FOR most, time away from work doesn’t involve driving to active war zones, but for Teignmouth’s Trevor Buffery, last year has almost made it routine. After driving from Teignmouth to Ukraine to deliver aid three times in 2022, Trevor undertook the journey once again this week.

Trevor, the owner of the Treasure Trove shop, got into the business of delivering aid to war-torn regions of the world over 20 years ago, when the news was dominated by the Kosovo War. ‘We were sat at home watching it unfold,’ said Trevor, ‘we came across this guy asking for drivers to help with the aid effort and the Convoy of Hope. My partner at the time asked if I thought that the old van would make it over, I said yeah of course it will, and it did!’

‘So I went to Kosovo a couple of times, I think we set a record for one at the time, the longest convoy. I think there were 126 vans.’

After Kosovo, Trevor developed the connections and the motivation to help those that are at their most desperate.

‘From Kosovo, I helped with an aid effort that was ongoing in Chernobyl, Ukraine. So I went to Ukraine first through that. I didn’t even know where it even was at first! You hear about Chernobyl, but you just think it’s a long way away.

‘Back then we were mainly supporting different orphanages. We started at that time importing goods to Ukraine. We managed to send out all sorts and made a real difference.’

‘Then that was it, until of course the War started this year. It was Chernigov, which is where we used to stay, that was one of the first cities to fall to Russia. We were watching the news and they displayed the same tower block that we used to stay in 20 years ago, but it was blown up. That made me feel that I’ve really got to do something.’

Trevor’s old networks of contacts and support sprang into action, and soon, new plans to deliver aid into the heart of Ukraine were emerging.

Trevor put out a Facebook post, explaining his plans and appealing for aid. Trevor said: ‘We put out a post just saying we’d be at the Point Car Park at a certain time. Well, within an hour we’d filled our van. People from across Devon came with truckloads of stuff piled up.’

After picking up supplies, the next stop was Lviv. Trevor traversed Europe three times over 2022, taking supplies one way and people the other. As the war changed, aid changed; from suitcases and toiletries and generators, coats and torches.

Each time Trevor appealed for aid, the response was equally generous. Contributors came from all over, people from Tiverton and Taunton came to drop off supplies, and ladies from Ipplepen knitted blankets and prepared Christmas presents for the orphanages. Majestic Tours in Teignmouth provided all the Diesel while the Exeter-based company Coffee Works donated over £2300 of provisions.

While much of the aid went to organisations, there was also some very personal exchanges.

'On the second trip there was a lady named Elena, who had been bombed out of Mariupol, finding refuge in Erfurt, Germany. When we were in Lviv I was asked if I could drop off some life or death medication to her - We met her on junction 26 of motorway somewhere in Germany on the way back.

We’re in the middle of nowhere and I’m looking out for a car. I finally find them and hand over the medication, and they turn and say to me, can you take me to the station? It was five minutes to ten and the last trains at ten - I said get in! We got to the station, all it is is a level crossing! They jumped out of the van and jumped on the side of the moving train! But as they left the lady gripped my hands so tightly and said you’re my angel you’ve saved my life - they jumped on and I just stood there blubbing - I’ve kept in contact with them ever since.

It was something quite surprising that connected both sides of Trevor’s long journeys. Anywhere Trevor went, be it Kyiv or Teignmouth, he invited people to write a message of hope and peace on his old blue van. Soon the van became a means for people to show their support or their corresponding gratitude to strangers, thousands of miles away.

‘I asked people when they dropped off their aid if they wanted to sign a message of love and hope, whatever they wanted to write. At first, a few kids did it but soon, it was covered with all these messages and paintings. People were stopping us across Europe to ask what we were doing. They’d often give us a little donation and then write a message.

‘All of a sudden the van was just covered with messages from across Europe. It became quite famous. Even here in Teignmouth, we’d leave it outside the shop and people would come in asking after the van, instantly donating £10, £20, £50. It was just crazy. People from up country had even seen it on the news.’

From someone who’s experienced the situation, Trevor sees first-hand what most only see on the news: ‘The situation’s bad, but the mood of the people is still good, they make fun of the situation, they’ve got a good sense of humour which keeps them going.’

When asked why Trevor goes 2000 miles out of his way to help, he shrugged. ‘Because of the connections that I made 20 years ago and because it makes you feel good when you’re doing something good for humanity, if you’ve got time to do it why not?’