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Ukraine war: Northern Irish businessman describes ‘incredible’ journey to Poland after collecting aid

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A Northern Ireland businessman who led a community appeal for Ukraine aid, and then drove it to Poland has described the journey as “incredible.”

Paul Devenny, who runs Enviro Fire Water & Air Ltd in Warrenpoint, County Down, is returning home this evening after a 3,000-mile journey to drop off medical and other supplies.

The businessman said he felt compelled to act after watching Sky News coverage of the death of the Ukrainian ten-year-old known as Polina.

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Paul Devenny, businessman and organiser
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Mr Devenny drove from Northern Ireland to Poland to drop the donations off

“I’ve a daughter myself, and there’s a saying, that for evil to triumph, all it takes is for good men do nothing,” he said.

“I couldn’t in my heart start last Monday morning normally.

“I came in, had a meeting with my team, and we said ‘let’s do this’. From then on, it has just been 24 hours a day.”

Donations of medical supplies, baby food and hygiene products filled every nook of Paul’s office in a nondescript business park in Warrenpoint.

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‘We are all one community’

Mr Devenny’s warehouse was pressed into service as an overflow storage facility as deliveries from local businesses and individuals continued to pour in.

“The community, you’ve seen it yourself, there’s old, there’s young, everybody’s just been bringing stuff,” he said.

The cargo being unloaded in Kielce, Poland
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The cargo being unloaded in Kielce, southern Poland

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A truck reversed into the gates of Russian embassy in Dublin as the war in Ukraine continues.

“We put the call out for what is needed and what is required, and it just hasn’t stopped. It’s been fantastic.

“We have a large population of Polish and Ukrainians, and we’re all the one community now.

“Heaven forbids it happened to us, and nobody did anything. And that’s why I think we need to stand up, make ourselves count and do something.”

Read more: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine mapped – what happened on day 12

The community should be ‘proud’

Mr Devenny, along with employee Brian Wilkinson, set off from Warrenpoint at 5.30am on Friday morning in two fully-loaded company vans.

Paul’s team and the Polish volunteers in Kielce
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Mr Devenny’s team and the Polish volunteers in Kielce

They headed south to Dublin, where they were joined by a Polish volunteer, Jakub Kalwat, and a Ukrainian volunteer now living in Dublin, Gatis Vaivars.

“My wife’s family is still in Ukraine,” said Mr Vaivars.

“But they’re not in Kyiv, they’re close to the Polish border.

“At the moment they’re safe, but you never know what can happen next.”

Paul Devenny and his colleague drove from Northern Ireland to Poland in two vans
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Paul Devenny and his colleague drove from Northern Ireland to Poland in two vans
Stephen Murphy NI donations
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Donations included clothes, tinned goods and other staple foods

The team boarded an 8am ferry to Holyhead in Wales, and drove across Britain to Harwich, for an 11pm sailing to Hook of Holland.

Starting at 8am on Saturday, and with alternating drivers, the two vans were driven for a fourteen-and-a-half hour journey across the Netherlands, Germany and into Poland.

The team arrived in the city of Kielce in Poland at 10.30pm on Saturday, and immediately started unloading their cargo.

It was transferred to a group of Polish volunteers for the final journey across the border, and on to Kyiv.

Paul and Brian were due back in Co Down this evening.

Stephen Murphy Northern Ireland, Ukraine donations
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Mr Devenny set off for the almost 1,500 miles (2,414km) journey on Friday and arrived back in Northern Ireland on Monday

Reflecting on the journey, as he spoke to Sky News from the road somewhere in Germany, Paul said that “It’s been absolutely incredible.

“It’s a massive achievement for our whole community who’ve done what they’ve done.

“There were sixty sleeping bags alone.

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“Those sixty sleeping bags are going to keep sixty people warm in Kyiv tomorrow night, and they were in Ireland two days ago.

It’s absolutely incredible for our community to have done what they’ve done. We should all be proud.

“We should all realise what can be achieved when we all come together.”

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