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Scottish potato farmers take convoy to Ukraine on aid mission

A group of Scottish potato farmers have sprouted a huge aid mission for Ukraine.

The Pick-ups for Peace initiative has already driven one convoy of 22 vehicles to the war torn country, where they were sprayed military green and sent to the front line.


The idea was hatched by farmer Mark Laird, from Kirriemuir, who has worked in Poland and Ukraine for many years.


His Central Plains Group (CPG), of farmers operating in Ukraine, is now operating UK-wide and is scaling up its initial ambition of supplying 100 vehicles - all packed with vital supplies. Already 65 used vehicles, all with MOTs, have been donated.


Organisers hope the initiative - which has benefited from the donation of old farm vehicles - could end up supplying 1,000 vehicles.


Mark, 51, said: “I have strong connections to Ukraine and I really did want to do my bit to help.


“I feel that the people of Ukraine are bravely forming a solid frontier against Russia and their war is one that involves us all.


“The idea about pick-ups is quite simple, as these vehicles can get to the front, to areas where they will literally save lives - and they already have done.


“The bulk of the work they will do is getting people out of the east of the country and back to relative safety in the west if possible.


“Sadly, many of the people who are reached will have died but that underlines the dire need for this kind of support.”


The initiative’s co-founder Vince Gillingham said: “Our first vehicles were quickly moved out to the front line, to places like Bakhmut, where they are making a difference.


“They are performing are quite similar to what you might have expected in the 1940s, managing tough terrain.”


One Scottish company has donated £130,000 of generators, to power school and hospitals in east Ukraine, which will be shipped out in the next convoy.


Another donor handed over five vehicles, which will be driven out within weeks.


The first convoy has taken more than £170,000 worth of potatoes, blankets and vital items like diesel cans, battery chargers, cable ties, jump leads, drones, fan belts, spare tyres, ratchet straps and winter jackets.


Volunteer drivers are handing vehicles over to the 24th Lviv Danylo Separate Mechanized Brigade, which immediately sprays the vehicles in camo-green and puts them into service within two days.


Co-organiser Dr Keith Dawson said: “The support has been overwhelming and it’s hard to explain how emotional it was, as the people of Ukraine are so grateful still for all efforts to help them from outside.


“We have had all kinds of people volunteering, from experienced farmers and business people to young boys who have just passed their driving test.


“Every item we took was valued and had been requested and the vehicles are just almost immediately and they are used hard, so they have been invaluable in the war effort.”


Keith said the next convoy will be just over 20 vehicles, full of supplies.


He added: “A big thing is tyres because they roads they are using are covered in shrapnel, so they chew through tyres very quickly.


“We are also moving towards getting vehicles customised to be used as ambulances, kitted out with old NHS equipment and medical essentials.”


Keith, an agronomist who has worked in Poland and Ukraine, said that the idea was born in Scotland but had spread quickly through farming circles, with 4x4s coming in from places like Brechin, Edinburgh, Haddington, Coldstream and Kelso.


He said: “We thought 100 vehicles was a big target but we’re now very confident that we can achieve that and we will see how far we can take things. I wouldn’t rule out 1,000 pick-ups being supplied, which would be extraordinary.”


The movement of the vehicles has been assisted by the Ukraine government removing importation restrictions and duties to simplify the process.


Farmers are asked to get an MOT for the vehicles in advance and to drive them personally or nominate a driver to join the convoy.


Drivers who deliver trucks will be driven to Southern Poland for a flight back to the UK.


The primary aim was to send 100 pick-ups by the end of May, all filled with vital supplies.


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