A PENSIONER in Penistone has been travelling to war-torn frontlines to support those being displaced by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Reporter Finn Smith spoke to Andrew Cropper and the family who fled following the Russian invasion he is now supporting.

Andrew, 66, has been directly involved in supporting the victims of the Russian invasion since conflict broke out just over two years ago.

Over the course he has travelled across the border ten times providing urgent aid and currently houses a refugee family.

He told the Chronicle: “I’ve been involved right since the beginning.

“The day the war broke out I was watching the news unfold.

“I’m a baby boomer, I was brought up with tales of World War Two and the refugees there so I decided I wasn’t going to stand aside and watch this war happen.

“I donated money to DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) when refugees were first flooding out of the country.”

From there Andrew got involved with the local United Ukraine, gathering items to be shipped over to dangerous areas in the war-torn nation.

“I joined United for Ukraine the week it was set up and have done just about every role a volunteer aid worker can do with them.

“But I was never alone. I worked with a massive and wonderful team in United for Ukraine, and had responsibilities for looking after it whilst Ryk Matysiak, who set it up, had to spend more and more time with the businesses he runs.

“Primarily I worked with the Elsecar team, operating from Milton Hall that core team is still in touch with each other and they have continued to support my efforts now, even though the project came to a conclusion in June 2023.”

During the early days their work was focused on bulk aid and they shipped 20 ton lorries to Poland to support the millions of refugees who had fled to the country.

By June 2022 they had sent nine lorries carrying about 170 tons of aid items, including everything from a pair of socks to an incubator. A lot of the medical items were then shipped into Ukraine.

It was quickly reported that the most needed items were vehicles, and this took priority for Andrew and the group.

“My independent work started mid 2022, when I went on an aid run with a friend of mine who works with Help Ukraine BAMK (based in Milton Keynes).

“I was humbled by the reception I encountered from ordinary Ukrainians I met and that reception has continued to the current day.

“I returned from that trip and proposed that we in United for Ukraine make use of the funds we had raised to supply donor vehicles.

“At first I was suggesting ambulances, but on the front-line I was told that vans are better. A van is just a van, but an ambulance can be a target and they’re often shot at.”

So far, Andrew has delivered four vehicles to Ukraine, with most still in use on the front line.

He keeps in contact with teams over there, and sorts out shipping any parts that are needed to keep the vehicles running.

Meanwhile he carries on collecting urgent aid items and since May 2022 has been housing a refugee family from the occupied city of Mariupol.

“It wasn’t a short journey to the UK,” refugee Natalia Latysheva, who lives with Andrew, said.

“It was quite a long trip because we found ourselves in occupied territory.

“When we left Mariupol we couldn’t go to the Ukrainian side so we ended up travelling across four countries to get to the UK.

“My parents still live there and at their age they don’t have a chance and don’t want to move anywhere.”

Natalia, her husband Oleksandr and nine-year-old daughter Uiliana made the difficult trip from their home together and have found a safe space with Andrew.

Yet this isn’t a permanent solution and the family takes each day as they come.

“For me, it’s not easy to plan anything f I go back to Ukraine I’ll just be starting all over again, same as when I started all over again here,” she said.

“My home, Mariupol, is not Ukraine anymore and I don’t know if it’s going to be Ukraine ever again.

“For now we have our visas and I’m grateful to the UK government it’s not long-term but for many people it can help plan something for the future.”

While living in Penistone Natalia has found work as an administrator and Uiliana has enrolled at school, where she was able to quickly learn English.

Andrew has helped with every aspect of their adjustment and continues to support Oleksandr who is blind and unable to work.

“It’s not over yet,” Natalia added.

“No matter how desperately we want it to be over, things still really aren’t good over there.

“People suffer and not many people have a chance to leave their homes because it’s not easy. It can’t be done in just a minute.

“They still have their homes, but they’re living under war and under bombing it’s not easy.

“That’s all humanitarian, but our military and our soldiers also need help.

“We try our best I know many Ukrainian people who live elsewhere donate every day.

“It’s little money, but it helps in the long run.”

Andrew is still raising funds for vehicles and aid to be sent over anyone who can donate a vehicle, parts, or aid items can get in touch with him via email at andyukraine@cropper.me.uk.