Standing helplessly in a dingy room, I tried not to trip over ripped lino on the floor – while trying not to look at the woman dying in a bed in front of me.

The beds had stained sheets, the floor was dirty. Outside the sun was shining, but inside a heavy stench hung in the half-light. This was intensive care in a hospital in Vinogradiv, a town in Western Ukraine.

From behind a closed door came a baby’s muffled cry. A nurse shook her head, muttering something. “She says you won’t want to go in there,” said our translator. I opened the door and walked towards the noise. A tiny baby lay in a blood-stained bed, softly bleating. Painfully thin, he looked like an old man with barely the strength to cry. He looked days old. I learned he was actually two-months-old, abandoned at the hospital. In the unlikely event that he survived, the poor mite would be sent to an orphanage. He wasn’t the first baby left at the hospital and he won’t be the last.

Another patient was being brought in so we left the nurses to it and stepped outside. I couldn’t get the baby’s face out of my mind.

The hospital looked like a slum tower block. If that was intensive care, I shuddered to think what the rest of the place was like. Right outside the door was a gushing sewer, a doctor brushed past carrying his equipment in a tool box and an ambulance resembling an old camper van pulled up.

“They work miracles here, with what little equipment they have,” said our translator, Ildiko Margitics, who works for international charity World Servants.

The hospital is one of the projects supported by Bradford charity Take Hope Yorkshire. Run by Andrew McVeigh and Beverley Clegg of Denholme, it raises funds for organisations in Vinogradiv in the Transcarpat-hia region and sends out lorry-loads of aid including clothing, shoes, bedding and medical equipment.

Andrew launched Take Hope in 1995. When he first visited Ukraine there were regular power cuts, a casualty of independence after the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1991. The country suffered a long recession but now there is more stability.

“I see changes every time I come here; new shops, petrol stations and other businesses,” said Andrew. “Ukraine is slowly standing on its feet but there’s very little funding for those in need.”

Working with West Yorkshire Fire Service, Take Hope has supplied equipment and uniforms for Vinogradiv’s severely under-funded fire station. As we pulled up at the dilapidated building we saw West Yorks firefighters’ helmets hanging up.

“Your fire service is our only supporter in the last 20 years,” said operations director Saschya Mitovich, showing us the donated hose on the fire engine. A store-room was filled with more equipment, tools and uniforms from the West Yorkshire Fire Service headquarters at Birkenshaw.

This is the regional headquarters, yet it’s barely funded by the Ukraine government. The fire service works with 30-year-old equipment from the Soviet days, it takes ten minutes to start the old fire engines and there are constant repairs. Yet, with industry growing, the workload has increased.

The service deals with everything from factory fires to flooding. In 2000, severe floods wiped out villages. “In a major flood we are helpless,” said Saschya. “We need life-saving cutting equipment for road accidents. We only have a crowbar.”

The control room was a shabby little office with tatty curtains and bits of rag stuffed into cracks in the walls. A telephone was the most modern piece of equipment – a world away from the computerised fire service nerve centre at Birkenshaw. Earlier this year Andrew went to Vinogradiv’s fire station with Aidan Williams, retained liaison manager for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. They were filmed by a local television crew.

“The fire service has generously donated used fire-fighting equipment and uniforms which we’ve shipped over,” said Andrew. “The fire service director here was moved at the humanitarian aid between fellow firefighters. They’re in desperate need of equipment; it’s like going back in time.”

Take Hope has also sent out wheelchairs which have transformed the lives of children with disabilities using St Theresa Therapy and Education Centre in Vinogradiv. The day centre, for babies and children up to the age of 18, is the only one of its kind in Ukraine.

The remarkable treatments appear to be working wonders. “Many of the hundreds of children who couldn’t walk before now can,” said Bev. “The problem is a lack of equipment; the centre relies on donations. We’ve sent exercise bikes, massage oils, educational toys and 220 wheelchairs which have changed lives; children who had to stay at home or be carried around are now getting out. People stopped in the street to stare when the wheelchairs were unloaded.”

Centre director Edit Znik cried with joy. “It made a big difference,” she smiled. “What we need now is a magneto-therapy machine which stimulates muscles for children with movement difficulties.”

Staff are trained at the world-famous Peto Institute in Hungary. We watched one medic in action, vigorously massaging a child to stimulate muscles. In another room, a mother was leading her little girl across a wooden ladder contraption on the floor. The child put all her effort into staying upright. Next, she laid across an exercise ball and a doctor pulled her legs, stretching her muscles.

It was fascinating to watch. There was a friendly, positive atmosphere. On the walls were photographs of children enjoying playground rides, boat trips, riding bikes.

Our next stop was a soup kitchen run by Caritas, a charity providing 200 meals a day for poor families and individuals. Some meals are provided at the centre; many others are delivered daily by one man on a bicycle pulling a trailer made out of bike parts donated by Take Hope.

In the kitchen a group of local women were chopping a pile of tomatoes to make soup. The centre is self-sufficient, with a vegetable garden, fruit trees, pigs and hens. A couple of pigs were wallowing in mud and a litter of piglets trotted around.

“We brought some seeds last time. It’s heartening to see vegetables growing from them,” said Bev.

Over lunch – a delicious Ukrainian borsch made with vegetables from the rich soil – Antal Nanasy, who runs the soup kitchen, talked about the deliveries of food, firewood, clothes and prams. Antal has visited families who have burned beams in their houses to keep warm during winter. “We’re supported by Franciscans but we help everyone, regardless of religion,” he said. I was heartened and saddened by the places I’d visited in Vinogradiv. This is a working town, gradually developing, but the lack of social welfare is startling.

I thought of the little girl at the disabled centre, struggling but determined to walk; the bright, friendly children I’d met at orphanages here; the tiny baby in a dirty hospital bed, too weak to cry.

I was still thinking of them a day or so later when Ildiko and her husband Eric drove us out to the countryside for a picnic. Paddling in the river with their two young daughters, I realised how lucky we were to enjoy such simple pleasures.

  • For more about Take Hope Yorkshire visit