Automotive enthusiast Agnis Bisters recently delivered the specially-reinforced vehicle to volunteer Darina and her associates after a Latvian Television story in the summer, in which her work evacuating people from the front lines was shown.
LTV reporter Gints Amoliņš met with Darina in Donbas to the war-torn front-line town of Siversk, where the living conditions become more and more difficult as winter sets in. The van brought from Latvia grinds through the muddy roads, where it is used for much-needed aid supplies and evacuation of people. At first glance it looks like any other delivery van, but as a former cash collection van, it is equipped with armor.
Tech enthusiast Agnis Bisters found the vans in Latvia, bought it with the support of donations, repaired and modified it where necessary and delivered it to Ukraine, where it was most needed. That meant handing the keys to Darina, or simply "Dasha" a volunteer in Donbas who has worked tirelessly with her associates since February to help people in the most dangerous front line areas - hundreds were evacuated, thousands were helped.
The bus has already had been under fire, and passed the test, saving the lives of volunteers, and Agnis is already collecting funds for his next van for Ukraine.
"The van is great, thank you! It already saved the life of Sasha and my dad," says Darina. "There are holes in the back there from 7.62 millimeter caliber bullets in Bakhmut. Thank you very much for that! We are evacuating people, delivering aid to both defenders and civilians. Glory to Ukraine, thank you to Latvia!"
"The car is just right. Come, let's take a look! Two bullet holes. I don't know what trajectory it flew - whether it saved me or not, whether it flew over me or not. Thank you for this armored car. Everything is normal, the car works, fulfills its function," says volunteer Alexander.
"I think they were Kalashnikov bullets. Because I checked with a smaller caliber bullet, it was smaller than the holes. But it didn't go through. You can look here - everything is intact. Here - the bullet stayed here. The plate just bounced down here. So everything is normal. I hope that nothing like this will happen again."
Having packed the van for the day's journey, Darina and Alexander are on their way.
The roads of Donbas have become heavily rutted due to intensive movement of heavy equipment, and muddy due to winter weather conditions. The destination is Siverska, Bakhmut district, a town just ten kilometers from the front.
On the way, we meet their friends who are already returning from another location. After a few words, the journey continues. What Bakhmut is now going through, Siverska has already gone through and is still going through – so they say in this city, which has been under fire since spring. There are many burned and destroyed houses.
Giant craters can be seen on the streets - evidence of heavy shelling. Artillery systems can be seen and heard on the eastern outskirts. The van stops, and as the word spreads from mouth to mouth, people still living in the neighborhood quickly gather around it.
"You can hear for yourself how things are going here. It's been like this for us since April. First there, then there – coming from all sides. We don't know who, what and where. Houses are burning. It's scary. I want everything to calm down and people to live. Just to live," says Alla, a resident of Siverska.
Food, gifts for children, special requests for batteries, warm clothes are distributed. A request by one woman for a large pair of warm socks for her husband is successfully concluded.
It's time to leave and head back going back. Dusk is turning into darkness in Donbas.
There are no evacuees this time. There have been fewer of them - most of those who wanted to go have already left. In Siverska, two people had initially applied for removal, but changed their mind at the last moment. However, aid to the front is delivered practically every day.
"I wish for peace in the New Year. I'm sitting, thinking - not even a Christmas tree. Just peace, so that I can relax, breathe, gather friends together. Because of the war, I already have many friends. And for all our soldiers to return home," says Darina, outlining her New Year's wish.
"Thank you for driving with us, and I am very grateful to the people of Latvia. On behalf of Ukrainians, I will say to the Latvians that we value your help and our van very much. Support us, together we will definitely win!"