Two on-call firefighters flew to Ukraine during a week off work to help refugees crossing the border into Poland.

Nathan Jones and Dominic Davies from Crickhowell said they felt unable to stay home after seeing the Ukraine conflict on the TV.

The two men had made the decision, bought their £25 return plane tickets and arrived in Poland in a matter of only a few days.

Nathan, who is currently back resting and working in Crickhowell before he goes back to the border, said: “I’d been watching the news and following it and last Tuesday I thought, you know what, I can’t sit at home and just watch all of this so I thought let’s look at how much the flights are. It’s £25 return so I told my other half I was going and literally booked the flight then and there/.

“I’ve got two kids myself and I thought I need go and help, I’ve got a week off and I can’t sit at home and watch this on the TV.

“I flew out there on Monday, early hours, and I don’t know where to start out there. I didn’t have any plans, I had nothing, no plans - I was trying to get in contact with charities out there and I had no luck.

“Obviously they were busy so I thought I’m just going to go out there and try to wing it and just get busy.”

Spontaneous Ukraine border volunteer Nathan said: “I was only there ten minutes but I was helping offload lorries carrying cargo, coming in with clothes, I was approached by some central kitchens from a big charity from America and that evening it was me and Dom serving 2,000/3,000 refugees off a little crate.”

The two men, who are on-call firefighters with Crickhowell fire station, spent their time serving a meal comprised of chicken and potato in a sauce.

On their first day, they served food from around 11am until 4am the following day before sleeping in a hire car from where they were trying to keep costs down.

Nathan said: “We hired a car and we were sleeping there with a sleeping bag. We woke up next morning and we went out, had al little wash and went straight to the kitchen and started serving food from about 10 o’clock in the morning all the way through until about 3am. That was on the second day.

“On the beginning of the second day we met this really nice chap from England who was ex-army who actually went over to fight but he wasn’t able to so he ended up coming back to where I was and just helping with the refugee crisis.

“We were speaking to him and he said he’d been a few miles over the border to see what it’s like over there, and he said he’d been over there and there’s nothing.

“Where we were there was lots of facilities, catering, charities but over the other side there was refugees who were starving and freezing, waiting over the other side. I promised myself I wasn’t going to go over into Ukraine at the start I just said to him ‘I’m coming with you’.”

Left is young refugee waiting for hot food while right is a girl being given sweets at the checkpoint
Left is young refugee waiting for hot food while right is a girl being given sweets at the checkpoint (Nathan Jones)

On Monday, March 7, Nathan and Dom flew from Bristol Airport to Rzeszow in Poland, the nearest airport to their location, before travelling an hour to Medyka at the border.

Father-of-two Nathan explained that is the main border between Ukraine and Poland and it is also the busiest with the most refugees - they spent the duration of their trip there until they returned on Friday, March 11.

“I was on Facebook and there were a few Polish people who said that’s where I needed to go,” said the 29-year-old.

“I was on that border and that’s where we set off from when we into Ukraine.

“Where the et up was in Medyka, we grabbed three full trolleys from what was like the Polish version of Aldis, and we filled them with the GoFundMe money raised by the army man we had met before pushing them over to the border.

“The border were absolutely brilliant with us, they let us through - we went out to the other side and we gave out chocolates and sweets. We had hats, water, sweets and all that kind of stuff and just the little things like that . The smiles on the kids faces and the mothers faces were priceless.”

During their second run over the border, Nathan and Dom took hot food with them as they had noticed that the people on the Ukraine side were starving.

With a big tray full of a hot chicken and potato dish, they started serving food to the refugees.

Nathan said: “We went over with a big ladle and we were scooping it to all the refugees over there and they were freezing cold. We had ladies who were coming to grab us and kiss us and thank us and it was tears and it was just amazing, absolutely amazing. Basically I did that for the whole duration, mainly in Ukraine then, just going over and feeing, feeding and feeding.”

Nathan, who said he can’t wait to return to the border on Monday, March 21, said he became emotional observing families breaking apart as men and boys returned to fight.

“The one thing that did get me, I’ve got two kids myself and it did get me in tears, when we were feeding, we had just come to the end of it and we were given a border pass by the border force and, because we were working, we get to skip right to the front of the queue and we were on the Ukrainian side and all you could see was families with young ones.

“Young lads, 16 to 50-year-olds, giving kisses good by with screaming and crying kids grabbing onto their dads and brothers, they didn’t want to let them go - it was heartbreaking. That is the hardest thing I have ever seen.

“For me, I watched it on the news, but until you actually go to the front line and see what’s going on, you go there and you think ‘wow, how the hell has this happened in 2022’ and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. That was the hardest thing for me.”

During their time at the border, Nathan and Dom met others helping on the Ukrainian side of the border who have recently bought an ambulance.

Nathan, who has a GoFundMe page which was started by his brother in Brecon called Liam Jones, said that his aim is to raise money to kit out the ambulance as well as buying items which are needed by refugees and volunteers.

The aim for the money raised is that Nathan and Dom will return to the border to purchase items which are needed - whether that be ambulance supplies or food.

Nathan said: “I’m hoping to raise over £1,000 which, I think with the GoFundMe page and the raffle in the Siddons, we’ve reached £1,000 already but my priority is to try to kit out the ambulance as much as we can with little things like blankets and bandages or whatever we need, and then I’m hoping to have about £800/£900 to go into the grocery store to buy cans of coke, Diet Coke, chocolates - that’s what is making these lot smile. It’s not fixing the problem, but it’s helping.

“I was speaking to a refugee yesterday and she had been travelling since 10 o’clock yesterday morning and it was 12 o’clock that night - she’d been out 24 hours with two little kids, just joking around them and giving them a chocolate bar.

“Just little laughs and giving them little hugs and high fives - I’ve got two kids and that was the best moment having that happen, seeing the little smiles on their faces. They’re going through a horrific time and they’ve lost everything, just doing that was absolutely amazing and that’s what we did all the night.

“It wasn’t just a fact of handing chocolate out, it was all about little high fives and just little things like that and they were loving t - it was really good.

“My main priority is to try to fill the ambulance as much as we can.

“I don’t want to spend all of the GoFundMe money because within a week - they’ve still got the GoFundMe so they’ll still have a lot of the kit going out but I want to contribute to the ambulance.

“I don’t know whether I’m going to put £500 for the fuel. The purpose of the ambulance is that there’s not many ambulances around - they’re all in Kyiv, it’s just hard to explain because until you’re out there you don’t realise but this ambulance is going to be first response for the locals.

“It’s so cold out there, you’ve got women and kids collapsing and there’s no way of getting to them so they’ve bought this ambulance and they’re going to use it for that facility.

“They’ve got no kit for it yet, unfortunately it’s all been - the money is all been raised by the half - all the locals and all the Brits and Germans and stuff, so that’s my priority anyway.

“I’m in very close contact with the guys over there and so I’ve been messaging on my way home, as soon as I’m back I’ll be meeting them straight away in Ukraine and going to contribute.”

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Nathan and Dom serving food to volunteers

Despite running off minimal sleep, being unable to shower, brush their teeth or change their clothes, the two heroes were not deterred from helping the refugees.

Nathan said that he is hoping to stay longer in the country when he goes back out following the raffle in the Sarah Siddons.

When Nathan and Dom return to the border, they’ve managed to get a bedsit locally in an old shopping centre where they will be able to sleep on the floor and have access to a shower rather than sleeping in the car.

Nathan, who can’t think his brother Liam and sister Hannah enough for organising the raffle, said: “Obviously I’ve got my own family at home but they understand, and they know I’m possible going to stay a little longer. They need as much as help as they can, I’ve got all the time - I know I can get my hands dirty and I know what I’m doing, if they need me, I’ll stay out there - of course I will.

“I do need to come back in two weeks. I do plan to come back on the Friday. I have work on Monday so I had to come back but next time, I probably won’t come back for a week or two. I didn’t want to come back now - I was heartbroken - it’s so busy and they need help. I’ve got work commitments and I’ve got money to earn.”

When asked about the advice he would give to those looking to donate or help out, Nathan strongly encouraged donating to individual volunteers - like him and Dom - as well as the charities.

He highlighted that while the big charities and clothes donations are helpful, individuals who have raised money know what is needed at the border.

He said: “Give to the people who are going over there to volunteer - it’s the likes of me and the other individuals and we really know what they need over there. We spent over £400 on chocolate bars and coke and lemonade. These people have been travelling, they’ve been on the road for over 24 hours, they’ve been going up and the kids have been given this fresh juice like lime juice - this stuff from Aldi - in cartons and we were giving women the option of water or lemonade. That’s what they need out there as well, that little fix and that’s what we were spending money on as well as other things.

“All the others that are there as well, they are all amazing as well, I cannot believe the stuff people are donating - it’s absolutely amazing. Honest to God.

“I was offloading of boxes of things and it was like power banks for phone, it was like five or six boxes of 400 or 500 power banks. There are some amazing people in this world and it’s amazing to see. Do donate to the big charities because what they’re doing is amazing, but do donate to the GoFundMe page as well because those small people are the ones making the big difference.

“I went out there and saying ‘I’m going to make a difference’, and I’m going to go it there again, that’s my main priority. I’ve got some experience now and I literally can’t wait to go again.”

Nathan described the support from Brecon as “unbelievable” as his inbox on Facebook and Instagram has been inundated with hundreds of messages.

He also commented on the amazing support from local businesses - shops, local bars, beauty therapists and tattoo parlous - to help raise money via the raffle.

He said: “I really would love for people to turn up next Saturday and buy a raffle ticket.

“These funds are going somewhere absolutely amazing and it really is making a difference, massively, if I could wear a camera on me out there and show just the little things - a can of pop, a chocolate bar, putting a blanket over them - seeing the smiles on their faces and it doesn’t cost a lot.”

Dom said he made the decision to join Nathan only days before the spontaneous trip.

The electrician, who recently finished working for a company in Chepstow but hopes to start his own company in the future, said they know each other through Crickhowell fire station.

The 24-year-old said: “Basically, Nathan said he was going over there on the Wednesday and I said ‘right, well I’ll come along with you’ and the flight was the following Monday. We booked our flights - £25 return. He knew which camp we were going to which is the Medyka camp.

“It’s the camp that has the most refugees going through it and is by far the busiest.”

The two men were slightly nervous about arriving at the border as both had heard rumours of British people leaving thank to the language barrier as well as their fear that there would be no need for extra workers to add to “busy volunteers”.

Dom said: “We got there and it was absolute carnage. Literally we were working there within the first sort of ten minutes - we walked up the road and saw these guys loading up a van and we asked if they needed a hand and we got stuck into it.

“So we did that for a bit, we met some British guys over there who were on the food stall, so we helped. The queues for food were huge and at times we were the only ones helping.

“It was quite sad to see, we were only just serving up potato and meat soup type thing and people were just desperate for that food. It was quite sad to see it.

“That is what we did most of the time really - made sure people had hot food .”

The two men went over the border into Ukraine a few times - he said there was a different atmosphere on crossing the border.

The only way the two men could transport supplies was by using shopping trollies from local shops as the queues were so long.

“It was a different atmosphere completely going over there. We went over there to deliver emergency supplies to a makeshift hospital on the other side of the border, so we took hot food over there, mainly food and stuff that lasts a long time and that was full of people,” he said.

“The only way to take stuff over the border was in a shopping trolly as well, the waiting time to go through the border control and all that, to come back it takes almost 12 hours to come back through, the queues were that long with buses of people and all that.

“So we took that over, as soon as we got over there, it was a completely different feeling - everyone is walking around with guns and it’s quite a scary place.

“We went over three times in the end, a lot of times we were just going up into Ukraine and coming back around to serve the queues of people. It was soup mainly and sweets and stuff like that.”

Dom says that one of the special moments for him is when they brought a suitcase full of sweets to the checkpoint between Poland and Ukraine.

He said that Nathan had walked to the checkpoint and opened the suitcase which was empty within seconds.

Dom said: “There were all these kids at the sort of check point to get into Poland and Nathan walked in with this suitcase, he dropped the suitcase on the floor and unzipped it all and opened the lid and all these kids just came and ran at him and dived into this suitcase. All the suitcase full of sweets was gone there and then in about 10 seconds.

“It was that sort of thing that we were there doing it for. That’s why we want to go back out with some money behind us so we can buy sweets and stuff for kids and blankets and stuff like that.”

On the Ukrainian side of the border at the checkpoint, there was limited power for the queues of people which was difficult in the dark. Aside from a couple of street lights, there was no electricity or lighting for those queuing.

Dom said: “There were literally just a couple of street lights but you couldn’t see anything so part of our job as well was getting generators there and sort of wiring temporary lights up, temporary supplies and power banks for phones and stuff. There were some volunteers there and we needed, not comforts but things to get our phones going and stuff like that.

“Obviously I’m an electrician as well and that came in really handy for me and everyone because I was running all the cables around and fitting lights up and stuff like that.

“It was quite a handy skill to have over there actually because we had to have some sort of power to keep going and to run the electric heaters and things like that as well.

When asked about how being an electrician came in handy, Dom told The Brecon & Radnor Express: “We had one generator and it was a small one so we had to have more. I was working with other Brits there as well and one was an events organiser and so he knew sort of what we needed to set up a huge camp like this, but yeah, it was really small power.

“We had some electric heaters there, we had lighting in each sort of tent so we could see what we were doing and lighting up the path for the people because it was completely dark there. Just running cables along the floor, and just sort of plugging in to a sort of junction box and just going from there like. I wouldn’t say it would meet British regulations like, but it was making do for hat we had and what we needed it for.”

Dom also commended the support from the local area - he said they’ve had incredible backing from their colleagues at Crickhowell Station as well.

Similar to Nathan, Dom has also received lots of messages in regards to his efforts at the border.

He said: “It’s been really good actually. Especially linking with the fire service and stuff, we’ve had a lot of backing from boys from the station and we know a lot of the people and a lot of people know us already. They’ve sent us a lot of messages and stuff like that.”

In addition to the raffle and the GoFundMe page, Dom printed off posters which he has put in business windows around Crickhowell along with a couple of jam jars.

“I know people who want to help but they don’t know how to so they give it to the Red Cross or whatever so it’s a good way, they can give it to us - we’ll take the money out there and we’ll go to a shop in Poland because everything’s cheaper over there, we can get a lot more for our money.

What we’re going to do is sort of blog about us shopping and stuff like that, and giving it out to the kids - sometimes we didn’t really film or take photos of people over there because we didn’t feel it was the right thing to do, but if we take photos of us like shopping or getting product for the people over with the money they’ve bought it could push it even more, for people to donate to it.

“We don’t want to be money hungry or anything like, that, but if people want to donate then we’d be a good call to do it for.

“There’s loads of clothes and stuff like that which are just on the floor. Generally, they’re pretty prepared in terms of things like clothes.

“What they haven’t got is their kitchens or their fridges so the main thing they need is food.”

A raffle, set up by Nathan’s brother Liam and sister Hannah, is taking place at the Sarah Siddons pub in Brecon tonight - Saturday, March 19.

Anybody who is interested in buying tickets for the Raffle can purchase them at The Sarah Siddons, at the RAFA club or by contacting Liam directly.