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The story of the “Christmas Campaign Ukraine”

February 9, 2023

It was at a chance get-together between students, ÖH, FH and study program representatives when, in discussions about the war in Ukraine, many expressed the wish to make a contribution – however small – to alleviate the hardship of the people in eastern Ukraine who were particularly affected by the war. And so the foundation was laid for the “Christmas Campaign Ukraine”.

The idea was to not only organise a transport with urgently needed relief supplies to Ukraine, but also to carry it out ourselves. The latter was made possible by the fact that with lecturer and entrepreneur Christoph Bolzer, we had someone in our own ranks who already had a lot of experience in this area after having successfully carried out two relief transports from Austria to Ukraine and who, thankfully, immediately agreed to take over the transport for this Christmas campaign.

After careful preparation, the Christmas campaign was then published on November 15, 2022 via the usual social media channels and promptly achieved a very impressive result: Thanks to the enormous commitment of all those involved – special mention should be made here of ÖH FHWien, which not only accepted donations, but also generously donated the net proceeds of its Advent punch stand, as well as several major donors, including a lecturer at FHWien der WKW, who prepared donations in kind worth almost 4,000 Euros and a total of 25 tonnes of relief supplies such as food for the long term, winter clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, medicines, bandages, hygiene articles and children’s toys were collected in the temporary storage facility provided by Transbritannia. On Friday, December 16, 2022, the time had come for the 40-tonne semi-trailer truck, also provided by Transbritannia, to set off from Linz, fully loaded with the collected relief supplies, in the direction of Lemberg at around 7 p.m. despite heavy snowfall.

To Lemberg and back in 48 hours

The route from Linz via Korneuburg, Brno and Krakow to Lviv proved to be a great challenge not only because of the wintry weather and road conditions, but also because of numerous bureaucratic hurdles, such as the truck toll in the Czech Republic and Poland and especially the lengthy customs formalities and an 8-hour wait at the Polish-Ukrainian border as an external EU border. And so the aid transport finally reached Ukrainian soil almost 21 hours after departure from Linz, where the weather and road conditions were now extremely wintry, with temperatures as low as -15° Celsius and a continuous snow track, and where there were repeated power failures and consequently also mobile phone network and internet failures due to the war.

Thanks to the great routine of Christoph Bolzer, the aid transport arrived well in Lemberg on December 17, 2022 at around 10 p.m. local time. Unfortunately, the unloading location had to be rescheduled there at short notice, as the originally planned unloading location could no longer be approached due to the enormous amounts of snow and the only sparsely available clearing vehicles. Even the original plan to unload the semitrailer immediately in order to be able to start the journey home as quickly as possible was rendered impossible due to the fact that the forklift needed for unloading could not be made available during the night due to the amount of snow. At least this forced overnight stay allowed for a first longer sleep break on the journey. After it was possible to get the ramp of the warehouse at the unloading site reasonably free of snow and slip-proof the next morning, the unloading of the semitrailer and the reloading onto several Ukrainian trucks, which were to further transport the relief supplies to hospitals, schools and refugee centers on the embattled front line in eastern Ukraine, such as to Kherson, could be quickly undertaken.

Afterwards, it was necessary to start the journey home as quickly as possible, whereby also this “as quickly as possible” proved to be very lengthy and challenging due to the weather conditions and an approximately 30 kilometre long truck traffic jam at the Polish-Ukrainian border, which is why the relief was great when barely 24 hours after the departure in Lviv, Polish and thus EU soil was reached again and the joy was of course overwhelming when after the return to Austria the entire mission could finally be completed in the afternoon of December 19, 2022.

A hint of Christmas

The first thank-you letters and photos that arrived from Ukraine at that time not only showed that the relief supplies had reached their destinations, but also that these relief supplies had succeeded in giving the war-torn people at least a hint of Christmas. The grateful glow in the eyes of the recipients should, however, also make us think about the fact that the idea and the mission of Christmas should not only apply around December 24, especially with regard to the civilian population, which is always hardest hit by acts of war.