Cliff Wilson bought a 56-seat bus which he is using to take hundreds of women, children and babies to safety.
30 March 2022
A British volunteer who bought a bus and is ferrying hundreds of Ukrainian women and children across the border to Poland is appealing for more drivers so he can bring additional refugees to safety.
For the past three weeks, Cliff Wilson has been helping Ukrainians make the 12-hour journey from Uman, in the centre of Ukraine, to Medyka, a border town in Poland.
The father-of-one, originally from a village near Poole, Dorset, spent 25,000 euro (£21,200) on a bright yellow 56-seat bus he purchased in Prague in early March.
He has since helped almost 200 refugees – mainly women, children and babies but also some elderly men – and pets including a cat and two rabbits to safety with bus driver Niall Gordon, who lives in Sheffield.
The 36-year-old is now appealing for “willing and able drivers” who hold a UK bus licence to get in touch as he hopes to expand the fleet to five buses and make more frequent trips to help refugees.
He told the PA news agency he decided to purchase the bus because “being a father myself of a young boy, I wanted to do whatever I could do most effectively to help those people suffering”.
He called the refugees he has been transporting “a real inspiration”, adding he can “visibly see and feel the fear, the amount of stress that they’re under”.
He said: “They’re saying goodbye to family members and not knowing the next time they’re going to see them. So (there’s) a lot of tears, shock, confusion. The first few hours on board the bus were, you know, basically silent.
“People could be crying for hours into the journey. So pretty sad, but then as we get moving some relief starts forming as well, and we start building up more of a bond and a trust, and we make sure they’re really well looked after – chocolate, for example, they might not have seen for weeks, and that’s always a mood brightener.”
Mr Wilson, a language communication coach in the European Parliament who lives in Brussels, has also been using the bus to take vital aid across the border, such as medicine, water, sleeping bags, mattresses, backpacks, nappies and sanitary products.
Those he has helped on the return journey back to Poland include around 76 children and 12 babies, with the youngest just five months old.
He said: “It’s amazing how quiet they all are. There’s almost no crying from any of them, which is probably testament to some of their shock.”
The bus, decked out with blue seats and yellow curtains on the inside, has a microwave and kettle so refugees can have hot meals and babies warm milk.
There are also charging cables for passengers’ phones, and they are given croissants, fruit and chocolate bars upon boarding.
Mr Wilson has fundraised around 8,000 euro (£6,700), which has helped with running costs so far, including the 900 euro (£763) it costs to fill up the tank with diesel for the 24-hour return journey, and he is hoping to get further funding.
On Thursday he will head out with a new driver, Martyn Dunn, from Derby, for a fifth trip and is planning to continue helping for another month.
Mr Dunn, 39, who runs a pub in Derby, said: “I’m a little bit apprehensive, but it’s a new experience, a new challenge and doing the right thing.”
Mr Wilson told PA he has not seen a particularly co-ordinated effort from the UK, and called for more boots on the ground to support refugees.
He said: “I would like to see more of an effort to match some of our European neighbours that are more readily helping, and willing to provide refuge for these in need and suffering people.”
He said the number of people given UK visas so far “seem to be quite pitiful”, and called on the UK Government to speed up the process.
He added: “I think the numbers are tiny.
“And I think, although we’re no longer a member of the European Union, we still are within the continent a country that can offer a lot more, that can also and should also do more to support those that suffer and those in need. So I hope we see an improvement.”