A Briton carrying out evacuations in Ukraine said his 4×4 vehicle had been hit by a Russian tank shell and was now written off.
After flying to Poland with the intention of joining the Ukrainian army, trainer Chris Parry, originally from Cheltenham, crossed the border into Ukraine on March 5.
Working on a supply run to Kharkiv in the early days of the war, Mr Parry told Sky News in November that he had begun work on evacuating residents of the besieged city of Severodonetsk, before it finally fell in late June.
In Ukraine’s latest update, Mr Parry said the 4×4 vehicle he managed to buy to reach more remote locations and evacuate more citizens was hit by a Russian tank.
Working in the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, just 400 meters from the Russian front, Mr Parry said he was able to evacuate around 30 people within three weeks of owning the vehicle, which he been able to buy after a fundraiser via JustGiving.
After trying to evacuate an 80-year-old couple, who had taken refuge in the basement of a building, Mr Parry described the area in the Donetsk region as “very dangerous”.
“As I was running down there was a civilian who had just been executed lying in the street. It was a good indication that the kind of place was very dangerous,” he said.
“I was standing in the square, completely exposed to anything, just screaming my lungs out saying ‘evacuation, evacuation’.
“This lady then came to the door and started walking towards me. She was maybe 60 and her daughter was probably 40 and they had the elderly couple.
“These two elderly people were just in the corner of the room, scared and lost. I had to spend 10-15 minutes explaining to them that I was taking them to Slavyansk, a safe town nearby, because they were very afraid that I would give up because they had a lot of baggage.”
“It’s not war, it’s hell”
Mr Parry went on to say that after leading the two individuals to safety, he picked up two boys, their parents and two men.
It is from here, with six people in the car and a lot of luggage, that he receives a call from the command to go and help a woman 40 meters further east.
“I went to a military command unit and spoke to a number of soldiers who described Bakhmut as the ‘worst place they’ve ever been’. They were saying ‘this is not war, this is is hell”. They call it the gray area, because no one really has control, you could run into a Russian at any time.
“Missiles were landing on the building next door, the roof was shaking. I asked the soldiers if it was possible to get to the location of the next evacuee, and they said it was 50/50 on which you were going get you shot at a tank.
“They kept saying ‘you’re crazy, you’re crazy’ and they gave me a WWII emblem which they took away from a Russian they had killed. It was a swastika Nazi of 1939.”
Leaving the military command unit, Mr. Parry drove on exposed roads and through fallen towers, in an effort to avoid being targeted by Russian weapons.
“This massive blow happened”
“I was driving through branches, debris, whatever was in front of me,” Mr Parry said. “As soon as I got back on the road, this massive noise happened about two meters from my left front wheel. For a second, everything fogged up.
“The huge bang was a tank that landed on my front left tire and just exploded. I thought ‘I’m not going to stop and check here’ so I kept going.”
Driving in the west side of the city, which is safer than the east and split in two by the Bakhmutovka River, Mr Parry tried to change the tire himself, but was unsuccessful.
As the sun went down at 3:30 p.m., he had no choice but to take refuge with a group of four Ukrainian soldiers who were able to help him with a tool needed to repair his car.
After changing his tire in the dark, Mr. Parry attempted to cross the river, but due to the combination of icy conditions and darkness, he ended up puncturing his vehicle’s right front tire.
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He then spent the night with soldiers in trenches west of the city, in -2°C, and tried once more to free his car, in vain.
“The problem was that I was going over a flat tire and was going very slow. I suddenly went from one concrete slab to the next adjacent one, and because of the water flowing underneath, it crashed. was corroded, so I got stuck.”
“I’m ready to go where a lot of people don’t go”
Asked what he plans to do now that he doesn’t have access to a 4×4, Mr Parry said: “I have a Mercedes Sprinter van, which is able to go most places, but not the most vulnerable.
“I think people who try to evacuate now are either shot or forced to become Russians for the rest of their lives.
“That’s why I was ready to take the risk, because I know that these people will be executed in the street or deported. Of course, I will continue to work as much as possible, in less dangerous areas. But I am here to reach out to the most vulnerable to try to help.
“I’m willing to go places a lot of people don’t go.
“I calculated the cost of the vehicle to be £7,000, I evacuated 30 people, so that’s around £500 per person. People say you can’t put a price on life, but some of those people would be 100% dead.”
Mr Parry is continuing to fundraise £17,500 to try and secure a new off-road vehicle to reach the most vulnerable through JustGiving. He can be accessed through his Instagram page @Christoburg.