At the very beginning, I will tell you that it is really useless to do anything alone, to go and look at the Ukrainian-Slovakian border and to feel that I will be valid there. There you would only hinder those trying to organize a smooth check-in process for passengers fleeing Ukraine to safety. A handful of volunteers try to shorten the wait outside, to shorten it as much as possible in the cold, and the snowshoes would only get in the way.
We figured it out and through a friend of ours from Ukraine they started calling and arranging calls. In fact, a big thank you to Jaroslav, who became the leader of our expedition, and only thanks to him, our mission, that is to say even the two trips we have made so far as a group, has had such efficiency. You really can’t do anything on your own. You don’t have to block the square in front of the border with your car or van, and you need a good coordinator to quickly hand over the humanitarian aid you are transporting and pick up the people you will take to the Czech Republic.
Aid coordinators are key people
Our group communicated with the organization and the Red Cross coordinators who are constantly present on the Slovak, Polish or Hungarian side of the border. They are mostly young boys and girls who are constantly on the phone, spending long days out, solving situations, giving directions, telling you exactly where to go when your convoy of cars is on the way. The Slovak-Ukrainian border has two border crossings: Ubľa and Vyšne Nemecké. The situation on both can change within a few hours and the coordinator will send you to one or the other location, where there is currently high interest in your help. You drive where there are women, children and old people who have no one to pick them up, wait and have to sit in a hot oil heated van and finally leave.
Few of those you ride speak English, and again, it’s a good idea to have one or two people with you, ideally from Ukraine, who can explain to your passengers that they don’t have to worry about being safe to take you. From the Czech Republic and that your help is truly selfless. You only realize it when you’re at those borders, you see the people, the expressions on their faces, and the whole reality of what’s going on comes crashing down on you. Although some speak English, don’t expect them to have the strength or the thoughts to care for you and talk about what happened to them along the way.
Be as empathetic as possible with the people you take
For example, a young woman from Kharkov with three young children, whom I drove in a minibus, traveled alone with only a backpacker, and although she spoke good English, it would certainly not be appropriate to ask questions at length. It is better to limit communication to practical things and not impose anything on principle. They are happy that the world has come together and that we are helping them, but the initial mistrust is a logical consequence.
In our group we transported older family members, mothers, children, but even a thirteen-year-old boy who came alone from the Slovak side of the border, only with the help of the Red Cross and coordinators, and we took him to the meeting place with his adult sister in Prague, in Florence. A nice clearer of the story was also the French bulldog “Sebastian”, who traveled in Renault Trafic directly with me, and my colleagues again transported a tip and about two cats in their vans. Together our group managed to transport a total of over sixty people in two expeditions, and we are happy that our time on the road and those liters of burnt diesel and gasoline were worth it this time.
If you can, take the biggest car with a diesel engine
We are a car magazine, so what kind of report would it be that there would be nothing at all about cars. The first expedition, which I was unable to participate in last weekend, consisted of an eight-car convoy. In short, the boys spontaneously took what was now, and on Sunday morning (actually the fourth day since Russia invaded Ukraine) left, instructed by the coordinators. There was also quite a bit of humanitarian aid that they were able to buy and collect. The convoy contained a varied mix ranging from the classic Passat TDI diesel station wagon, through the Subaru Outback 2.5i to the Ford F150 LPG pick-up, which carried a lot of goods to eastern Slovakia, but on the way, he had to stop more often because the LPG tank consumed what 250 kilometers.
During our second expedition, we were already equipped with five seven- to nine-seater minibuses, which we managed to borrow operationally during the week. We would like to thank AAA Auto, who provided me with a practically new Renault Trafic 1.6 dCi (89k W), and Toyota ČR, who had a two-litre diesel ProAce Verso. Another Trafic dCi in a shorter version and two Mercedes drove with us. In the luxurious V-Class 300d, the atmosphere in front of “my” Trafic was truly VIP and I wouldn’t be ashamed to wear members of the Rolling Stones.
Its powerful engine of up to 180 kW coped with the highway climbs around Spiš Castle in the direction of Poprad much better than the 1600-year-old Renault Trafic dCi. However, they proved to be the most economical for the whole trip, when I measured the average consumption of 7.1 liters of diesel per 100 km on the outward journey, which rose to a total of 7.5 liters on the return trip. with a fully loaded car. Toyota also drove about eight of them and the worst was the old Vito 220 CDI 4×4, where we burned the most diesel. One of the expedition members also got himself a new Hyundai SantaFe with a plug-in with a hybrid system, but we didn’t have the chance to take advantage of its advantages on this long route. On the highway, and since we didn’t bother looking for charging stations, SantaFe ran almost exclusively on a gasoline engine.
24 hours on the road, a second driver is required!
A road is almost 800 kilometers long and does not lead all the way to the highway. Longer road sections will start just behind Brno towards Uherské Hradiště. Here you have to be patient and travel peacefully in a truck strudel just outside the Slovakian border, where after the village of Drietoma you will finally reach the Slovakian D1 motorway, which is largely new and in very good condition state.
You continue on this highway to Žilina, where you will descend again and slow your pace again for a while. The road winds along a steep slope along the Váh River and leads to Ružomberok. Behind you will connect to the new section of the D1 highway, which then runs along the slopes of the High Tatras through Poprad and ends about ten kilometers behind Košice. From there only a regular national road leads through Michalovce to the border.
Our average speed was around 85 km/h and we didn’t stay in any column, except passing through the town of Ružomberok, where the traffic situation is obviously often more complicated. We took turns and made stops while driving. It’s one thing to want to help those in need, but the flip side is that you have a great responsibility to the people you lead. We also made child seats for small children, we explained to the crews that the seat belt must be used seriously while driving, but still. On a total route of almost 1,600 km, the risk of microsleep is always high, and therefore it is necessary to have a spare driver in the car, at least one spare for two cars.
Let’s help Ukraine
If you have people in your area who fled to the Czech Republic before the horrors of war, refer them to this handbook for Ukrainians in the Czech Republic. They will find there where to look for relevant information that could help them, as is currently the case for visas, health insurance, accommodation options, etc.
The total cost of the trip and a vehicle, we calculate about 6,000 CZK for fuel and other costs, including food and drink, which of course you bring even more with you, so that you have something to offer passengers. Luckily, they are well taken care of at the border in this regard, so they generally want to spend their journey mostly sleeping and resting.
If you want to help Ukrainians, you can find the procedure on the official website, to which we refer you in the box above. If you want to join the journey directly with me or support our efforts to help, you won’t find me through my Facebook profile.