Jonathan Straight details his time photographing a multi-charity rescue mission seeking to relocate Ukrainian children to Scotland.
On 23rd March, a gigantic Virgin Atlantic Dreamliner containing just 73 passengers landed at Heathrow Airport. Bringing 54 Ukrainian children, the plane also contained nine carers, and 10 volunteers, of which Jonathan Straight was lucky enough to be one.
The flight was the result of a multi-charity effort which has taken a lot of organising: “I was involved because of my work with Magen David Adom, the Israeli ambulance services’ office in the UK. I’ve had a close relationship with them for a number of years, part of which has involved me doing shift on ambulances in Israel and photographing what happens. One of the other charities involved was Dnipro Kids. Which I think is something that came about through the fans of the Hibernian football club. For a number of years they’ve been supporting children in Ukraine. Obviously when the war started, they wanted to get the children out, and so another charity called Save a Child got involved. Save a Child was founded by Sally Becker. She became known as the Angel of Mostar as she was very involved in what was formerly Yugoslavia. She got a lot of people out of the war zone and instrumental in getting the 54 children from Ukraine to Poland, which is where we picked them up from.”
The flight on the Wednesday bringing the children to London came after an initial false start the day before: “There was sort of an anti-climax because we tried to do the flight on the Tuesday, and it never happened. There are 30 people in London waiting to do this flight and we had to go home because we hadn’t gotten the proper papers to take the children out of Poland. We knew it would be arranged for later in the week and on Tuesday night, quite late, I got a text saying it was on for the next day.”
The flight out was spent in a flurry of activity preparing goody bags for the children: “I photographed what was going on during the journey out, which was that people were preparing these bags for the kids with toiletries and toys and the like. Then we landed at Warsaw and we weren’t allowed off the plane. Eventually the kids arrived, each had a small backpack or bag which was all they were allowed to have with them, so that was quite sad. When they got off the plane, the Virgin crew gave them Disney toys. They had doubled their possessions by the end.”
After landing safely in London, the children were taken up to Scotland to be cared for by the community which had supported them for many years.