LAST month I made the 1,400-mile round-trip to the Polish town of Biala Podlaska to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees who had fled Ukraine following Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The purpose of my trip was to visit a local autism charity named Wspolny Swiat, who had taken in 56 Ukrainians - including 31 children, one of whom was just 17 days old.

As the devastating situation unfolded in Ukraine throughout February and March, the charity offered up its newly built Short Breaks provision to house refugees who had crossed the border into Poland seeking safety. 

I was made aware of their work by a Polish colleague within NEAS Central Services and, having made contact with the charity’s CEO Anna, I launched an appeal for non-perishable items and toiletries, as well as second-hand IT equipment to allow the Ukrainian children to keep up to speed with their studies despite the ongoing conflict. 

To say I was blown away by the number of people who came forward to donate, including many NEAS employees and services, would be an understatement. 

Within hours of sharing the appeal on social media, NEAS’s Head Office quickly began filling up with donations. From crates of canned and dried foods, boxes of toiletries, sanitary items and baby clothes, to refurbished iPads, kindly donated by Protech City, and second-hand laptops from Durham County Council.

With my hire van full to the brim, I set off for Poland on April 7th as part of a convoy organised by Councillor Carl Marshall, Leader of the Labour Group in Durham. Three days later, we arrived at Wspolny Swiat and unloaded three vans filled with donations.

The donations were so gratefully received and it was wonderful to see the children’s faces light up when they saw the boxes filled with Easter eggs and chocolate. However it also served as a stark reminder that, at the end of the day, they are just that, children.

I can honestly say that I have never seen children so traumatised. The reality of their situation was visibly etched into their innocent young faces, and that will stay with me forever.

These are children who have been uprooted and forced to leave behind everything they know. Things that we no doubt take for granted for our own children - such as being able to see their families, spend time with their pets and play with their toys - have been cruelly taken from them because of one maniac.

It has taken me almost a month to process the whole experience and the trauma that I witnessed first-hand, but now I am left wondering what more can be done. That’s why I am now working, outside of my role at NEAS, as part of a group trying to set up a charity to direct resources to the region of Biala Podlaska, in the hope of helping them to support a greater number of Ukrainian refugees.

I sincerely hope that April’s visit was just my first of many to the region, and to Wspolny Swiat, and am hoping to be able to make the trip again in the coming months.

In June, the North East Autism Society will also be playing host to eight representatives from the charity, who are coming to observe our adult services in the hope of establishing their own provision back in Poland. And this is something I would love to help them to set up as we continue to develop our partnership.

While the focus at present is firmly on the situation unfolding over the border, I am confident that the professional relationship between our two charities will continue to flourish, allowing us to learn from each other and share best practice, with the aim of providing the best possible support to autistic and neurodivergent children, young people and adults.

Thank you to those who made donations to our Ukraine appeal, including:

  • Tesco Trinity Square
  • PWA Consultants
  • Sigma Catering Equipment Limited
  • Life Science Centre
  • Safe Families for Children
  • Ward Hadaway
  • Faulknerbrown Architects
  • Building Surveyors Ltd
  • Thornbrook Construction Ltd
  • Peter Brooks
  • Next2Buy
  • Marsh Commercial
  • Protech City
  • Aspire
  • LM Global Refuse Cafe
  • Pelton Community Centre
  • MyLockUp
  • Eurostar

Click here to donate to our Ukraine Appeal