Joy O’Brien, mother, soccer coach, and secretary of the Yeats United club in Sligo, felt she had to do something.
"No more than anybody else, I've been watching the scenes in Ukraine and as a mother of three children, your heart just breaks for them. Up to a few weeks ago they were living their normal lives, going to sleep in their own beds, not a worry in the world. And now they are fleeing from a war."
The desire to do something led to a tournament last Sunday in the sports complex in Cleveragh, Sligo, in which 33 teams of under-12 boys and girls took part. The event raised €3,500 and the money will go to Unicef.
In Waterford, Cormac Cronin, the owner of Bodega Restaurant, along with the local Lions Club, organised a Friday lunch with just two options on the menu. For €30 customers could have steak and chips or fish and chips, a glass of wine or a coffee. Every cent will go to the Red Cross.
Supplies for the lunch were provided free of charge, by Pallas Foods, Limerick, Billy Bourke Fish & Poultry, Waterford, Jerry Walsh Fruit & Veg, Waterford, WineLab, Kildare, and Blue Butterfly Coffee, Waterford.
“We just want to do our bit,” Cronin says. “Everyone knows what is going on [in Ukraine]. It’s just horrendous.”
Corporate Ireland is also stepping up. Law firm Mason Hayes & Curran has donated €50,000, and Bank of Ireland €100,000, each giving the money to Unicef.
The Musgrave Group donated €250,000 to the Red Cross and Unicef at the beginning of March and introduced a “tap to donate €2” mechanism in outlets in the Republic and Northern Ireland. During the week it announced that more than €500,000 had been raised from customers of its Supervalu and Centra stores.
The response in Ireland to what is happening in Ukraine is being mirrored across Europe.
"This is probably the second highest fundraising appeal in recent history, second to the [Indian Ocean] tsunami in 2004," says Brian Casey, director of the Irish Emergency Alliance, speaking about what is happening globally.
People really empathise with what the Ukrainians are going through. It is a lot closer to home than we are used to
The alliance, which represents seven Irish humanitarian and disaster response organisations, is part of an international network of such groups.
There are more than a quarter of a billion displaced people in the world, he says, “but people really empathise with what the Ukrainians are going through. It is a lot closer to home than we are used to”.
The idea of the alliance is that by having one “brand” it can reduce the cost to its member organisations of appealing to the public for support. Casey is its sole employee.
The current members of the alliance, which was established three years ago, are Action Aid, Christian Aid, Plan International Ireland, Self-Help Africa, Tearfund, Trocaire, and World Vision Ireland.
Emilia Sorrentino, an emergency specialist with Plan International Ireland, travelled to Moldova in early March as people suddenly began flooding across the border from Ukraine.
“The situation at the border when I arrived was busy, the numbers were high, and most were women and children. You could see they were distressed. They were exhausted.”
Plan International specialises in promoting children’s rights, and equality for girls. Sorrentino, who spoke to the Irish Times from the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, has worked in the Sahel desert, the Central African Republic, Lake Chad (where the Boko Haram terrorist group caused massive population displacement) and in Jordan (the Syrian crisis).
He lay under the crushed car and watched his mum dying. Horrible. It is gut wrenching
Most of the support at the Ukraine/Moldova border when she arrived was being provided by Moldovan volunteers, with food, water, transportation and other types of assistance being supplied.
“This was fantastic but of course there were also risks involved in terms of the protection of women and children. Risks of trafficking, as of course there were a lot of individuals at the border and you could not recognise who was who. After waiting long hours at the other side, you cross, you are exhausted, you have your children, you will take the help that is offered. So there are definitely clear risks.”
The services have since become better organised, a registration system is being put in place, and a wider range of services being provided. Also the influx coming into Moldova has eased, and some people have returned to Ukraine.
The government has opened its schools to the children and Plan International is helping with school and hygiene kits for refugees.
It also has multidisciplinary mobile groups attending transit centres, providing psychological support and delivering key child protection messages.
James Elder of Unicef who spoke to The Irish Times from Lviv, in western Ukraine, mixed his comments about where Unicef donations are being spent, with tales of individual human suffering.
“I spoke to a 15-year-old boy yesterday, from a town north of Kviv. After being bombarded and bombarded they decided, eventually, to leave. They got into their car and drove away, and literally drove over a landmine.”
The teenager’s right leg is fractured, his left heel is shattered, and he has skull injuries. “He lay under the crushed car and watched his mum dying. Horrible. It is gut wrenching.”
The hospital where the teenager is being treated has received support from Unicef. The global humanitarian service for children has a massive warehouse in Copenhagen from which “a stream of trucks” is constantly delivering supplies to a warehouse in Lviv that is “huge, like an aircraft hangar”.
The material is repackaged, and transported to locations throughout Ukraine, including 40 hospitals and clinics in nine different Ukrainian districts, in some of which medical staff continue to work despite Russian bombardment.
A majority of the [pregnant] women are looking at being preterm now, because of the stress
The Unicef material includes “dignity kits” for women, water and water purification tablets, and generators and pipes to replace damaged water infrastructure.
It also includes “recreation kits” containing footballs, volleyballs, whistles, bibs, nets, and poles, to help counter the stress and trauma that can do long term damage to children confronted by horrors such as the one that has been unleashed in Ukraine.
Bottled water was due to go to the besieged city of Mariupol on the day Elder spoke to The Irish Times, “but we need to wait and see, based on attacks on the so-called humanitarian corridors”.
That day he noticed a woman, due to give birth to twins, and how she was coping so well with having to be in an air raid shelter (“a damp awful basement really”) as sirens wailed outside, rather than be at home, surrounded by family, awaiting what should be a special time for her, her friends and her loved ones.
“A majority of the [pregnant] women are looking at being preterm now, because of the stress.”
James Le Sueur, who is based in Budapest, is head of emergency operations with the Red Cross Federation. As well as Ukraine, the organisation is fully operational in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Belarus and Russia.
There are, he said, about 6.5 million displaced people within Ukraine, and another 3.5 million who have crossed the border. “So 10 million people are on the move, and many more millions are stuck in place in Ukraine.”
Many of those who have crossed the border are continuing to move into third countries. “There are a massive number of people moving into Germany. That seems to be one of the countries that is getting the largest number of people.”
The scope of the operation, he said, is “unprecedented” in terms of its scale and the suddenness with which it has developed.
Both Unicef and the Red Cross are working on a model for providing money – though not cash, for security reasons – directly to the people who have been forced to flee their homes.
Aid agencies have in recent years decided that this is a particularly efficient way of helping displaced people, who can then use local markets to access the food, accommodation, medicines, fuel etc that they require.
But in order to fund their operations, the aid organisations are going to continue to require public support.
“I have been head of emergency operations on quite a few operation responses [for the Red Cross] and I have never seen such a donor response,” Le Sueur said.
In Ireland the Red Cross has been the recipient of most of the public’s generosity. It has received more than €20 million, three quarters of that from the public, and the rest from business donors, according to Liam O’Dwyer, secretary general of the Irish organisation.
To date €5.7 million has been earmarked for direct forwarding to the Ukraine operation, with the rest being held back, for now, so it can be used to help the people of Ukraine rebuild their lives. But this strategy remains under constant review, given that the violence continues.
The organisation has a practice of allowing up to 7 per cent of the funds it receives to be used for administration and fundraising expenses.
The Irish Emergency Alliance has a similar policy, though the plan is that the 7 per cent figure will be reduced as the income raised through the alliance grows in scale. Member organisations are given the money and can spend up to 6 per cent of what they receive on costs, though many do not, says Casey.
The alliance has received approximately €750,000 for Ukraine. It hopes that its capacity to raise funds will increase as the public becomes more familiar with what it is trying to do.
Unicef Ireland has raised about €9.5 million to date, and plans to spend 80 cent from every euro on helping children in Ukraine, a spokesman said.
Other Irish charities have also made Ukrainian fund appeals, and the calls for public support are unlikely to cease in the short term.