Ruhi Loren Akhtar saw thousands of people fleeing the nation and watched on as tearful families were split up at the border.
The 31-year-old gave up her job as an NHS podiatrist after being inspired in 2015 to help refugees across the world, founding a charity that has since delivered crucial aid to displaced people in places including Iraq, Greece, Serbia, and Calais.
Ruhi, who is from Morpeth, travelled last month on a relief mission to the Polish border with Ukraine and journeyed into the Ukrainian town of Shehyni, where people have fled to from besieged cities like Kyiv and Mariupol.
More than four million Ukrainians are thought to have fled to neighbouring countries since the Russian invasion in February and a further 6.7 million are displaced within Ukraine.
Ruhi said: “We were walking across the border back into Poland and I remember a woman and a man with their baby. He was tearing up and trying so hard not to cry, obviously he was having to stay behind to fight.
“She turned away and the baby was waving back at the dad, it was so sad.
“They had been travelling for a week and she had another eight hour journey once she got into Poland and had found it really hard to find any accommodation there. She had booked somewhere for a month and hoped to go back home after that, but obviously we don’t know if that will be possible.”
Ruhi also described seeing an elderly Armenian man walking with wooden crutches struggling to get across the border and another large family being split up as the father had a problem with his documentation.
She added: “I just kept thinking about if that was us and I was being split up from my family. If I had to leave my dad or my brother behind it would be awful.”
Ruhi and a team from her charity, Refugee Biriyani & Bananas (RBB), plan to return to Ukraine soon and are fundraising here to help pay for food, water, and other essential supplies they can take to people in need.
She set up RBB after seeing the distressing images of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned after his boat capsized as his family tried to reach Europe in 2015, which left her “unable to sleep at night”.
Ruhi and a group of friends launched an initial mission to provide 2,500 portions of biryani and bananas for all residents of a refugee camp in Dunkirk, France, volunteering while she was still working as a rheumatology podiatrist for the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
She then took a three-year career break, but has now decided to give up her previous career for good to keep helping people in crisis all over the world.
The charity is currently based on the Greek island of Chios and has been involved in providing humanitarian assistance for people living in refugee camps across the globe.
Ruhi told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she had been “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of public support from the UK and elsewhere for people in Ukraine and hoped the crisis would serve as a reminder of other tragedies elsewhere.
She added that reading about the difficulties Ukrainians had faced in obtaining UK visas was “immensely frustrating”, saying: “We need to be ensuring safe passage for all. We are a wealthy Western nation that can support people in their time of need.
“You have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. If this was happening to us in the UK, we would be grateful for any help.”