'I will never regret being here. I feel very humbled by the fact that I've been able to help others,' the 31-year-old said.
Tom Littledyke knew he couldn't simply sit and watch as Russia's attack on Ukraine forced thousands of civilians to flee from their homes. The U.K.-based pub owner came up with a plan to fill his 16-seater minibus with essential supplies and drive more than 1000 miles from his home in Lyme Regis—a small coastal town in West Dorset, England—to the Ukraine-Poland border, where a growing number of displaced Ukrainians are seeking to leave their besieged nation. The 31-year-old and his partner, Georgia Wellman, created a JustGiving page and put out a plea on social media looking to raise about $1000 to purchase supplies. Within a few days, they had collected more than $15,000.
"I had no idea it could reach so high so quickly," Littledyke told The Washington Post. "It has blown away my expectations of what people are capable of." Although he has no direct ties to Ukraine, seeing harrowing images of innocent Ukrainians being uprooted from their homes compelled him to act, he said. "As soon as I saw images of children and people being taken away from their families and ripped away from their normal lives, I couldn't help but think, 'What if that was my loved ones?'" Littledyke shared.
Before he left Lyme Regis at noon on February 28, Littledyke and Wellman informed the local community about their efforts and said they would leave the minibus unlocked in front of their home for anyone who had supplies to donate. "Within an hour and a half, the minibus was full of kids' toys, food, sanitary products, sleeping bags, thermals and tents," Wellman revealed. Neighbors donated "anything and everything that people thought they needed. It's just amazing, the generosity of people."
Calling it "a real mark of humanity for me to see how clearly people want to help," Littledyke said: "People's inspiration has inspired me to keep going and hopefully inspire others so that we can just continue this chain of making things happen." It took him 28 hours—including rest breaks—to arrive at the border at midnight Tuesday. He was immediately overwhelmed by what he saw there. "I felt pure sadness for the fact that it was such a horrible way for these proud people to leave their country," said Littledyke, who was a member of the Royal Marines Reserve. "It was barren and dark, and they had these posts designed to keep people out."
Although Littledyke's initial plan was to deliver supplies to Ukrainians at the border and at refugee camps in Poland, at the border he saw the desperate need for transportation. He then volunteered to drive groups of Ukrainians from a busy train station in Lviv, Ukraine, to the border near the Polish village of Korczowa "so they could cross into Poland." When he pulled up at the Lviv train station, "all these people were huddled around, crying, holding their children, waiting for buses in the thousands," said Littledyke, who also transported men who dropped off their families at the border back to Ukraine to fight in the war.
"The pride that you can see from all the Ukrainians is palpable. It's humongous," he shared. "What I've seen is pure strength." Since Monday, he has taken several trips from the train station to the border and has brought with him about 65 refugees. Although there is a language barrier between most people he meets, Littledyke said he has managed to build a bond with many of his passengers. When some of them found out he hadn't eaten in nearly a day, he said, they eagerly offered him their coffees and sandwiches.
Wellman has been supporting Littledyke's efforts from home by contacting refugees on social media and sending her partner their locations and information so he can pick them up. "I've been dealing with the admin side of it," she said. Although she is worried about Littledyke—who she describes as "brave, big-hearted and a little bit crazy"—Wellman says she "couldn't be more proud" of him. The couple is now organizing another trip in the coming weeks with a group of volunteers, who will travel with supplies in a convoy of cars. "I've been receiving so many messages from people begging to join me on the next one," Littledyke said. "The more people I'm able to bring with me, so they can see what's happening here, the more they can spread the message. It just echoes on, and we can keep helping. I will never regret being here. I feel very humbled by the fact that I've been able to help others."