'Utter devastation' - Norfolk aid worker returns from Ukraine

Paul Wooster, from Aylsham, has been in Ukraine as part of his work for Mercy Corps. 

Paul Wooster, from Aylsham, has been in Ukraine as part of his work for Mercy Corps. - Credit: Paul Wooster

"Why have we been targeted like this? We're a democratic country, we're not a threat to Russia."

Those were the responses given to Norfolk man Paul Wooster from people in Ukraine.

Smoke rises over Lviv after a missile strike on the western Ukrainian city.

Smoke rises over Lviv after a missile strike on the western Ukrainian city. - Credit: Paul Wooster

Mr Wooster, 63 and from Aylsham, has just returned home after three weeks travelling around the war-ravaged country, in his role as an overseas aid worker for the agency Mercy Corps. 

Mr Wooster witnessed much of the devastation shown on our television screens at first hand. Burned out apartment blocks, destroyed bridges and plumes of smoke rising over cities after Russian airstrikes were common sights.

A bombed out street in Bucha, Ukraine.

A bombed out street in Bucha, Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

He said: "What I've seen over there is total and utter devastation of people's lives. The majority of the people that I saw were either elderly or vulnerable, who didn't have the means to leave. It's tragic."

Mr Wooster's role with Mercy Corps has taken him to many of the world's hotspots since he joined the agency in 1988. He has been part of the response to an earthquake in Armenia, floods and landslides in Nepal and the aftermath of war in Iraq and Syria. 

A replacement pontoon bridge put in place on the Kiev to Lviv road in Ukraine. 

A replacement pontoon bridge put in place on the Kiev to Lviv road in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

His task in Ukraine - travelling with one other person - was to assess where people needed help as well as the state of the country's infrastructure in preparation for a wider mission by the aid agency. 

Ukraine has seen widespread destruction since Russia invaded.

Ukraine has seen widespread destruction since Russia invaded.

Most Read

He said Mercy Corps would aim to provide not just emergency aid, but longer-term support to help farmers and small businesses get back on their feet.

Crossing the border from Poland at Lviv, where the agency already has an office - they travelled to Dnipro, Kiev, and, as the Russians pulled back from the area around the capital, to Bucha and Irpin, both cities which were badly damaged.

A destroyed bridge in Ukraine.

A destroyed bridge in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

Mr Wooster, a former Norfolk firefighter, said: "I was carrying out humanitarian assessment. What returnees are coming back? What assistance do they need? What can we offer the people who did stay behind?

 "A lot of the roads have been blown up, so we were seeing where the routes are clear, where there are mines. If we need to evacuate, where would our routes be?"

Mr Wooster said he was planning to return to Ukraine in mid-June to continue the humanitarian effort there.  

He said he urged people to back Norfolk groups and businesses which had been taking supplies there and accepting donations, including the Banningham Crown.

A destroyed military vehicle in Ukraine.

A destroyed military vehicle in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

Ukrainians getting something to eat at a makeshift soup kitchen in Kiev.

Ukrainians getting something to eat at a makeshift soup kitchen in Kiev. - Credit: Paul Wooster

Anti-tank defences blocking a road in Ukraine. 

Anti-tank defences blocking a road in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

Molotov cocktails made by locals in the north-east of Ukraine.

Molotov cocktails made by locals in the north-east of Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

Destroyed cars and a bridge in Ukraine.

Destroyed cars and a bridge in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

Part of a missile lodged in a road in Ukraine.

Part of a missile lodged in a road in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

A bombed apartment block in Bucha, Ukraine.

A bombed apartment block in Bucha, Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

A destroyed military vehicle on the road in Ukraine.

A destroyed military vehicle on the road in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster

A bombed out petrol station in Ukraine.

A bombed out petrol station in Ukraine. - Credit: Paul Wooster