On this trip, I photographed the distribution of woollen hats and scarves knitted by women from the United States to 350 Ukrainian children in schools in Solotvyno, Ukraine.
The River Tisza marks the border between Romania and Ukraine in this area. To get from Ukraine into Romania, we walked across the bridge from Solotvyno over the river. The photograph of the bridge shows my view of the Romanian border post in Sighet many Ukrainian refugees fleeing from the fighting would have been relieved to have seen. At the peak of the flow of refugees fleeing into Romania over this bridge, local schoolchildren placed toys on the bridge for the refugee children to pick up as they arrived in Romania.
In light of the fact that Ukrainian men and women were courageously fighting for their freedom just a few hundred kilometres away, it was heartening to witness the joy and smiles on the faces of so many Ukrainian children.
The hats and scarves had been flown to an AMAR International Charitable Foundation team in Romania, who then took me and the hats/scarves over the border into Ukraine.
My return trip from Sighet started with a three-and-a-half-hour drive through the amazing Romanian countryside in a hire car. My route from Sighet to Cluj Napoca airport took me over the Dealul Ștefăniței Pass, which separates the Țibleș and Rodna mountains. The forests around the pass were covered in snow, but the road was clear. The flight from Cluj to Luton left on time and took just under three hours. The drive from Luton to home took an hour.
This was an easier journey than the one that took me to Sighet via Baia Mare. The road travelled over the Prislop Pass connecting the historical regions of Maramureş and Bukovina over the Rodna Mountains, in the Eastern Carpathians. The road over the pass included a long section of horseshoe bends (see map in the gallery) and the outside temperature was -7C.
The best part of my journey back happened when one of the officials in the UK Passport Control took a very short, elderly Romanian woman and me out of the very long queue for the passport e-gates and took us straight to one of the manned passport control desks. It soon became clear that they had assumed we were travelling together. Perhaps they thought she was my mother? Or my wife?
I arrived home just under 14 hours after leaving my Sighet hotel, having had a truly memorable trip, during which I visited schools in Romania and Ukraine, where I met inspirational teachers and children. Many thanks to my hosts – Vasile, Rela, Alina, and Diana.