In 2019 we had to cancel any future plans to make deliveries by road convoys to Belarus. The Covid 19 pandemic in the UK, with lockdown, meant that we were unable to meet, to collect and prepare the aid and to load our vehicles. Our route across Europe would have been similarly prohibited and so all our work was on hold despite regular requests from organisations in Belarus for help. So, for almost two years we have been in limbo, having to refuse donations of aid and having to close one of our major collection and storage points in Longnor near Buxton in Derbyshire.
The Diabetic Association in the city of Gomel, Belarus with over 750 members with or with family members that suffer from diabetes, claimed to be desperate for aid and that they knew of a transport company in Belarus who would travel to the UK and collect the aid. We accepted the challenge once the lockdown ended and agreed to meet the cost of the operation. Several weeks passed while they firmed up on the arrangements and while we prepared a large vehicle load at Ouston Moor Farm Stockton on Tees, the home of Alan and Vera Wade. Teams of people spent several weekends in Stockton inspecting, packing and building pallets loaded with a wide range of household goods, clothing, footwear, walking aids, wheelchairs, baby packs, adult pampers and hygiene items etc.etc.
As this was the first time we had attempted to use a Belarusian based transport company to collect the aid instead of making the delivery ourselves we had concerns that at the last minute things would breakdown, nevertheless we proceeded to work with the dock agents at the port of Hull to prepare the much increased transit documents, previous to Brexit one page now six and the one page T form has become another six pages. But the vehicle, Unit and 44ft trailer, with driver Valeryn arrived on Friday 15th October in Stockton, Our team arrived early Saturday and the loading was completed by 1pm. Valeryn left Stockton for home at 4am on the Sunday morning and by Wednesday night we had a report that he had cleared out of the EU at the customs point at Kuznica in Poland and was at the town of Grodno in Belarus. This was brilliant news and the following day he drove some 300 miles across Belarus to Gomel. Here he was met by Raisa the head off the Diabetic Association and the instigator of this adventure. Clearing the local customs her team set about the unloading into their large warehouse and although it will be several days before they get permission to distribute the aid, as any discrepancies in the load or the paperwork will require correction both here in the UK and in Belarus, it was a case of Job done! An excellent result by our team in the UK and our receivers in BY.
Throughout the weeks of preparation we could not have managed either in the UK in BY without the assistance and guidance of Liena our long time team member in Gomel. Apart from inspecting and altering/improving the manifest (in Russian and English) prior to loading the vehicle, it was great to have her on the mobile on loading day many times as we got to grip with a Belarusian driver who spoke no English and we spoke no Russian! Sign language only works so far when the driver considers that his paperwork is incorrect or not sufficient and we have the experience to know that it is correct but the inability to convince him. It was no great issue as he was a good and polite guy but a ‘first timer’ in working with a charity so out came the mobiles on several occasions for Liena, in Belarus, to sort the problem.
We await the reports from Raisa in Gomel to see how much hassle she gets from the local authorities in clearing the paperwork but we are confident that this, a first time effort, has been a major success which we already plan to replicate to another organisation(s) in Belarus early next year.
Mike Allison. October 2021.