A FORMER soldier found himself in the middle of a war zone after the Russian Army gatecrashed his birthday celebrations in Ukraine.

Don Rawling, from Burnham on Crouch, flew into the eastern European country on February 19 to celebrate his 60th birthday.

Mr Rawling is a former member of 3 Para and served in the Falklands War.

He travelled to Ukraine because he wanted to “see history”.

He said: “I wasn’t going to go anywhere – it was a real spur of the moment thing.

“I wanted to go on an adventure, to see history unfold for myself.”

Maldon and Burnham Standard: AMONGST THE HISTORY: Don pictured in Kyiv on February 20AMONGST THE HISTORY: Don pictured in Kyiv on February 20

However, just five days later, Vladimir Putin’s Russian Army invaded eastern Ukraine.

Mr Rawling had travelled up to Kharkiv, on the border, as the invasion happened.

He said: “I was in a hotel up there with the owner, his family, and their friends.

“We guarded the doors of the hotel, as there was more food in the hotel than in the supermarkets, and we didn’t want any looters.

“They were bombarding the place on the outskirts, so I decided to come back to Kyiv, and in the afternoon I left on the last train out.

“That evening they invaded the city.”

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Mr Rawling headed to the train station to go to Lviv in the west of Ukraine.

He said: “The station was so busy, and eventually they made it women and children only. I was on the platform waiting when that order came in.

“The atmosphere was calm, but it changed in a nanosecond for the families that thought they were going to safety.”

Mr Rawling helped women and children alongside the elderly to get on to the train, using his body as a buffer to get them through the crowds.

Despite his military background, he did not take up arms to fight, and now plans to do some humanitarian aid work in Lviv.

He said: “I never came here to fight, but when I saw what happened to Kharkiv, I was so tempted.

“I contacted police, militia and have got loads of contacts now.

“But I can go and help in a different way, doing the humanitarian and I have also done my bit on the train stations.

“At the end of the day, you are just one person, but it is important to do whatever you can to help, and it is the small things that really do.”