The Solidarity Bus
The feeling at Innova-tsn is always on the side of the most vulnerable and, on this occasion, it could not be otherwise: we had to act immediately and we joined the humanitarian aid of the Solidarity Bus.
The Ana Carolina Díez Mahou Foundation and El Legado María de Villota, together with six volunteers (two drivers, one translator and three volunteers), started their solidarity journey last Tuesday 8th March, travelling from Madrid to Medyka, a town on the border between Poland and Ukraine, on a solidarity bus trip to provide logistical support with clothes, food and medicine and also to help 55 Ukrainian refugees to be reunited with their families in Spain.
The trip began in the early hours of the morning, with the volunteers setting off at 6 a.m.
The bus, with 65 seats available and loaded with medicines and supplies, left Madrid for the French border, passing through Burgos, Vitoria, Irún, Bordeaux, until it reached Lyon.
This stage passed without incidents, but it was a major effort for the two drivers, who did not stop driving night and day in order to complete the established route.
Despite the fatigue of the kilometres, the group continued their journey to the next destination, taking turns to rest inside the bus.
The second stage aimed to get as close as possible to the Ukrainian border, crossing the emblematic cities of Strasbourg and Prague, to finally reach Poland.
The journey began by driving through Germany in excellent weather. At several refuelling stops, the volunteers encountered Spanish vans with the same objective as them, to provide humanitarian support.
Once they reached Poland, the search for a place to spend the night began, but it turned out to be more complicated than expected. This was to be the only stop where the drivers would be able to sleep in a bed during the whole trip, and although it was only 5 hours of rest, it was enough to get them back on the road with energy.
The third day started at 5 a.m. and after a few hours the bus arrived in Medyka, on the Polish-Ukrainian border. First major goal of the trip achieved!
At this point, the first 36 Ukrainian refugees, mainly women and children, met, in an emotional encounter, with the group of Spanish volunteers. Gradually, they took their seats on the bus to start their journey to Kraków, where 19 more Ukrainians joined the humanitarian expedition.
At the same time, the volunteers spent hours, with the help of the translator and his family, arranging for the delivery of food and all the medicines, destined for the hospitals in Kyiv.
As of today, we are certain that the entire shipment has been distributed in Kyiv.
Once the remaining 19 Ukrainian refugees had been collected in Kraków, the bus started its return journey, getting closer and closer to its final destination. The night was quiet and allowed young and old to rest inside the bus for a few hours.
At 7 a.m. they made their first technical stop to stretch their legs and get their strength back with a hot breakfast.
The return journey, crossing the whole of Germany during the day, went smoothly, offering fruit, sweets and a few gifts to the children, making them feel welcome.
The volunteers kept encouraging everyone on the bus, trying to divert their attention from what they had left behind, as much as possible, and to make this journey as welcoming as possible for them.
Late in the evening, they left Paris to the north and continued their route to the French border with Spain.
The day finally arrived: they set foot on Spanish soil!
The bus made its last stop at Vitoria, where they were warmly welcomed by all the workers and the owner of the bar where they were invited for breakfast.
The refugees began to disembark, surrounded by the warm applause of all the people who travelled to Plaza de Castilla in Madrid to welcome them: families, friends, volunteers and heads of organisations.
An emotional moment of reunion, where tears and hope took centre stage.
6:00 AM. There is no time left to start. We are finishing loading the bus with humanitarian aid. A few minutes and we start our engines. We start the journey to Medyka, Polish-Ukrainian border, with the 65-seater bus. We leave Madrid with the aim of helping the refugees of this conflict. All the support we can give will be little, but we have to do it.
2:30 PM. The trip is going smoothly, we have stopped to eat and refuel; we still have a long way to go. We keep thinking about what we are going to find and about the people who are suffering from this situation. The medicines and food we are carrying will be of great help to the Ukrainians. We leave Spain and start the journey through France.
10:00 PM. We have reached Lyon, it is getting late and we have to organise ourselves in turns to rest on the bus, so that there are always at least two or three of us awake, accompanying the drivers. Resting on the bus is not the most comfortable thing to do, but we do not mind, it is all for this good cause.
6:00 AM. We start the second day, entering Germany and passing through Strasbourg. The weather is fine and helps make the journey more bearable.
10:00 AM. We stopped to refuel and have breakfast and, as fate would have it, we met more Spanish volunteers! They come from different parts of our country, but we all share the same destination and load: food and medicine for the refugees. It is true that generosity crosses borders. We leave Germany and start our way through the Czech Republic. Our motivation and enthusiasm are growing as we move forward.
8:00 PM. We have left a little over 2,000 km behind us. It is proving very difficult to find a place to spend the night. Today will be the only day we will rest in a bed on this trip, but it is worth it. We keep meeting people who are looking for the same thing as us, to lend a hand and help those who need it most.
5:00 AM. 5 hours of sleep has been enough to continue the journey. Today, at last, we are heading for Medyka, our first big goal. It is still dark, just like the morning we left two days ago, but we just want to get there as soon as possible.
10:00 AM. We arrived in Medyka, where we were met by Alex’s brother. Alex is our translator, who travelled 700 km from the Polish town where he currently lives. He was the one who provided us with the Ukrainian contacts who were going to help us manage the entry of the food and medicines we were carrying and deliver them to their final destination: the hospitals in Kyiv. Since men are not allowed to leave Ukraine, women have to drive the transports into Poland and, after loading the goods near the border, drive the vehicles back to Ukraine, where other civilians cooperating with the Ukrainian army pick up the vans and transport the goods to the hospitals in Kyiv. Due to the distance from the Polish border to Kyiv, they have to make these journeys in small vans and by different routes, in order to remain unnoticed and undetected and avoid being intercepted on the way.
The most exciting moment of this entire journey is taking place: we have finally met the first 36 people who are coming with us to Spain. They are all people who, until a few days ago, were living completely normal lives and who, overnight, have found themselves immersed in this conflict. Some of them have spent three days in the open, waiting for our arrival, with temperatures of 5 degrees below zero.
Once they were on board, we headed for Kraków to pick up 19 more refugees.
7:00 AM. A new day begins, a new hope. Today it is getting a bit more complicated to organise ourselves: we have gone from 5 people to more than 60. Thanks to our translator, things are starting to take on a different colour.
11:00 AM. The journey is smooth and uneventful, and we treat the children, and not so young ones, on the bus with everything we can. In those smiling faces we glimpse the sadness of those who have had to leave their lives behind.
9:00 PM. The stops today have been much more frequent, but we are following the marked itinerary. Fatigue is beginning to take its toll on all of us, although it does not stop us from staying motivated to achieve our goal: reuniting all the refugees with their families in Spain.
7:00 AM. Our breakfast stop was at a restaurant on the outskirts of Vitoria, where, unlike in many of the places we have been, we were received very kindly and, on being told that we were 61 people, they only made things easy for us. Once they started to take note of the breakfast, after telling the friendly waitress where we had come from, she went into the kitchen and, some minutes later, came out with the owner of the establishment and told us that everything had been paid for, that he felt he had to collaborate, as far as he could. Logically, they had to scrub the restaurant, because of the tears.
There are good people in the world, and even more so in Spain.
We continue our route towards Madrid, getting closer and closer and therefore more and more excited.
1:15 PM. We arrived at Plaza Castilla! We could never have imagined the warm and sincere welcome that awaited us on our arrival, with welcome signs and surrounded by family members, colleagues, volunteers and people in charge of the different entities. Emotions were running high and it will be a moment we will never forget.
Our journey ends here, but a new stage begins for these 55 people, which we will follow very closely, as they already occupy a place in our hearts.
Thanks to all of you who have collaborated and made this trip possible!
Heroes are all those women and children who have left their husbands, their parents and their homes, and have been forced to start from scratch in a strange place, in the hope of being able to return and rebuild their lives. HEROES in capital letters.
Antonio, Marcos, Bernardo, Oleksiy, Fernando and Mariano: Thank you for your generosity, for your love and for making such a great initiative possible!
We will keep in touch with all of them to continue helping them to adapt to their new life in Spain. This story does not end here.