ukraine teaching first aid to those who desperately need it. And there are many stories like hers.
Today I want to tell you about Euan. Because in some ways I think we have forgotten what is happening in this war- torn country. Or at least put it to the back of our minds. The plight of a nation under siege has rarely led the news bulletins these past few weeks. And if it has, can we honestly say we have watched it with the same intensity we once did? Yet in many ways the situation is as desperate, perhaps even more so than ever. Putin will not lose face. The Russian army are ploughing on with their aim to destroy everything in its wake and continue its advances into the vital Donbas region.
They may have pulled out of Kyiv but with the blockade of the port of Odesa, if he can’t win on his terms, he will starve the people of Ukraine into submission. But he won’t. Having been there I know they will not give up or give in. And people like Euan are there to help. Three of those he has worked alongside have died. His new co-driver escaped a Russian air to ground missile which exploded near his van. One died beside him. Yet he carries on. Because of what he has witnessed, because of what is to come.
Just outside Kharkiv a makeshift medical shelter has been opened in an underground subway. From there Euan and his team have evacuated more than a 100 people from danger. He is haunted by those who refused to go saying they would rather die than leave what is rightfully theirs. A few days ago a man staggered into their humble sanctuary. Euan has sent me photographs too distressing to share. Covered in burns, having had petrol poured on him, the man had escaped capture from the Russian army by playing dead. There is no room for him at the hospitals so he is being treated by the volunteer medics who work in that most basic facility. Infection is their greatest worry. But when he is well enough Euan will drive him to the border.
So how did this quiet family man from Huddersfield get there? Believe me he is no mercenary. With no medical training he teamed up with other like-minded individuals from across the world who in early March could sit back no longer.
They had contacts, they had strength, they had guts and determination in abundance but what they didn’t have was vehicles. Could we help? Within a week local businesses in Halifax and beyond had answered the call. Five vans were donated without question, the giver understanding of the fact that they would probably never come back. And this weekend they did more. Much more. With the cost of fuel rising it is costing the charity thousands more to deliver aid from this country, though another large articulated wagon filled with food and medical supplies has left this week. And so, as part of the committee, we organised a charity fundraiser. The response was staggering, a cliché I know. But how else can I describe £340,000 raised in one night?
Never before have I seen anything like it. And believe me I have compered hundreds of similar events in my time.
From the florist to the balloon maker, the venue, The Arches in Dean Clough – the home of our hub – businesses to individuals from all faiths and all walks of life they gave everything that was asked of them and more.
A children’s choir sang. Ukrainian dancers danced, but when we showed the latest video from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine and our ongoing efforts, including Euan, there was silence. For once I agree with Boris Johnson. It was far more important to visit Ukraine than address the Northern Powerhouse. Their struggle is our struggle and escalation into the rest of Europe is still very much a threat. And his visit reminded all of us of that. I know that the magnificent sum raised in Halifax this week is a drop in the ocean. But it means we can carry on.
Euan will keep doing what he is doing. We can buy more supplies this time from inside Europe to avoid costs and paperwork. But, more importantly, it gives all those who were there and many others who were not a stark reminder.
On holiday a friend showed her travel rep a social media post of the magnificent achievement from the people of Calderdale and beyond. She burst into tears. She was Ukrainian and her family are still trapped there, her father and brothers are fighting. As we moan about the cost of living, petrol prices, as train drivers strike and teachers talk of it, we know times are hard.
And for some people they are desperate. But for those who can struggle through by cutting back and tightening the purse strings let us not forget that a global reason for our difficulties lies with a mad man who compares himself to Peter the Great and wants to reclaim not just Ukraine but other former Russian territories.
And so we must thank our lucky stars that we are not struggling to survive in a country where a man doused in petrol is being treated in a makeshift underground medical centre manned by people who are risking their lives to ensure he does not succeed.