Richard Woodruff, British volunteer: I will never leave Ukraine after what I experienced here
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March 2, 2024

Richard Woodruff, British volunteer: I will never leave Ukraine after what I experienced here

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Kolhusheva O., {2023,12,27}, RICHARD Woodruff, British volunteer:I will never leave Ukraine after what I experienced here. UKRINFORM,

I heard about Richard Woodruff, a young volunteer from England, from our military and front-line doctors. At the first request, Richard obtained medical Heimlich valves for the wounded on the front lines. They allow those with a chest wound to breathe and be transported to the rear hospital for treatment. He also supplied titanium plates, which are extremely necessary during trauma and destruction of bone tissue.

He was helping a lot not only the doctors. Richard worked in a volunteer kitchen for the production of dehydrated meals for the front, rebuilt a school destroyed by the Russians, and repaired houses damaged by shelling. He visited almost all hot spots on the front lines in the north, east, and south of Ukraine. He bought boats and rescued people under fire in the Kherson region after the Russians blew up the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant.

Richard received a state award from the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and he loved Ukraine so much that he wanted to stay here for the rest of his life, because he thinks it is the best country in the world.

He spoke about this and many other interesting and important things at a meeting with an Ukrinform correspondent.


Where are you from? How old are you? When did you come to Ukraine?
I am 30 years old. I am from East Sussex, South East England. I came to Ukraine on June 20, 2022.
Did you have any roots in Ukraine before you came here? What did you know about Ukraine before you came here?
I have no roots at all in Ukraine. All I have done was the year prior [the Russian invasion] I had been researching about where to travel in Ukraine. So before the war, I was looking at various cities and beautiful landmarks I wanted to see. I was watching travel videos on YouTube. There were some followers who were traveling to Ukraine and I saw the beauty online, how different it was, how different the architecture is, people and food. I like traveling to countries that have "character" and I saw that from Ukraine in these videos.
When did you plan to come to Ukraine and for how long?
Before the invasion, I planned to come in August-September 2021, for a couple of months. But I was just in Spain, and there was Covid and everything. It was easier to not be doing all of the certificates for every country so I just stayed in one location and I postponed my trip to Ukraine. By the way, it was also very cold. And then the war started. I was watching the news 24/7 in the weeks following up to the invasion, when the tanks were on the border. And from that moment I planned to come. And then Bucha happened and I booked my flights.
Were you not afraid of the war?
No. I remember arriving in Lviv and wondering where the missiles and rockets were. I thought there would be only men left in the country. I did not realize there would still be women. I came and Lviv was beautiful and there was no war there.
Did you tell your parents that you are coming to the country where war is ongoing?
I'd like every foreign volunteer not to tell their family about this. First, I said to my mom that I was in Poland, helping Ukrainians on the border. And she wondered why I did not know any Polish words. I returned to England in one-and-a-half months or so. I went back for like three days to say that I really lived in Ukraine. And she said: 'You are an idiot. But I am glad you are back now and you are not returning.' And that's what I said: 'I fly back tomorrow.'
Are you the only child in your family?
No, we are a big family. I have an older brother, an older sister, a younger sister.
How did they react to your decision?
They were proud. And my mother was proud too, when she realized that she could not stop me. But she still worries every day.


What is your profession?
I am a full-time volunteer. I was like in a media publishing [company] running an electronics magazine, business-to-business industrial magazines, sales.
Tell about the beginning of your volunteering work in Ukraine. Where and how did you start doing this?
In the first month, I was at a kitchen in Lviv, which was making dehydrated meals for the troops. And then following that, I went to Kyiv with Dobrobat volunteers and we rebuilt a school in the very small town of Motyzhyn in the Bucha district. We were rebuilding the school with 20 other young Ukrainians. And they were shocked that there was a British guy in the middle of Ukraine, on the outskirts of Kyiv. At that time, I also went to visit Bucha, about two months after its de-occupation. I saw complete devastation and there was no one in the town, just me walking around the streets. And just one car passed during the three hours that I was there. Bucha was horrific. I got off the bus there and instantly I saw all of the shell holes and bullet holes in all of the buildings.
I went into a local cafe just after getting off the bus to go for breakfast. When I sat down for breakfast in this cafe, I looked to my right and saw a bullet hole in the side glass window. I saw one man - the owner – and one waitress working there and I still had this kind of shock of everything that happened. I was almost in tears when I was ordering my breakfast. I was in shock after seeing all of this destruction, drinking my coffee. When I went to pay, I broke down in tears and gave the owner a big hug and I gave him all of the cash that was in my wallet as a tip. He said he could not accept it. And I said 'Please.' And I gave him a big hug and said 'Thank you so much.' I also asked him if there was anywhere I could help in Bucha. And the owner said there was a World Central Kitchen hub just around the corner and I went there.
It was just an insanely emotional meeting – the owner and seeing everything that they had to go through. Because almost everyone in Bucha has either family members or friends whom the Russians killed a couple of months earlier. These are very fresh wounds.
Did you rebuild the school in Motyzhyn? Where did you live there?
We lived in the kindergarten next door and helped rebuild the main school that was destroyed by the enemy. Among the volunteers, there was a girl who translated for everyone. And we rebuilt the school, it is now fully operational. When the Russians were retreating from Motyzhyn, they fired tank shells into the school to burn it down. And there was a hole inside, it was black and all the windows were blown out. The school already opened in September last year, a whole new class.


Where did you go after that?
Then I was back in Lviv to continue to help in the kitchen there for the following six months. So in Lviv, I was trying to involve more volunteers to start coming to Ukraine. In October, I started a Twitter account to show what was going on in Ukraine at the time. Because there weren't many English-speaking western voices saying 'Oh, this is what's happening on the ground.' There were five major accounts or so. So I started that Twitter account and through that Twitter account I managed to get lots of volunteers coming to this kitchen. We raised over $100,000 for materials in the kitchen – food dryers, generators, stoves, etc.
Volunteers arrived from every country, including Australia, Uruguay, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, the United States, and Canada. They were 20 to 70 years of age. Somebody arrived and somebody returned home, but now about 20 international volunteers are working at the kitchen in Lviv. At the same time, my account helped raise money for drones, everything that was needed, as well as lots of medical supplies. I was an English-speaking voice in the kitchen. I was promoting it. By the end of my time there, I was managing the whole process every day. I was in control of organizing the premises, I did 100% of the fundraising. I was funding the whole operation, bringing all of the volunteers, and doing day-to-day running.


And then a new story started?
Yes. In March 2023, I met Ernest Polianskyi, who runs the Angel of Life charity organization. He was helping deliver and take stuff from the kitchen to the front. The next bitter story from March up until now with Ernest, which is nine months or so, is the most fascinating part of the whole time we've been here is where I met hundreds of different organizations and everything from orphanages to guys in the trenches on the very front lines. I am a firm believer that we need not only to produce dehydrated meals for the troops but also to help everyone: orphans or people whose houses have been destroyed.
The big thing that I am proud of is since I met Ernest, all of Ukraine has received over $400,000 in aid for various organizations. The most important thing is drones for our heroes on the front. I went all the way in to Chasiv Yar, a stone's throw from Bakhmut, to meet with Ukrainian troops and find out their exact needs. One of the things Ernest was doing was delivering humanitarian aid to the Kherson region from the Canada-Ukraine Foundation. It was over half a million tonnes of humanitarian aid that we delivered to Kherson, Kharkiv, and all other front-line towns. We were in Kupiansk in March when the evacuation order was given, but we still went in.
What cities and villages have you visited in eastern Ukraine?
These are Kupiansk, Izium, Kostiantynivka, Chasiv Yar, all of the Kharkiv region, and we were also in Mykolaiv, Nikopol... I also want to tell you about our trip to the Kherson region. When floods happened, when the dam of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant exploded, we actually crossed over the Dnipro River into the islands between the occupied part of the Kherson region and de-occupied Kherson. I then bought two speedboats. We filled trucks with food and thus supplied food and water to thousands of people who were cut off completely. We worked there for several weeks. Sometimes we had to drag other rescuers, because the river was flowing so quickly and these guys could not get across without our help.
We were under constant shelling. I can show you Russian footage where you can see an enemy shell hitting one of our boats. Some of our guys were wounded by shrapnel from artillery fire that was directed at our boats by a Russian drone. One of the volunteers who was on that boat still has shrapnel in his body.
We were also in the Kherson region, in the villages of Stanislav and Oleksandrivka, and even saw Russian positions over the river. We were visiting all of the homes that have been destroyed, because one of the big things Angel of Life and Ernest are doing is the rebuilding of these homes. We went to see what needed to be done and rebuilt in terms of financing.
We once got the call that a grandmother's house had been hit by a mortar. In the morning, we went to this house to help clear the rubble and see what happened. When we arrived, part of the roof was still burning, while the other part of the house collapsed. It was like a horror/crime scene. The woman's husband was buried under the rubble, she could not dig him out, so he suffocated under the rubble. I tweeted about it and we managed to raise almost $10,000 to rebuild this house within 3-4 hours. We had a team of ten people working every single day until the house was finished.
But the Kherson region is under constant shelling...
In the Kherson region, we were staying in Chornobaivka. And every 30 seconds there was artillery going out and coming in. When we lived there for about a month, there was constant bombardment. At one moment, we all accepted that we were going to die there.
But you still stayed there?
Yes, for one month. We were repairing the roof of the house we were staying in because it had holes from all the missile fragments. And I said: 'We are here with artillery going on every 30 seconds. So why are we repairing this?' And they said: 'It's been a year. What else can we do? We have to repair it at some point regardless of we still get hit every day.'
But if your mother would know this…
She knows. And she said to me when I was last in England: 'Can you just not come back to the front.' So I am trying to avoid that.


I know that you already have a Ukrainian award for your activities. Can you tell us more about it?
One of the Ukrainian majors reached out after hearing about the achievements and said: 'Can you tell us more in a very short list of what you have done for Ukraine?' I wrote out the list and they invited me to Kyiv. So I came to Kyiv and picked up the award. They asked me if I wanted to receive the award from the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. I understood that he was busy and I did not to take up his time. The award from him was enough for me. I understand that it's more important that he is doing strategic things than shaking my hand for a photograph. However, I look forward to meeting him when the war is over.


How long are you planning to stay in Ukraine?
Until the end of my life now. It all started with three months, then six months, and then I realized I could never leave.
It seems that you have fallen in love with our country.
Yes, nowhere better. I have traveled the majority of Europe. I visited 25 countries in Europe, and I know what I am talking about.
Can you tell me why? What inspired you? What did you like most about our country? Why is it special to you? And why did you ultimately decide to stay here?
These are the most incredible and welcoming people I've ever met on the planet. I always tell people: it's amazing that I've been here for a year and a half and haven't met a single person I don't like.
Perhaps my perception of Ukraine is skewed, because I am volunteering and helping people every day, and therefore every single person I meet is very kind and lovely to me. I am helping them and they see me as Ukrainian, as part of their family and we are together in this war.
Ukraine is my home. Leaving Ukraine is very strange, because you are surrounded by people that don't understand Ukraine. I think that after a year and a half of being here and experiencing war with Ukrainians, the only people for the rest of my life who will understand what's happened and what's going on are Ukrainians. By the way, Ukrainian food is amazing. I love borscht, sweet little pancakes, and varenyky.


Now we hear a lot about Western countries allegedly being tired of Ukraine and providing less support. What can you say about that?
I think we just have to hope and do everything possible to share the message of Ukraine with Western leaders, the people of the West. It is our job and responsibility to make the message more palatable and keep it talking and interested in Ukraine. Because fatigue of any subject comes naturally over time. Our task is to maintain interest and desire to help Ukraine.
Do you personally feel this war fatigue? For example, are there fewer donations?
I think with the right message people will still support Ukraine, people will still donate. It's our job, we can't just turn around and say that people don't care anymore. If you say that, it takes away your ability to change it.
Still, my account is growing, there are about 60,000 subscribers, and that shows people are still interested, they still care. So I believe that this is Russian disinformation, saying that 'everyone is already tired of the war, and no one cares about Ukraine.' I still have 60,000 people who check up on Ukraine every day and they care deeply. It is really my main responsibility now to keep the interest in Ukraine. Every month over five million people see the messages that I am putting up. These people are specifically searching for news about Ukraine. So there are five million people that are tuned in and listening. They want to help and therefore it is very important that they see the result and can say: 'That's something I care about.'
I completely understand that the Russian disinformation campaign constantly claims that people in the world are less interested in Ukraine. And that is why I just launched a project with the poster "The World Stands with Ukraine" and started the "Tweets for Trenches" campaign. Posters with messages of support for Ukrainians from all over the world and from different countries will be placed in Lviv. And this is our way of showing the military and local residents that the whole world supports Ukraine and does not forget about it, despite Russian disinformation. The first poster with the words "The World Stands with Ukraine" and individual messages from different people will measure one meter by one meter. But I can make it like a long poster, for example, three meters tall.
In addition, we will print out individual wishes from people and put them in boxes of energy bars that we will send to the soldiers on the front lines - that's why this campaign is called "Tweets for Trenches." That is, people on Twitter write messages for Ukrainian soldiers, I will translate them, print them out, indicating the author, and put them in parcels.
What would you wish Ukrainians?
Freedom! The freedom to live how they want, not how Russia tries to dictate to them. Your country is very free and democratic. I am planning to celebrate the victory together with Ukraine and, to the best of my ability, I will bring it closer.

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