Dundee United employee Ricardo Cerdan intends to travel to the battle-scarred city of Kharkiv later this month after returning from his second humanitarian mission to war-torn Ukraine.
Cerdan, 45, helped to shepherd two children, seven-year-old Vlad and four-year-old Irina, across the border on his first trip.
He travelled east once more last week, taking blankets, clothes and toys for kids fleeing the country, before endeavouring to source generators to provide heat and warm food as temperatures plummeted.
Cerdan, United’s international business manager, also embarked on a mercy dash to Kyiv — a far more dangerous prospect than Lviv — to rescue an elderly, isolated woman.
He told Courier Sport: “We found out about an 82-year-old woman in Kyiv. In a wheelchair, she had no family in the city.
“Her daughter in Canada was afraid enough to fly over and cross Ukraine, but there was no charity to help her.
“A couple of Ukrainian guys I met told me they had borrowed an ambulance and asked if I could sponsor them for the petrol. I said, ‘I’ll not sponsor you…I’m going. I’m jumping on the ambulance and will pay the expenses’.
“We drove 10 hours from Lviv to Kyiv — 12 different checkpoints, not knowing what we would find at those checkpoints — and brought this lady back to Lviv for two nights in a hotel.
“We crossed her over the border to Warsaw, to fly to Canada.”
‘Don’t climb a mountain if you are scared of falling off’
Cerdan is not ignorant of the risks.
He notes the lack of Spanish Embassy presence in Ukraine (he hails from Barcelona), while the United Nations and major charities have thus far been reluctant to venture too far across the border.
But Cerdan continues: “If you are afraid of what you are going to do, then best you don’t do it. Don’t climb a mountain if you are scared of falling off.
“People said to me, ‘are you crazy? Do you have a Plan A, B or C?’
“I said, ‘I have no plan’. I just wanted to do some good.
“You see those little kids crossing the border and you start to think about your own family — nephews and nieces — and say, ‘what if it was one of them?’”
He adds: ”My parents didn’t know I went to Ukraine. I told them after coming back from my second trip and, even then, they think I was just on the edge of things.
“There were a couple of news stations in Spain that wanted to do an interview and I said no — in case my parents heard about my trip on the news. The last thing I need is my mum screaming down the phone!”
He was not on the edge of things.
On his most recent trip, Cerdan crossed the border to Lviv before travelling to the Ukrainian capital, noting ‘there is a dangerous feeling in Kyiv; the feeling that at any moment, terrible things could happen.’
He continued: “You start to realise the situation in the real danger areas — bombs dropping, with no electricity for days.
“I heard horrible stories of little kids going hungry, with nothing warm to eat at really low temperatures. Some went deaf because of the explosions, and worse, sadly.”
Perth, Glasgow and beyond
Interspersed with the harrowing stories of barbarity and bereavement, Cerdan is given cause for cautious optimism.
The sight of volunteers from Perth, Glasgow and beyond providing food and warmth to those desperately in need.
The beaming smiles of kids when they are handed something as simple as a football or a toy from the United club shop.
Those who have committed to rescuing animals from Kyiv Zoo.
Cerdan continued: “I met someone from Perth who was making pizzas. He took an oven from Scotland to the [Poland-Ukraine] border to feed the refugees!
“There was another person from Glasgow serving tea. I’m a Spanish guy from Dundee handing out blankets.”
Indeed, 1700 miles from Tannadice Street, he even found a United connection.
Cerdan adds: “When I was on the border, a guy younger than me comes over and says, ‘are you a Dundee United supporter?’”
Let the record show, Ricardo is a proud Espanyol fan.
“I said, ‘kind of, I work there.’ But he recognised me from the publicity about my trip over. He was a Dundee United season ticket holder! How, in Medyka [border region between Poland and Ukraine], am I meeting a Dundee United fan?
“Seeing these volunteers does give you some hope for humanity.”
‘My batteries are charged’
Cerdan will return to Ukraine later this month and intends to offer assistance in Kharkiv — the sight of horrific fighting — and Odessa which, it is feared, will soon come under fierce attack.
He is in the process of sourcing diesel generators and medical supplies in anticipation of casualties and the likelihood of power being cut off. He hopes to help any refugees find an escape route to Moldova.
He added: “As soon as I came back, my batteries were charged and I want to go again. It gives you the feeling that you have done something good.”
Indeed, he has.
Cerdan has raised more than £25,000 via GoFundMe in order to support his work in Ukraine.
That includes anonymous donations of £10,000 and £5,000.
Two children, aged six and nine, are fundraising by running a cycling 20 miles; they have contributed £1,000.
Fans of United and Dundee came together for the bucket collection outside Tannadice on Saturday, raising £437. Meanwhile, 50:50 tickets sold out — described as ‘unprecedented’ by one source — banking £2,086 for the effort.
The United with Ukraine GoFundMe page can be found here.