A farming initiative to provide help for people caught up in the Ukraine conflict has been inundated with support.
Merseyside-based cereal grower Olly Harrison and John McArthur, managing director of grain storage specialist McArthur Agriculture in Scunthorpe set up the initiative a week ago. Both men felt moved to help when images of suffering in Ukraine began to emerge last weekend.
“Because we have storage available to collect aid and the ability to load trucks, we thought we were well-placed to do something,” Mr Harrison said.
Their first thought was that people sheltering or fleeing the Russian bombardment would need food. But, it quickly became apparent that the government’s Brexit policy ruled out shipping any food aid.
Please share we need to find a way with all the red tape to get essential aid to refugees left with nothing fleeing Ukraine @BorisJohnson @meaglemp @IanByrneMP @EstherMcVey1 @pritipatel @lisanandy @Keir_Starmer
— UkraineRefugeeAid (@ukrainefood) February 28, 2022
“We are lobbying government on that front and have the support of MPs who want Brexit rules relaxed,” said Mr Harrison. “I am focusing on getting the government to relax Brexit rules on food aid because that is what people need most now.”
Baby formula milk powder and medical supplies for trauma injuries were major priorities, he added.
The Home Office has not yet responded.
Food and clothing
In the meantime, efforts have switched to calling for clothing and medicine donations which are unaffected by the Brexit blockages. For example, blankets, warm coats and soft toys for children would be very welcome.
1/ British farmers opening up their grain stores as collection points for humanitarian aid to support Ukrainian refugees and their hosts. @Minette_Batters @MPGeorgeEustice @FarmersWeekly @FarmersGuardian @NFUtweets pic.twitter.com/EvkaJLlaHz
— UkraineRefugeeAid (@ukrainefood) March 2, 2022
The call has been answered with an overwhelming flood of tonnes of clothing and toys, Mr Harrison reported.
A Twitter account @Ukrainefood, which was set up to spread the message, has seen thousands of tweets within the week.
“There is so much activity we now need help co-ordinating the workload,” Mr Harrison said. And he urged people to help by using the Twitter account to forge links with each other and make their own plans to ship aid, if possible.
One major difficulties though is transport. “We heard that there are a lot of eastern European trucks which visit Britain and return empty,” Mr Harrison said.
“So we have been busy trying to get a message to any hauliers in that position that might be able to help.”
Fuel price hikes
But fuel prices rises were taking their toll. At the start of the week, it was costing £1,400 to fuel a truckload to Ukraine. A few days later, the cost jumped to £1,900 and is rising again.
Mr Harrison suggested that rather than send goods, farmers might like to donate money to help fund the fuel cost.
“It would be fantastic if anyone could donate, say, the price of a tonne of wheat, to help fuel the trucks,” he said.
Efforts are under way to start a JustGiving page or join forces with a charity that could act on their behalf to collect money. A forum is also under construction that will allow donators and distributors to match up.
Mr Harrison said he had been overwhelmed by people’s generosity and admitted the sheer scale of the work had taken him by surprise. He has spent the week on the phone, but has been motivated by the heartbreaking situation in Ukraine, a country with which he has links after several farm visits.