“It breaks your heart. The confusion, the exhaustion, the sadness – it’s soul destroying.”
Galway’s Ronan Scully is currently on the border of war-torn Ukraine with Self-Help Africa and the Irish Emergency Alliance. Over the last two weeks, 2.2 million have crossed over the various Ukrainian borders into surrounding countries to escape the relentless Russian attacks.
We reached out to him as he helps with the humanitarian effort to provide food, blankets, and emotional support to over 145,000 people fleeing for their lives in Slovakia. With his voice breaking, he describes the turmoil faced by those in crisis who are seeking refuge in freezing temperatures at Vyšné Nemecké.
“On Tuesday, an 11-year-old boy arrived at the crossing,” he says.
“He was alone, and his mother stayed back to fight in the war. She wrote the phone numbers of his relatives on his arm, and they were there to meet him. All in all, it breaks your heart.
“Moreover, it is mostly women and children who are arriving here. Many have been dropped off by their husband or father, who then return to the battlefront.“
Ronan describes how for some; friends and family are waiting with open arms to pick them up. For others, they face cold nights in tents waiting to be processed as they have nowhere to go. It follows a long and hazardous journey to make it to safety.
“Thankfully, there is a sense of relief when they get to the border. Here, they have access to food, blankets and water,” he says. To see them carrying their pets, to see children with a teddy bear – I can’t but think of my own family.
Marianna at the border seeking refuge.
“For example, one lady I met, Marianna, walked 150 miles to make it here. Her husband drove as far as he could, around 200 miles, and had to turn around as he needed the diesel to get back to fight in the war. She said to me ‘being on the Ukraine side of the border is living and waiting in hell. Coming across to the Slovakian side of the border is like arriving in heaven’. You’d cry at night to see how broken they are, hoping they are going to be alright.”
For Ronan, a huge part of his role with Self Help Africa is to “give them hope.” He has years of expertise helping on the front line in areas of unrest across Africa.
Together with the Irish Emergency Alliance, they are bringing this expertise to support the people of Ukraine, teaming up with Slovak Aid to buy and distribute vital supplies – especially for the Victor Francheska Hospital in Ukraine.
The Irish Emergency Alliance is a consortium of charities. Essentially, they formed two years ago to respond to crisis situations. Consequently, they provide a coordinated response by teaming up and working together As part of this response, Self Help Africa has joined humanitarian workers near Velky Berezny in Ukraine. Fundamentally, their role is to help people waiting for border control. In addition, they are also part of the effort in Vyšné Nemecké – where Ronan is based. Lastly, they are monitoring the smaller border crossing of Ubla. With numbers increasing daily on the Slovakian border, the small locality of Vyšné Nemecké is at crisis point. Those who have made the long journey to escape the Russian invasion can wait up to two days at the border with temperatures dropping as low as minus 10 at night.
“It is very cold,” says Ronan. “But there are thousands of people helping here. In this way, we provide healthcare, covid checks, hot food, even mobile phone chargers and sim cards. Not only that, but the Slovakian people too have been brilliant. As a result, we have been able to put our expertise to good work to save people’s lives. However, it really is about emotional support. Above all, those who have streamed over the border over the last few days are completely broken. Their whole livelihoods are gone. In essence, they don’t know if they will see their husband, their father, their granddad again. Ultimately, we want to give them hope. At the end of the day, we want to give them a hug. They come with everything they own in suitcases or a haversack on their backs. It’s dreadful.”
How can we help?
Make a donation:
To: Self Help Africa, Westside Resource Centre, Seamus Quirke Road, Westside, Galway.
Make a credit or laser card donation by phoning (01) 6778880 or 1800-939-979.
Text IEA to 50300.
Organise a fundraising event with friends, family, businesses.
Drop Ronan a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.