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It’s hard to imagine the bravery it takes to drive a van into a hotzone on the frontline, artillery fire exploding all around as you try to evacuate as many people as possible. 

Chris Parry didn’t know much about Ukraine before Russia invaded in February last year, but as soon as he saw news of the invasion he knew he had to go to help.

He spent months going into recently liberated villages on some of the most dangerous parts of the frontline where he rescued dozens, perhaps hundreds, of civilians.

Confirmation of his death on Tuesday comes after he and fellow Briton Andrew Bagshaw went missing on Friday after setting out for the embattled city of Soledar.

Originally from Cornwall, 28-year-old Mr Parry was living in Cheltenham and working as a running coach before the war.

He flew out to Poland and then crossed the border into Ukraine on 5 March.

It wasn’t long before he had loaded up a van with supplies and set out to Kharkiv with a few others, taking back roads and on the lookout for the Russian soldiers that could be anywhere.

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“It was a ghost town,” he told Sky News in November.

“We were driving on the main highway into Kharkiv from the south and I remember passing one tank on the back of a lorry in blizzard-like conditions.

“And there was no one else on the road – and this is like the M5 equivalent so it was very, very peculiar.

“My companions were like ‘yeah this is getting a bit scary now’.”

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Chris spoke to Sky News in November

‘I almost crashed on first trip to Kharkiv’

He said this first experience of the real war was “eye-opening”.

He told Sky News in November: “I look back on it very fondly because it was such a huge adventure.

“We broke down so much and we had so many issues because of the road conditions, we got stuck in the snow, I almost crashed.

“Lots of things happened, but we survived and that’s the most important thing.”

It seems that wherever the battle was hottest, that was where Chris headed, determined to save as many people as he could.

He did evacuation runs out of Severodonetsk as Russian forces closed in, getting people out of the besieged city before it finally fell in June.

“That was getting shelled every minute or so,” he said.

Pic: Chris Parry

‘We were being shelled by artillery… they were watching us’

The time eventually came when he made the difficult decision to tell his parents that he had been working in Ukraine for weeks, and not in Poland as they had thought.

He didn’t want to worry them more than he needed to, but he also wanted to tell his story to spread the word about what was happening in Ukraine and how people could help.

In the days after he went missing, his family praised his compassion and care for others, and spoke of their pride in what he was doing.

Speaking to Sky News about a notable evacuation in a village east of Lyman in November, he described the scary moment they were fired upon by Russian forces.

“We were being shelled by artillery because they were watching us with a drone, and then waiting for us to park up and then they had a minute or two to try and hit us.

“We were getting hit by that quite a lot. So running to the car with people, trying to get in the car and then driving off as soon as possible was pretty high on the priority list.”

Chris Parry has been evacuating Ukrainian civilians from recently liberated villages

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Rescuing a family who had lived in a basement for months

In another operation, he described how he and his team rescued a family that had been sheltering for months.

“I picked up a woman and she had four young children from the age of five to 12, and they had been living in their basement under occupation since March.

“Her husband had been taken by the Russians, so of course they’re extremely concerned about him.

“We eventually got them to safety. In the car they were crying, just terrified.

“But when they came here and they got out and we got them a bed and lights are on, they give me a big hug – they’re just overwhelmed with joy but also at the same time that’s when the shock really hits them.

“Because there’s no more bangs, they’re safe and it’s kind of over. But they’ve left everything behind.”

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British Army has ‘fallen behind’ and ‘needs investment’ – Defence Secretary Ben Wallace tells Sky News

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British Army has 'fallen behind' and 'needs investment' - Defence Secretary Ben Wallace tells Sky News

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has told Sky News that the British Army has “fallen behind its peer group” and “needs investment”.

It comes after Sky News yesterday revealed a US general privately told Mr Wallace that the UK’s armed forces are no longer regarded as a top-level fighting force.

Defence sources revealed the US general said this decline in war-fighting capability needed to be reversed faster than planned in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

US criticism of UK military ‘will be music to Putin’s ears’ – Ukraine war latest

A convoy of Challenger Two tanks drive along a road during media day at.the British army training ground near the northern German town of Belsen

They told Sky News’ defence and security editor Deborah Haynes this should include increasing the defence budget by at least £3bn a year and halting a plan to shrink the size of the army further.

Mr Wallace agreed on the need for “urgent recapitalisation”, but said the government was already investing £34bn into the army’s equipment plan between now and 2033.

“The criticism of ‘it needs to happen now’ is these things don’t ‘happen now’,” he said. “There’s no magic wand, there’s no factories whirring away like car factories where you just press buttons and they come.

“There are only about two countries on the earth that can sustain almost constant production lines – that’s China and the United States. Of course we can seek to buy from abroad, but then there won’t be a UK defence and aerospace industry and we won’t be able to necessarily give our troops the exact equipment they want, so we always have to make that balance.”

Mr Wallace also said countries across Europe were facing “challenges” with their supply chains, adding: “That is what that new money is going towards and that’s why it is important to send a signal to industry to say we are investing – that’s what we did with the defence command paper in 2020 and we will continue to do so.”

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Speaking in the Commons earlier, his defence minister James Heappey said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt understand the army is “in urgent need of recapitalisation” and “there is a budget coming”.

Downing Street said the PM still believes the British Army is a “top-level fighting force” despite the US general’s warning.

Asked about the US general’s private comments on Monday, the prime minister’s official spokesman said “yes” to Mr Sunak believing that the British Army is a top-level fighting force.

He said the government is “ensuring our armed forces have the equipment and capability they need to meet the threats of tomorrow including through a fully funded £242bn 10-year equipment plan”.

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British army is still ‘formidable’

Former secretary general of NATO, Lord Robertson, also disagreed with the US general’s view.

He said: “The fact is that the British armed forces might have been weakened recently but they are still a formidable fighting force – and I think our country can be proud of them.”

Sky News also asked the Pentagon where it places the British army and whether it is becoming too weak to perform its role as a NATO member.

Defense Spokesman, Brigadier-General Patrick Ryder said: ” The United Kingdom is an exceptionally capable and committed ally in NATO and has been second only to the United States in providing military aid to Ukraine.

“The unparalleled defence and security alliance between the US and the UK continues to promote stability and prosperity worldwide.”

Earlier today, Conservative defence committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said people should be “very concerned” about the armed forces’ current capabilities.

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Tory MP: Army is in a ‘dire state’

The senior Tory called on the government to reverse “swathing cuts” to the army because its equipment has become “obsolete”.

Mr Ellwood said there had been “huge investments” into the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force in recent years, but added: “The army is in a dire state.”

He continued: “Our army is simply too small, we have cut down by 10,000 troops.”

European powers like France and Germany have announced plans to boost defence spending significantly following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

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Why is the British Army shrinking?

Mr Sunak has yet to make any meaningful pledge to expand his defence coffers, instead pursuing a “refresh” of a review of defence policy that is due to be published on 7 March ahead of a spring budget that will signal whether there is any new money for the military.

The crisis in defence has been a generation in the making following repeated reductions in the size of the three armed services since the end of the Cold War by successive Conservative, coalition and Labour governments to save money for peacetime priorities.

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British Army ‘no longer top level’

In 2020, Boris Johnson, as prime minister, increased defence spending by £16bn – the biggest uplift since the Cold War, but not enough to plug the gaps.

Mr Sunak has so far resisted calls to follow his predecessor, Liz Truss, to lift defence spending to 3% of GDP by 2030 up from just over 2% at present.

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Firefighters and teachers to strike over pay as public sector walkouts continue

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Firefighters and teachers to strike over pay as public sector walkouts continue

Teachers and firefighters are the latest public sector workers to announce they will go on strike in disputes over pay.

The biggest teachers’ strike in years will go ahead after unions said the education secretary “squandered the opportunity” to avoid action – while firefighters have voted overwhelmingly to walkout after experiencing what their union says is a 12% drop in real-terms earnings.

The latest strikes have been announced as Sky News polling suggests support for trade unions is rising, even though walkouts are bringing public services to a standstill.

The teachers’ strike comes after last-minute talks were held by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan on Monday in a bid to resolve the pay dispute before planned strikes this week.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in England and Wales will now walk out on Wednesday, with more industrial action planned in the following weeks.

Wednesday’s strike is expected to include up to half a million workers, with teachers due to be joined by train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers, bus drivers and security guards from seven trade unions in what will be the biggest day of industrial action in more than a decade.

Government ‘squandered’ chance to avoid strike by teachers

The NEU has announced seven days of strikes in England and Wales in February and March, with the walkout on Wednesday expected to affect over 23,000 schools.

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “Gillian Keegan has squandered an opportunity to avoid strike action on Wednesday.

“The government has been unwilling to seriously engage with the causes of strike action.

“Real-terms pay cuts and cuts in pay relativities are leading to a recruitment and retention crisis with which the education secretary so far seems incapable of getting a grip.

“Training targets are routinely missed, year on year. This is having consequences for learning, with disruption every day to children’s education.”

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Meanwhile, a headteachers’ union boss has described the talks with Ms Keegan as “deeply disappointing”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Parents will have been looking for the government to avert the planned strike on Wednesday.

“Instead, the government continues to talk around the issues rather than putting anything on the table which allows for any meaningful negotiation.”

Mr Barton added: “We are sorry to report that there is therefore no resolution to the dispute and the strike is set to go ahead.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said after talks failed: “It is hugely disappointing the NEU is continuing with strike action. These strikes will have a significant impact on children’s education, especially following the disruption of the past two years, and are creating huge uncertainly for parents.

“With talks ongoing on a range of issues, including around future pay, workload, behaviour and recruitment and retention, it is clear that strikes are not being used as a last resort.

“I have been clear today that unions do not need to strike to meet with me. I also reiterated my call to union leaders to ask their members to let headteachers know if they intend to strike, helping schools to minimise the impact on children.”

Firefighters likely to strike for first time in nearly 20 years

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Firefighters vote for strike action

Firefighters also overwhelmingly backed strike action, with 88% voting yes on a 73% turnout, it was announced today.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said it has given the government and employers 10 days to to come up with an improved offer which could be put to a vote of members in an effort to avoid strikes.

The last time there was a nationwide walkout by firefighters was in 2003.

Firefighters have experienced a 12% drop in real-terms earnings since 2010, the union says, while around one in five firefighter jobs have been cut in the same period.

It comes after members rejected an offer of a 5% pay increase in November, which unions argued was below-inflation and would be felt as a real-terms cut by workers.

The FBU argued polling has previously shown there is strong public support for strike action by firefighters, with around three in five people backing action.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This is an absolute last resort for our members. The responsibility for any disruption to services lies squarely with fire service employers and government ministers.

“Rishi Sunak’s government has refused to make funding available for a decent pay offer to firefighters and control staff.

“Firefighters were among Britain’s COVID heroes who kept frontline services going during the pandemic. The prime minister has badly misjudged the public mood by imposing pay cuts on key workers.”

The strike announcement comes after research by the FBU and the University of Central Lancashire found firefighters are more likely to die of cancer than the general public.

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Teachers’ strike to go ahead after education secretary ‘squandered the opportunity’ to avoid action, union says

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Teachers' strike to go ahead after education secretary 'squandered the opportunity' to avoid action, union says

Talks between the education secretary and the teaching unions have failed and the biggest teachers’ strike in years will go ahead.

Last-minute talks were held by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan on Monday in a bid to resolve a teachers’ pay dispute ahead of planned strikes this week.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in England and Wales will now walk out on Wednesday, with more industrial action planned in the following weeks.

The strike on Wednesday is expected to encompass up to half-a-million workers, with teachers due to be joined by train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers, bus drivers and security guards from seven trade unions in what will be the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade.

The NEU has announced seven days of strikes in England and Wales in February and March, with the walkout on Wednesday expected to affect over 23,000 schools.

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “Gillian Keegan has squandered an opportunity to avoid strike action on Wednesday.

“The government has been unwilling to seriously engage with the causes of strike action.

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“Real-terms pay cuts and cuts in pay relativities are leading to a recruitment and retention crisis with which the education secretary so far seems incapable of getting a grip.

“Training targets are routinely missed, year on year. This is having consequences for learning, with disruption every day to children’s education.”

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Fresh wave of strikes this year- who is taking action and when
Firefighters set to strike for first time since 2003 after real-terms earnings ‘drop by 12%’

In a separate comment, Mr Courtney said: “I regret to say that we didn’t hear anything that enables us to say that the strike shouldn’t go ahead on Wednesday.

“There’s no offer from the secretary of state trying to bridge the gap between us.”

Meanwhile, a headteachers’ union boss has described the talks with Ms Keegan as “deeply disappointing”.

Following the meeting with the education secretary, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Parents will have been looking for the government to avert the planned strike on Wednesday.

“Instead, the government continues to talk around the issues rather than putting anything on the table which allows for any meaningful negotiation.

“It is deeply disappointing.”

Mr Barton added: “We are sorry to report that there is therefore no resolution to the dispute and the strike is set to go ahead.”

The teachers’ strike was confirmed shortly before British firefighters voted to carry out nationwide action in a dispute over pay.

About 88% of members of the Fire Brigades Union had voted in favour of strike action, on a 73% turnout, the union said.

Its members had rejected a 5% pay offer in November.

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