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From Lviv

From Lviv

April 5, 2022 11:32 pmComments are Disabled

It’s a little past 6am in the morning and I haven’t slept since 9am yesterday. I’ve learned more about logistics in the last 21 hours than I ever thought I needed to know. I certainly didn’t think I’d find myself in a war zone trying to tie off the loose ends of a supply chain that didn’t exist a week ago, but here we are. Sitting in a sprinter van a stone’s throw away is a humanitarian package that took 12 hours to make its way from Warsaw to Lviv, where tomorrow (later today?) it will be picked up bound for Kharkiv, Sumy and other of the most devastated parts of Ukraine.

One of the cities so far not yet devastated — and I hope never will be — is Lviv. I say without reservation that Lviv is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I first visited just before the pandemic for work, and found everything about the city from the people to the architecture to the culture simply magical. Unfortunately, I am here tonight under very different circumstances.

Tonight (or at least now until I get some good sleep), I’m crashing at a friend’s house outside the city, along with two families from Kharkiv who are also staying here.

In that sprinter van downstairs is the second of two shipments we’ve tried today, and the good news is, we’re getting better! At 10am this morning (yesterday?) it was yet another freezing morning with light snow in this extremely small border town, which has a charming eastern European milieu. We made it to the border to meet the convoy as scheduled and proceeded to hand off our humanitarian package of food and sanitary supplies, whose size could best be described as a “maxi van full.” It completely filled up the trailer and we had to load some back seats as well, passing bags of flour and pasta and sanitary pads and diapers, bucket brigade style.

I was offered a spot in the convoy, but unfortunately my rental van (which I can’t take across the border) was parked at the refugee camp at the border station and they wouldn’t let me keep it there. I was a little bummed out, not least because I was concerned something would go wrong and the package wouldn’t get delivered where it was supposed to. It turns out my fears were realized immediately when customs demanded to know what was in the cargo and where it was going. (Apparently, these new regulations have popped up since the beginning of the war to respond to black market dealers, and we didn’t know about them.) Not knowing what to say—“Brian’s friend in Lviv” didn’t cut it—they gave the location of the last place they did a supply drop, a children’s hospital in Lviv.

So the good news is, our humanitarian aid package was gladly received at a hospital that needed the aid, and will no doubt be put to good use. The bad news is, it didn’t make it to Kharkiv because the convoy leader, a stickler for the rules, refused to hand it off to anyone else other than the place he declared at customs it would go.

We learned a lot from this test shipment, first and foremost being you can’t always 100% trust that something’s going to get done correctly unless you do it yourself, and the second being to fully understand the current rules and regulations especially when they’re changing all the time. Such is the reality of building a new supply line into a war zone.

After the convoy went across the border, we spent a little more time at the camp getting to know the *one* refugee there, a beauty salon owner who had spent two days traveling from Kharkiv and had at least another day of travel to go. Then we shuttled off to the main refugee camp across the foot border in Przemysl, and we learned, to our surprise, that giant refugee camps with no refugees in them are a thing. The camp outside border control is the size of at least two football fields, and is almost completely populated by NGO tents and volunteers, with a trickle of refugees coming through who seem to barely need any of the myriad of supplies offered to them (cookies, tea, diapers, etc). Volunteers aren’t even helping them carry their bags to the bus! This is probably a change from when the war started, but I gather that most of the refugee aid needs are being misdirected at this point.

At the train station in Przemysl, the exact opposite is true. At one point tonight, shortly after the train from Kyiv arrived, I noted that there were over 250 people waiting to buy tickets and ONLY ONE TICKET WINDOW OPEN. Which was, needless to say, extremely frustrating, considering that we have been reliably told that NGOs are not allowed at the train station, which might explain why they’re all serving tea and biscuits to their own workers while thousands of refugees arrive off of trains unassisted.

So, I find myself ending an 18-hour day where I found myself shuttling between border towns, helping refugees buy bus tickets and carry bags, organizing new supply missions with other convoys, and giving several refugees free rides to the Tesco refugee center. And it all ended with me waiting for 2 hours to cross the border in the dead of night with Yuriy and Igor (not their real names), two guys I had never met before who drove to Warsaw and picked up our humanitarian shipment and then drove it to the border and across. It was nice to meet another American from Philly coming the other direction who had just finished dropping off his delivery of helmets and bullet proof vests. (I have his info now…maybe we can work together!)

Needless to say, I’m exhausted, but I am very happy that we are finally on the verge of unlocking this supply route, one which promises to effectively deliver aid to the farthest flung cities in Ukraine.

Like I said, I’ve learned a lot about logistics in the last 24 hours. First of all, I’m finding that *everyone* here has supply chain problems, and when I revealed that we had a convoy going over, we were immediately asked to add additional equipment. So tomorrow we actually have to deliver *three* packages to three different recipients bound for different parts of the country instead of just one. Economies of scale for the win!

I’ve also seen what good looks like in terms of well organized convoys — on time, paperwork in order, dressed in the appropriate “official” gear, and choosing the right border crossing with minimal traffic. The guys this morning had it down to a science, and my makeshift DIY convoy was late, picked up unscheduled passengers along the way (although some lovely middle aged Ukrainian women told me I was one of them), almost ran out of gas and barely got one of their cars across due to paperwork mishaps.

Finally, I’ve learned that people with common cause don’t even need to speak the same language to work together, and that certainly was true today. Several strangers who have never met have come together to make this supply chain work, and I can’t wait to see it all come to fruition soon. The last hour riding with Yuriy through military checkpoints as the sun came up, having a full conversation in sign language about his son’s karate championship with a quarter ton of barley in the trunk was probably the highlight of my trip so far.

Now that I’m safe in Lviv, I have some planning to do for future deliveries after a couple hours of rest. But I’m happy that this delivery is almost where it needs to go next!

More tomorrow.

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