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Feed The Hungry boss gives first hand account of his visit to Ukraine frontline

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On July 19th the CEO of Coventry-based charity Feed The Hungry UK, Gwyn Williams, headed off to go to Ukraine to visit Pastor Yan Horsu who works with charity partner Bread of Life in distributing food to Churches and communities across Ukraine.

Since the start of the War FTH internationally have been responsible in sending over 180 lorries of food and Aid into Ukraine, amounting to around 3,000 tons of Aid on 4,500 pallets.

Gwyn arrived safely home on July 25th and this is his personal account. . .

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“In our conversations they gave me an option to stay around Izmail and visit some of the food being distributed to local villages in the area or travel to Zaporizhia and meet the Army Chaplaincy team and help distribute food in that area. For me it was important to meet people who were at the sharp end of the chain who would be receiving and distributing the food.

On day one the journey started with a day at the warehouse of our partner organisation Bread of Life in Bucharest, readying five vehicles (including stocking up of a new mobile kitchen) to go out to Izmail. This amounts to around 25 tons of aid.

Day two was to be a long day so an early night was called for. Setting the alarm for 1am in order to catch the 6am ferry at Reni (Ukraine) a simple four-and-a-half-hour journey to meet with Yan Horsu, a young pastor who provides for those in desperate need across Ukraine.

Having visited the church (in a cellar) I would be preaching at on Sunday, we went to the warehouse to check on the facility ready to receive the goods. I met up with Serhii who would be coming with us to Zaporizhia, a 12-hour and 738km journey that would take us through cities we have been used to hearing about in the news, including Odessa, Mykolaiv, past Kerson and Nikopol and finally arriving to the noise of sirens in Zaporizhia, at 11pm.

A journey of lorries and sunflowers and checkpoints. There were convoys of lorries stretching bumper to bumper for miles and miles, thousands of trucks heading for Izmail because the port of Odessa had been bombed and checkpoints at every major city and transit points.

I noticed the contrasting fields of sunflowers ready to be harvested as we passed.

Ukraine, Feed The Hungry

After a good night’s sleep and a quick wash it was on to meeting the Chaplaincy team, a team of men and women consisting of serving military personnel and recovered wounded soldiers who have dedicated their leave and spare time to help distribute food to villages near the front as well as preparing hot food in the new mobile kitchen to poorer areas of Zaporizhia.

We sat down in a makeshift hut of sorts with chairs made of pallets, next to a hotchpotch of vehicles including a dentistry on wheels, supply trucks and our mobile kitchen all liveried with red crosses. There was a gathering of around 30 men and women ready for a time of worship sharing their stories of people they had met, circumstances they had faced and heartache over tragedies they had witnessed. Into this group of brave people stepped in Gennadiy Mokhnenko of Mariupol, grabbing a guitar and opening a time of worship interspersed with testimonies and then an invitation for me to speak to the team.

With that it was action stations, orders were given and two vehicles filled with provisions for the three locations to receive food that day.

Time to get kitted out – flap jacket and helmet. Now things get serious.

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Sheltering from the shelling in Bakhmut

Today’s location was announced as Bakhmut – ground zero, explained to me as the red zone behind the front line. Which on another day could be the frontline.

A two-hour journey where the city noise grows quieter as you skirt out through the suburbs. Along the way one of the team turned around to Yan and asked: ‘He does realise where we are going doesn’t he?’ To which I nodded in slow realisation of what he meant by the question.

From heavy traffic to seeing fewer cars and a greater number of green and camouflaged vehicles. Whizzing through checkpoints until there was barely a tractor in the field and light armoured vehicles protecting key junctions along the way.

Along the route orders were given, phones switched off, action plans described and evacuation procedures noted.

Our first drop off was in a small village which had a number of damaged properties where we dropped off bags of groceries for the 40 residents still living in the area. We hung around just long enough to pray over the village people and be presented with some fabulous savoury donuts.

Ukraine, Feed The Hungry


‘The urban landscape became an apocalyptic scene of devastation.’

We then darted in and out of backroads to Bakhmut to the outskirts of the town, seeing more and more damaged houses and craters until the urban landscape became an apocalyptic scene of devastation, we stopped in front of a block of flats that had every window blasted out with rubble curtains and furniture hanging out of the gaping holes, and was by my first reckoning deserted, and yet emerging out of a narrow cellar door out came a smiling woman glad to see us.

“When you walk through the rubble of Bakhmut you walk into the centre of a nation’s struggle to survive. You see its courage, its pain, its resilience, its tears, its struggle to stand for what it holds dear, all of which I saw in the eyes of a lady in red. She stepped out of a cellar door amongst the devastation to greet us – and as the bombs dropped around us she stood in silence for a moment, in defiance of what they faced, then turned and disappeared into the cellar to make us a cup of fruit tea. For me that moment in time made me understand the heartbeat of Ukraine.”

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The ‘lady in red’ in Bakhmut

Our second drop was where things got hot. As we opened the doors to the back of the van shells began to pop around us, as we waited under the shelter of the entrance to see if that was it, in the stillness after the blasts we took the opportunity to retrieve the food and then we had a few more blasts, closer this time, and received the order to bunker down. We all headed to the cellar.

The cellar consisted of two main rooms, one with 10 beds covered in knitted blankets and a living area with cooking done on a two-ring gas stove in the corridor to allow the smoke to go out of the cellar door. It was good to see empty food boxes labelled that we had previously donated dotted around the place.

Meanwhile a barrage of shells was thumping around us, I watched the people’s faces and saw a twitch in the corner of their eye when the shelling got close.

We sat down and Gennadiy held court as we were served fruit tea and then Serhii stood up to sing what sounded like a sweet bit of heaven. I could have sat for hours listening to him. As the shelling eventually dissipated, the order was given to move.

Ukraine, Feed The Hungry

Gennadiy then took us to three poignant places – a school, an orthodox church and a community church that had been bombed. The Community Church had been set up as a social outreach with shower rooms, barbers, and creche for children to be safe in, where eight people died while serving others.

Gennadiy invited me to pray with the team for the people of the area, for their loss and for their future.

We were now becoming too obvious a target so we legged it out of there and headed back into Zaporizhia.

What amazed me was on the way out, just past the ground zero checkpoint, combine harvesters were out in the fields, life was still going on – a people with a great deal of stoicism.

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Bread of Life distributing food

We stopped at a new recruit centre where we had the opportunity to present a word of encouragement to young people who had that look of lostness in the not knowing. Youngsters and middle-aged men, ordinary people set to face circumstances none of us should have to experience.

From there we went to the centre of the town where the brand new Mobile Kitchen was busy serving food to 50 people near a tram station with the traditional borscht soup and ready-made rice meals made from food we had delivered to the chaplaincy team.

With a 12-hour drive in front of us it was time to head back to Izmail, with time against us with heavier controls on the checkpoint from midnight. An evening full of natural beauty, of perfectly formed rainbows and lighting shows across darkened skies and then the rain that caused flash floods in the city streets. If it hadn’t been for the LPG car we would have been stuck for hours.

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Food parcels and aid arrive

The convoys of grain trucks were still bypassing Odessa towards Izmail and Reni – for the last three hours it felt like we were driving on verges all the time as the convoys stacked up waiting to be released into the port towns. By 3am we got through the last checkpoint and were ready for bed which was a hotel overlooking the port of Izmail.

The Church in a cellar had been kitted out during the week with beds, barbers and shower room for people still transitioning through to European destinations or mothers with children seeking a safe place to reside within the bounds of Ukraine so they could be as near as possible to their husbands.


‘The atmosphere in the church was one of hope deferred with the pain of reality seen in their
faces and yet still a longing hope for victory, not resolution.’


Ukraine, Feed The Hungry
Zaporizhzhia city

On Sunday the atmosphere in the church was one of hope deferred with the pain of reality seen in their faces and yet still a longing hope for victory, not resolution.

Into this atmosphere I spoke of love in desperate places and how God’s provision was being stored up for his people in Ukraine even before the war had started.

I went to bed that evening looking forward to meeting Alin and the team from Bread of Life who were delivering the food and the second mobile kitchen.

Alin arrived at Reni Port around 3.30 ready to cross the Danube when the fireworks lit up the area with missiles aimed at the grain Silos. I had messages coming through left right and centre, but I never heard a thing. The next morning I awoke to my phone buzzing with messages and had to wait to find out if plan A was still happening. Plan B, C and D were being discussed to get me out of Ukraine which would mean a 300-mile detour through Moldova.

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A bomb crater in the suburbs of Bakhmut

However, by 8am the port was open and the ferry came across. By 10am the convoy of food arrived in Izmail, by 2pm, with the help of 25 volunteers, we had unloaded aid from all the vehicles and a vehicle from Churches in Mykolaiv was also loaded on its way. By 6.30pm we were on the ferry back into Romania.

A big thank you to all the donors who have continually surprised us with the amount of food that has been donated, even after more than 500 days of attrition. A galvanisation of churches in working together to bring hope in the storm.

Feed the Hungry is fulfilling a most needed role in providing food to those who need it most both in the cities and villages right across Ukraine. There is a need to look at preparations for renewal and restoration both physically and spiritually in Ukraine.

Find out more about Feed The Hungry and how you can help at: