Selfless Derby woman uses annual leave from her marketing job to fly to Ukraine

A woman from Derby spoke about her experiences volunteering on the front lines in Ukraine. Nikki Dunbar, 31, has decided to spend her annual leave from her job as a marketing manager helping refugees in Poland and Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

The Ilkeston native, who now lives in Glossop, flew out on April 17 with two nurses from Manchester, Natasha and Gil, whom she had never met before but connected with through the group Facebook Volunteering in Ukraine. The trio flew from Manchester to Rzeszow Airport to help with the Ukrainian and Polish border.

There they helped sort through clothing donations for families, played board games with young children and helped refugees cross the border. Nikki’s decision to fly to Ukraine was instantaneous and she only considered the idea days before booking her flight.

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She said: “I’ve always kept an eye on what’s going on in the world, but I’ve probably never been so drawn to helping. This is Europe, it’s so close to home me.. I follow the updates every day and it makes me even more determined to go help.

“When we first went out it was about trying to find your feet and where to go. But when you arrive you say to yourself, I’m here, I’m doing the right thing, it’s a nice feeling for yourself, but it’s just awful to see these people being moved.”

Nikki told Derbyshire Live she thinks Poland has done an “inspirational job” of welcoming refugees.

She recalled how those fleeing Ukraine arrive in Medyka, a village in southeastern Poland not far from the war-torn country. Here they are welcomed into a small tent facility owned by several charities around the world, which provide food, drink and medical support – and even a welfare tent for volunteers.

Buses arrive every 15 minutes to take the refugees from the small village to the humanitarian aid center in Przemysl, where they register with their European destination country. Nikki has also provided assistance at various train stations with essentials such as directions and luggage, as well as participating in aid drops at schools and refugee centers.

“Before I went there, I learned a little Ukrainian so I could help with directions and things like that. Well, that was my intention, but it actually gave me the opportunity to hear stories about where people are from, what they’ve seen and what they’ve been through. You hear it in the news, but hearing it face-to-face with a real person is simply heartbreaking,” she said.

Nikki told how a family fell apart when she realized the marketing manager made the effort to learn Ukrainian. They described how they hid in a basement in Ukraine and saw the missiles and tanks – the family said they had a choice to stay and know they were going to die, or potentially die and try to leave.

Nikki said: “She must have made that choice in her head, and I just thought, wow. I met a little girl called Darina and she latched onto me and hugged me for like half a – hour She is eight years old and fled Mariupol with her mother, sister and brother.

“I think it’s really important that people have a friendly face that speaks their language at least a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, it was very rusty, but I’m still learning that, so hopefully the next time I’ll be there, I should be a little better.”

Nikki is now planning to travel to Eastern Europe again in June and while admitting it’s a little nerve-wracking, she finally thinks she’s done the right thing.

She said: “I feel like it’s something that’s kinda falling off the front pages of the news, and I just want to keep raising awareness because it’s still happening. Even though people can’t make don, just give it a try and keep it in the forefront of your mind.”