Humanitarian Aid Trip to Ukraine

Introduction: Two Freemasons from Dorset, Harry Barnes and Trevor Barrett, travelled to Ukraine, delivering much needed humanitarian aid to a local village Sokal. There was also opportunity to visit a Freemasons Lodge in Lviv, and presenting two pieces of Lodge Furniture made by members of our own lodge. The following article is written by Harry Barnes and gives a short insight into their journey. Intro by Steve Watkin.

Written by Past Provincial Grand Master Harry Barnes

Humanitarian Aid Trip to Ukraine
2nd April to 10th April 2023

The mission was essentially to deliver first hand, much needed humanitarian aid to homeless migrant families stranded in the west of Ukraine. The items included clothing, bedding, medicines, food, even two new petrol generators, one to a local hospital, the other to a local medical centre.

The plan was, two large vans and a trailer, fully loaded, destination Sokal – Humanitarian Depot, a round trip of eight days.
The journey started in Portland at 2am on the Sunday morning, then across the south of England to Dover.

Alas, whilst in the queue at Dover, the other party called from Maidstone to say that they were having to return to base due to engine failure.

Items of humanitarian aid

Strategically, this was very serious, as the other team have made 12 prior visits, they were the experts, they had all of the contacts for the other end, they knew the way well and, they also had all of the customs and declaration papers with them!

After same serious consideration, we decided that if we went on regardless and failed for whatever reason, we could live with that more easily than abandoning the mission and thereafter wondering, “what if?”

Items of humanitarian aid

So, ferry to Calais, then onwards through France, Belgium, Holland and as far into Germany as we could possibly get in day one. Up early the next morning, we traversed Germany and on through Poland getting as close to the Ukrainian border as possible.

Next morning, across the border and with a much-needed Ukrainian escort to navigate us, through to Sokal, the principal drop-off depot.
Whilst unloading, the air raid siren suddenly echoed all around us, the locals just carried on, they refused to be intimidated. I can’t say that we were not a bit scared, but we simply couldn’t go for cover whilst the locals simply refused to be intimidated.
Unless you have recently experienced life in western Ukraine for yourself, you simply can’t begin to imagine the life of fear, deprivation, hunger and sense of absolute loss, that pervades the western Ukrainian landscape. It is so easy to think that Ukraine is all about a raging battle in the east, in reality, the effects are everywhere, even into Poland and Germany, homeless migrant families are everywhere.

The Depot

Sokal, our principal depot is about 90 minutes across the border from Poland, and is comparable in size and population to my home village of Preston in Dorset. I was then quite shocked to learn that in the first three months of this year, Sokal lost more lives on the front than we in our village lost throughout the two great wars and the Falklands combined, I know because I have in the past read out their names at Remembrance Sunday services, the scale of the loss, in just three months!!!!

We took very few pictures, simply because it seemed somewhat inappropriate and insensitive, cemeteries at the roadsides awash with the colours of Ukrainian flags that each mark the burial place of one of the local young men or women that have died in defence of their entitlement to freedom.
Well-dressed adults with children at their sides, scavenging through rubbish bins in the open streets.

Most of the humanitarian aid that we dropped off had been taken up by refugees within just a few days, queuing early morning in the cold, hand in hand with their children.

It has given me a totally different perspective on the Ukrainian situation, I had no idea of the impact this dreadful war was/is having on the west of Ukraine. So many displaced families on the streets, 1,800 in the town of Sokal alone, again a reminder, the town of Sokal is comparable to the size of Preston village!

Contrary to what some may say, there is a desperate need for this aid by people who were just living out an ordinary existence and having now lost everything, are living off charity on the other side of their country, and on the streets.

Prior to departure, I was thinking how nice it would be to take something from our church, and leave it in Ukraine. I wondered about one of my wooden carved crosses, but alas there was insufficient time for me to carve one. Then, as if by providential means, Alex gave me a Palm Cross, saying that I should have it now as I would be away for Palm Sunday, it was just what I needed!

I took the Palm Sunday Cross to St Peter’s church in Sokal, met with the priest, explained the cross and presented it to him. To say that he was moved would be a gross understatement!  

After showing us around his beautiful church (see pictures below), he very reverently laid the cross alongside the Holy Bible on the altar, and we alternately shared a prayer in our native languages for peace, not just in Ukraine, but throughout the world.

With courtesy and the quite amazing efficiency of the Grand Chancellor’s Office, we were able to make contact with our Brethren in Lviv, Ukraine’s second largest city. The Grand Secretary of Ukraine was quick to respond and provided details such that we could arrange a meeting.

On the off-chance that we would be able to meet up, I asked one of our brethren, Alan Wolsey (Master Stone Mason) if he would cut and engrave a perfect ashlar for me from Portland Stone as a gift to our brethren in Ukraine.

Perfect Ashlar
Alan Wolsey

With a few words of explanation duly translated into Ukrainian by the Worship Master, I presented the ashlar, to their great delight. Trevor Barrett presented a traditional ‘Cable Tow’ as made by Brian Barton, again with a suitable explanation.

The lodge meeting and ceremony was held in a basement under a church, hence the low level of lighting. You will also note that one of the Brethren is attired in combat clothing, he was on call, welcome to the real world of Ukrainian Masonry!

Alas, time did not permit us to stay for the festive board, as we needed to head off back to Sokal ready for an early start on the journey home.

I have nothing but admiration and respect for those like Trevor Barrett who has now completed three of these gruelling trips, and the other team who have now completed thirteen trips in as many months!
I also now know what motivates them, and what images they now carry around with them in their minds, as they go about their everyday lives at home, and why they feel drawn back to effect a difference.
All in all, a highly successful mission, but also an unanticipated personal opportunity to pause, freeze frame the world around me, take stock, get to know myself, and fully appreciate the blessings of normality, the ordinary, and the freedom to choose!
KHB / 12th April 2023

Perfect Ashlar Presentation to Svitlo Lodge No 5, Grand Lodge of Ukraine:

(copy of script)

“I bring you fraternal best wishes from your Brethren in England. My name is (…) Harry Barnes, and this is (…) Trevor Barrett.
We are here in Ukraine for a few days to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine, food, clothing and medical supplies.
We were at your side in February last year, we are at your side now, and our hands of brotherly love will forever reach out to you in your time of need.
Evil may have its day, but in the end, truth and justice always wins over evil.
We pray for the day when your skies will no longer be full of anger, but filled with the bright light of freedom, and that your children will run free.
We bring with us two gifts from your brethren in England.
The first is a “cable tow”, made by (…) Brian Barton, which (…) Trevor will explain.
The second is a stone, a perfect cube, it represents the perfect Mason, and it is how we see our Brothers in Ukraine. It has been carved by one of our brothers who is an operative stone mason, (…) Alan Wolsey.
The stone is taken from a large stone quarry very close to our lodge building, so it is part of our land, the ground on which our Masonic lodge stands.
Carved into the stone are the words from our Masonic ritual “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth”. Brother love: we will always be at your side. Relief: we will support your every need. Truth: we pray that justice, mercy and peace, will soon return to the people of Ukraine.
Also, carved into the stone, is the Ukrainian coat of arms, the emblem of the Royal State of Volodymyr the Great, Prince of Kiev in the 10th century, it is a very powerful Ukrainian symbol of freedom, freedom which we your brothers, pray will soon be restored to your people.”