‘All she had was a bag and a cat’: Car dealer recalls harrowing scenes in Ukrainian refugee camp

A Billingham man has told of the heartbreaking scenes after driving to Ukraine to help refugees.

Shaun Maddren, 41, traveled to Poland on Wednesday, March 23, with a double-decker bus full of supplies. The dad-of-five has told of his experiences at the refugee camps, saying it left him and his team with “lumps in their throat.”

Shaun traveled to Ukraine with a group of local car dealership businessmen and relied on the Teesside community to donate supplies and money to all the car garages. Shaun’s team managed to raise an impressive £20,000 to fund their trip and other supplies.

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Shaun decided he wanted to help out after witnessing the conflict on holiday: “I was looking at the news and I was that shocked. I had tears in my eyes watching it – I felt like I had to do something.”

Shaun said his dad’s best friend sadly had to sell his 28-year-old double-decker bus following his cancer diagnosis, and he thought he could put it to good use. [The coach] has been his baby for 20 years.

“He got ill and had to sell it and I always told him I’d be interested in the bus. He spent his life savings on it. We filled this bus up with the charity of people from Teesside.”



The double-decker bus used to bring supplies and transport refugees

The team headed into Ukraine to drop off aid for the people who couldn’t leave the county. Shaun said they were roughly 20km from Lviv: “We drove through into Ukraine with boxed items of everything you can think of.

“Where we were at the border, we weren’t that far from Lviv. That same day, the communications tower got bombed. The lads were risking their lives.”

The team then headed to a refugee warehouse at the border in Poland, where they said the scenes were heartbreaking: “It was a massive old warehouse. It was an eye-opener and there were people just standing there with their worldly possessions in plastic bags There were no men – it was all women and children.

“As far as the eye can see, there were four-poster beds made up with curtains. There were babies in pushchairs asleep, dogs, and cats. We all had lumps in our throats in this refugee camp. My brother had to walk out , it was heartbreaking.”

Shaun and his team decided they would help some of the refugees by transporting them to Germany, where they could start a new life. They took an 18-hour drive to Frankfurt with a bus filled with families.

“We took loads of families and had dogs and cats all together on the bus. There were only two people who could speak English.

“There was one lady who was a beautician, who lived in the USA before, and all she had was a plastic bag and a cat. She said she went to work one day and came back and her street was gone.

“The people who couldn’t communicate were writing things on iPads. The most heartwarming thing about the trip was that there were these small children on board and you wouldn’t think they were from a war-torn country.”



The team took Ukrainian refugees to safety in Germany
The team took Ukrainian refugees to safety in Germany

Shaun said despite only being back over a week, the team is preparing to head back on Friday: “We’re buses filled once again. They’re feeding so many people per day that they’re desperate. We’re taking long -life foods, water, drink, and necessities like babies’ nappies.

“We can go over there, drop all the food and then take these people to Germany. If there’s a chance we can bring these people to the UK then we will. After seeing all these children and women we had to go again – we couldn’t ‘t not.”

Shaun took the time to thank his team, which included Glen Elsdon, Chris Maddren, Craig Maddren, David Broomfield, and Matt Nowak. He also thanked his wife, Stacey, and Craig’s wife, Vikki, whom he said they couldn’t have done the trip without.

If you would like to hear more about the team’s efforts, visit their Facebook page. You can also donate to their Go Fund Me page.

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