'Call of action' Wakefield newlyweds spend honeymoon in Ukraine helping those in need

A Wakefield couple spent their honeymoon in Ukraine directly helping those affected by the Russian invasion.

By Leanne Clarke
Thursday, 19th May 2022, 2:32 pm

Valerie and James Pawlowski were married on April 29 at The Old Barn at Esholt, in front of their friends and family - and at 10pm the next day, they were on their way to Ukraine with a van filled with aid and donations made by the community.

Valerie, 39, said: "A week after Russia invaded Ukraine I was watching the news and found the images of people very difficult to watch. A child was screaming, which was very harrowing and it was like a switch clicked in my head - I just knew I had to do something."

After making arrangements with Standbridge Lane Community Centre, Wakefield for Ukraine was born.

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Just hours after their wedding, Valerie and James set off to Ukraine.

Valerie said: "On that first night of opening nobody turned up. But just as I was about to lock up, a group of Girl Guides walked in with a bag of donations, then someone else arrived with three car loads - and it's just snowballed from there.

"Even my nine-year-old daughter, Georgia, helps with the sorting and packing."

As Valerie and James' wedding day loomed, the couple decided they would use their honeymoon continuing to volunteer, making a huge difference to the lives that need it the most.

The couple, who both work full-time, had initially planned a honeymoon in Cumbria, but decided to go to the Poland/Ukraine border and distribute what their community had donated, heading off just a matter of hours after exchanging vows.

"It's a call of action," Valerie said. "I felt as though I didn't have a choice but to help. And I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else than there with my husband.

"We were initially going to Lviv but it was considered unsafe after being shelled the previous night. We were told by a group of volunteers about a nearby school, which had been turned into a refugee centre.

"When we arrived, we found they were almost out of food and didn't know what they were going to do next.

"We spent time with the children and saw the huge impact this war was having on them.

"We had shoeboxes donated, filled with goodies - sweets, fidgets - and the noise the children made when we handed them over, such gratitude, it really was a magical moment.

"It was a life changing trip and it lit a fire inside me - we have to keep on doing it."

The couple are also making a documentary to show the true picture of the humanitarian crisis.

"It shows the impact the war has had on over six million people, " Valerie said.

"People who, up to the invasion, were just living their normal lives, going to work, their children going to school, and within hours, they were forced to leave everything behind with just a backpack.

"Some of these children have lost one, or both, parents. Family members are missing. Just one event has changed everything for them.

"It's difficult to find the right words to give justice to what we witnessed. We met so many like minded people and so many people living in the most desperate of circumstances. "

Wakefield for Ukraine is also supporting people arriving in the Wakefield area with welcome packs, advice and guidance.

"There's compassion fatigue at the moment in our community and donations have slowed down. The hard work that goes into organising everything, people don't know where to send donations, it really is emotionally draining.

"We've been on an emotional rollercoaster, but we feel like we're making a massive impact and we will continue.

Valerie said: "I'm so committed to this project and we would not have spent our honeymoon anywhere else but delivering to the people - the children - of Ukraine."

It also costs, out of the volunteers' own pockets, to travel to and from the Poland/Ukraine border, which has led to a Gofundme page being set up to help with the cost of fuel.

To read more and donate, visit the Gofundme page here.James, 46, will be travelling back to Ukraine on May 26 and donations are still needed, which can be dropped off at Stanbridge Community Centre, Stanbridge Lane, Wakefield, WF2 7NP . For more information, follow Wakefield for Ukraine Facebook page here.

The list of things needed includes: Hygiene products, including wet wipes, ready made meals, foil blankets, sleeping bags, torches/headlights, toiletries, folic acid and new baby clothes.

Medical supplies including, First Aid kits, trauma kits, burn dressing, sterile dressing, wound closures strips, painkillers for both adults and children, bandages, sanitizers, antiseptic cream, sterile dressing.

And food including: Cans of meat, instant soup, tea bags, sugar, sweets, baby milk, children's juice, instant porridge, bottled water and jars of baby food.