Ukraine needs action, not compassion – British volunteer Sean Hopkins

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Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv has launched the project «Little stories of a big war», consisting of interviews with Ukrainians from different cities to share their feelings during this war. Here we publish them with the creators’ consent.
Photo: Ukrainian Catholic University

Photo: Ukrainian Catholic University

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In times of war, we come across stories of selfless volunteer exploits every day. They inspire us, support our faith in people, and force us to action. We weep over stories of children buying their dream phone and giving it to the military. We are fond of funds that can buy a plane instead of a drone on the day of fundraising. We gratefully accept the tons of help that come from worldwide every day.

We see the incredible unity of the whole world against the evil, the cruelty of the aggressor. But if in the middle of the country we understand that we are motivated by national consciousness, unity and a common Ukrainian dream, then in the case of foreign volunteers and philanthropists – a great human heart and universal love. And respect for freedom, democracy and international law.

From the first days, Sean Hopkins, a successful British businessman who set up a system for delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine, organized the UK for UA Foundation and came to Lviv to coordinate the work of charitable organizations. For him, Ukraine has become not a distant neighbour but a friend in trouble. «I have a disability. I use a wheelchair and crutches,» says Sean. – I am not a fighter. But I know how to drive a car, I can organize, I can inspire. And I think everyone needs to figure out what they can do and then do their best to help. «

Today, within the Ukrainian Catholic University project «Little Stories of a Big War» framework, a British Sean will speak on what is happening in the world today and why it is so important for every free man to help Ukraine in this confrontation with existential evil – Russia.

Like many other foreigners, Sean Hopkins could join in supporting Ukraine through donations or well-known organizations such as the Red Cross or UNICEF. But he did more. He came to Ukraine and organized a service that helps many people today. Why? Sean explains.

We noticed great sympathy for the Ukrainian people from the beginning of the war and a desire to help and support them. People were willing to help but lacked effective coordination. Because of Brexit, the British had many problems with logistics, European customs, and aid delivery to Ukraine. Many large charities reported problems with access to Ukraine, so people were afraid to try to help because of the risk that everything would stop somewhere near the border.

Read also: «Bet on it: we will sing when we win.» Little stories of a big war

So I decided to go all the way with humanitarian medical care to make sure that we could send as much help as possible as soon as possible and that it would not stay in warehouses in London or Poland to no avail. I understood that logistical support, equipment, and medicines are needed in Ukraine by doctors, territorial defence and civilians.

As a manager, I have always tried to understand the scale of the problem to solve and correct it effectively, not just sit in an ivory tower. I decided to take that fear away and use it as fuel to help. In English, there is a saying – «flight or fight». When a problem arises, you either fight to solve it or run away from it. I have never been a runaway person. When faced with challenges, I am in danger to help, not to hide. So now, with a group of charities and companies, we hope to expand what we do and get more vehicles, more donations, more help, more drivers and more people who want to help. We want to channel all this energy to action, you know, rather than empathy. Empathy doesn’t fix the problem at the end of the day; only action fixes the problem. I know that many people in peaceful, free democracies are outraged by the attack on a people who simply want to live in peace. I know that dictators and oligarchs who manipulate people through media have little time left. An action against what is happening in Ukraine. The sooner we get rid of murderers, rapists and evil people, the better for all humanity, the whole free world. So it’s not just about you and me. It is a bigger question; at play here is freedom and democracy and goodness, or is it dictatorships and evil, control and manipulation, and lies basically. 

How do you think the world should enter this game?

As long as NATO, the West, the countries of Europe are afraid, the free people of the world can rectify the situation, and instead of shifting responsibility to organizations like NATO or specific countries, one can choose to move forward. It doesn’t necessarily mean pulling out weapons or launching bombs and missiles. Just the free people need to stand up and say: «We’re not going to let this happen». There’s no way Russians can target everyone in the free world, you know. So it’s the answer to the problem that we’ve got rather than NATO getting involved. This is something that people can do to help other people. There was once a scientific study on despair: rodents were thrown into water tanks and left to swim until they nearly drowned. At one point, the researchers helped them, but then brought them back. Research has shown that animals can endure much more if they are helped, even if they are then left alone with any disaster. So I hope that despite all the difficulty and horror of the situation, even a little help will help and allow someone to endure a little longer to get out of despair. A little bit of help can extend the endurance of people and organizations and everything. I think if you help it makes things better, that’s why we’re here.

What was your way to Ukraine? What difficulties did you face?

I was driving from Wales in a convoy of 19 cars to help. Some donated, and some bought with donations. David Caroline, one of my scout guides, helped organize the trip. Many scouts are involved in various humanitarian projects, not even through official organizations, but simply because we know each other. There are many good people among Plast scouts and scouts in the UK. We all know each other, we trust each other, and it helped deliver the cargo and help us to where they were supposed to be.

Read also: The duty of the world is to protect you,» – interview with foreign volunteer who came to fight against Russia

I felt that it was not very correct to send empty trucks, even though the military needed them. After all, the same trucks can be used to send tons of humanitarian aid. So we downloaded as much as we could. Many of the drivers who went with me stopped in Poland, and now they have returned home to start the process again: find more supplies, attract more drivers, collect more fuel, and then send everything to Ukraine as soon as possible. So it can get a bit tedious, but, you know, we just got to keep moving towards stopping the invasion, stopping the war and helping the people of Ukraine. 

Yes, the trip is difficult, but it is nothing compared to what Ukrainians face, with those deaths and destruction. My pain is nothing compared to yours. Sorry to be a little depressed. We should be happy that you are here, I am here, and the 100-ton ambulance is now over this basement bomb shelter and ready to be unloaded (the interview was recorded in one of the UCU buildings, in storage, ed.). I will return to the road, to the phone, to the laptop, and organize the next truck. It is probably already loading. I realized how much you could do on the road while driving. After all, even on the road, you can organize processes: take calls, answer emails and continue working. I would never ask anyone to do something I would not do. It would be cowardice; it would be Putin-like – sit in the bunker and ask people to wage his war for him.

We’re not cowards; most people are patriotic, Ukrainians are patriotic, and the people of Great Britain are patriotic. The British have seen many wars over the last few centuries. We do not want the war to return to Europe. We fought long and hard to deal with this. So we will win this time as well. It is unknown what he will do after leaving the post. Nobody says that this is a lost cause, so we will be able to win slowly and confidently. It’s like I was told when I was loading this car, «How are you going to load this machine?» I replied, «Gradually.» In five hours, everything was ready. Yes, it was slow, but it was done. It’s better than just saying, «It’s hard and difficult, and we can’t do it.» Everyone must do what they can to win or persevere until their enemies lose the ability to do the evil they do to you. It’s an attack on the world’s free people; it’s not just an attack on Ukraine. 

What motivated you personally to go and help? What was the impetus?

Some people say, «Why are you doing so much to help? You can donate only; you can leave it to someone else. «If we all leave it to someone else, it will never work. Why put off until tomorrow things that can be done today? We need action, urgent action, more help, more supplies, more fuel, more everything. Everything you can think of to live everyday, organized life. This is what is most necessary while the attack on Ukraine’s infrastructure, people, government, army, educational institutions, and public life continues. We must support Ukraine to ensure a normal state for all those affected by the war. Then institutions and people will be able to return to peace and prosperity as soon as possible. And repair all the damage.

In English, the only word that describes everything Ukrainians have encountered is «evil.» It conveys all the horrors you can imagine. Evil is what this war is about. I want to believe that if my family and my country were in this situation, if it were my friends and neighbours, someone else would do something else to help and bring it back to the state it was in before the war. So that’s why we’re here, to support you, to give you what you need to endure the evil that is attacking you. That’s the only thing I can do. I have a disability; I use a wheelchair and crutches. I am not a fighter. But I know how to drive a car, I can organize, I can inspire. And I think everyone needs to figure out what they can do and then do their best to help.

It is difficult to say what became a call to action for me personally. Perhaps it was the lack of answers from the relevant authorities on how specifically I could help. This was a signal that there was a gap in the organization. Of course, there was a willingness to help; there was great support and compassion. There were just people who loaded and shipped goods and aid to Poland. But there was no information support; there were specific problems that I, other people, and other organizations faced. So we set up a group to solve them.

On the other hand, there was a gradual increase in the information field: terrible scenes, bombing of civilian infrastructure, Russian propaganda. And this despair, problems, misfortunes that we saw – only stimulated us to do something. It turns out that you can have a lot of problems in the process of providing assistance: transportation, fundraising, banking services, having a charity account, access to funds and free ferries. Therefore, we decided to coordinate this so that any act of good will was implemented. The biggest problem we faced was transport services. We had access to cars, there were enough drivers, but insurance companies refused to let vehicles into Poland and Ukraine because of the war. So we looked for insurance companies that would support us so that everything was legal when we arrived.

Volunteers face other challenges. That’s why we are here to tell people about our experience: how to get help, how to act within the laws of different countries, how to communicate with customs, how to draw up documents, how to save on transport, look for cargo, and so on. And this is more than UK for UA, because there are people in Australia, in other parts of the world, who help us to receive and send this help. Therefore, we will probably change the name of our organization to «UN for UA» soon, because we are united in our efforts to help. And together we will endure, survive and win. «

Sean Hopkins with UCU’s volunteers

How do the British react to the events in Ukraine? How do they respond to your calls for help?

If you had only one source, one media, and were constantly fed this propaganda, you could believe it. Unfortunately, some people believe that Russia is doing the right thing for their country. Even in the West, to make an objective assessment, you have to look around and look at different media. Independent media is vital. Fortunately, we have the BBC. Although some people want to get rid of the BBC because it costs them money, we need it because it provides unbiased news and facts, leaving everyone free to draw their conclusions.

Now it is crucial to look at the facts, the information in the free media, social networks, and the opinions of independent experts. If you have unfiltered access to social networks on the Internet, you can see what is happening without Western or Russian propaganda. Today there is every opportunity to see the world unfiltered by someone.

The people of Great Britain persevered in the Blitz (the bombing of Great Britain by Hitler’s German aircraft from September 7, 1940, to May 10, 1941). We still remember these events. We have a collective memory of what it’s like to be under bombardment. Other peoples of Europe who have learned the lessons of World War II and other wars have the same collective memory. Yes, that was 80 years ago, but when we go back to the facts, we understand that in the 1940s, Europe was also opposed to the regime that is now invading Ukraine.

We need not fall into the trap of history repeating itself. He [Putin] calls the president of Ukraine a Nazi despite being a Jew. This is an oxymoron. You can’t be a Jew or a Nazi at the same time. Putin has undoubtedly played a long game. In my opinion, this attack on Ukraine is part of a broader campaign that has been going on for the last 10-15 years: interfering in elections in the West, trying to divide and weaken the European Union, Brexit, interfering in US elections, inciting nationalism, the far-right, etc. If anyone incites Nazi tendencies, it is the Russians themselves. Such nationalism does not suit anyone. The only type of nationalism should be the nationalism of free people, the desire to be free and part of a free and prosperous planet. I mean, nationalism is good, but it can be manipulated to create a sense of righteousness that is not right.

The Russian Orthodox Church can certainly stand aside and justify attacks on civilians. There is simply nothing Christian in it; there is no charity. You can’t call yourself a Christian and kill women and children on the streets or bomb cities. They need to stand up and say that there is no Christian aspect to what they are doing. Or the Russian Orthodox Church must be expelled from the Council of Churches.

Don’t you think that one of the reasons for the current war is the crisis of values?

As I said, many things have brought us to where we are now. You have to gather a general picture and understand the whole geopolitical landscape. Give yourself time, think a little, and look at the facts: what could be known who and to whom it relates, who was elected through whom, who supports whom, why Brexit took place and why he [Putin] wants to break the European Union and everything else. All this points to a stronger Russia, the revival of the USSR, potential attacks on the Warsaw Pact countries, and the reabsorption of free and peaceful countries into its dictatorship. So people need to open their eyes and look at what it is, not just be sheep.

I’m not an Orthodox Christian, I’m more of an atheist, but I don’t think it’s superfluous to believe that there is such a higher power out there that will help during a crisis. Although I am not religious, I still like to profess Christian values.

There is a collective idea of well-being for all that spreads across borders. It’s just the idea that everyone should be allowed to live a peaceful life with their family and be free from persecution. People should have access essential goods: health care, water, and the global network. Because many people in many countries are restricted and filtered by the Internet, they can’t form their own opinion; they can’t see what’s going on. And the free people of the West should not just sit back and allow this power of evil to take over free, peaceful countries.

What is happening is truly a disaster for everyone. Not just for the people sitting in this bomb shelter. If you’re sitting at home on your comfortable couch drinking a cup of tea and watching your favourite soap opera, just think, «What if it was me? What would I do? Where would I go? Who would I take? Would I fight or run away?» Non-selective action is non-selective so that it can be anyone. We don’t know what this lunatic [putin] could do. He’s got an arsenal of all sorts of nasty weapons; he’s got a willing, he has a semi willing army of conscripts to do his bidding, so, yeah, it could be anyone, at the end of the day. So we need to fix it now before it gets too bad for anyone and everyone. People need to wake up, do it, and do what they can now, not tomorrow. It is urgent. And although this propaganda, annexation in other parts of Ukraine, and incitement to separatism have been going on since 2014, I hope we are now in the final stages of this terrible catastrophe. We shouldn’t take our foot off the accelerator, be complacent and get into the understanding that it’s done. It’s not done yet; it’s not finished, and we need to continue a little bit more. Push that little bit harder, get that little bit more aid through. 

Interviewer: Andriy Gubar, translator: Liza Vovchenko

Republished from UCU project Little stories of a Big War

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