A British man carrying out evacuations in Ukraine has said his 4×4 vehicle was hit by a Russian tank round and is now written-off.
Having originally flown out to Poland with the intention of joining Ukraine’s military, running coach Chris Parry, from Cheltenham, crossed the Ukrainian border on 5 March.
Working on a supply run to Kharkiv in the early days of the war, Mr Parry told Sky News back in November that he had began working on evacuating people from the besieged city of Severodonetsk, before it finally fell in late June.
In the latest update from Ukraine, Mr Parry said the 4×4 vehicle he managed to buy in order to reach more remote places and evacuate more citizens, was hit by a Russian tank.
Working in the city of Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, just 400 metres from the Russian front, Mr Parry said that he was able to evacuate around 30 people within three weeks of having the vehicle, which he was able to buy after fundraising via JustGiving.
After trying to evacuate a couple in their 80s, who had taken shelter 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 just lying in the street. That was a good indication as to the kind of location being very dangerous,” he said.
“I was stood in the square, fully exposed to anything, just screaming my lungs off saying ‘evacuation, evacuation’.
“This lady then came to the door and started walking up to me. She was maybe 60 something and her daughter was probably 40 something and they had the elderly couple.
“These two elderly people were just in the corner of the room, frightened and lost. I had to spend 10-15 minutes explaining that I was taking them to Slavyansk, a nearby safe town, as they were very concerned I would abandon them because they had quite a lot of luggage.”
‘This isn’t war, this is hell’
Mr Parry went on to say that after driving the two individuals to safety he picked up two boys and their parents and two men.
It was from here, with six people in the car and copious amounts of luggage that he received a call from command to go and help a woman 40 metres further east from there.
“I went to a military command unit and spoke to a number of soldiers who described Bakhmut as the ‘worst place they had ever been’. They were saying ‘this isn’t war, this is hell’. They call it the grey zone, because no one really has control, you could just bump into a Russian at any moment.
“Missiles were landing on the building next door, the roof was shaking. I asked the soldiers, how feasible is it to get to the location of the next evacuee, and they said it was 50/50 you were going to get shot at by a tank.
“They kept saying ‘you’re crazy, you’re crazy’ and they gave me an emblem from World War II which they took off a Russian which they had killed. It was a Nazi swastika from 1939.”
Leaving the military command unit, Mr Parry drove down exposed roads and through fallen tower blocks, in a bid to not get targeted by Russian weapons.
‘This massive bang happened’
“I was driving through branches, debris, anything that was in front of me,” Mr Parry explained. “As soon as I pulled back onto the road, this massive bang happened about two metres from my front left wheel. For a second everything fogged up.
“The huge bang was a tank round landing on my front left tyre and it just exploding. I thought ‘I’m not going to stop and check it here’ so I just carried on.”
Driving into the western side of town, which is safer in comparison to the east and split in half due to the Bakhmutovka river, Mr Parry tried to change the tyre himself, with no luck.
With the sun having set at 3.30pm, he had no choice but to seek refuge with a group of four Ukrainian soldiers who were able to help him with a tool needed to fix his car.
After having changed his tyre in the dark, Mr Parry attempted to cross the river, but due to the combination of the icy conditions and the dark, he ended up bursting the front right tyre on his vehicle.
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He then spent the night with soldiers in trenches on the western side of the town, in -2C conditions, and tried once more to free his car, to no avail.
“The problem was I was going on a flat tire and I was going very slowly. I suddenly went from one slab of concrete to the next adjoining one, and because of the flowing water underneath it had corroded, so I got stuck.”
‘I am willing to go places a lot of people aren’t’
Asked what he plans to do now he doesn’t have access to a 4×4, Mr Parry said: “I have a Mercedes Sprinter van, which is capable of going to the majority of places, but not the most vulnerable.
“I think people trying to evacuate now are either being shot dead or being forced to become Russian for the rest of their lives.
“That is why I was willing to risk it, because I know that these people will be executed out on the street or shipped off. Of course I’ll continue to work as much as I can, in areas that aren’t as dangerous. But I am here to go to the most vulnerable to try and help.
“I am willing to go to the places that a lot of people aren’t.
“I’ve calculated that the cost of the vehicle was £7,000, I evacuated 30 people so it works out around £500 per person. People say you can’t put a price on life, but some of these people would 100% be dead.”
Mr Parry is continuing to fundraise £17,500 to try to get a new off-road vehicle to reach the most vulnerable via JustGiving. It can be accessed through his Instagram page @Christoburg.