Shoes, then toys, then clothes: The three most popular items for Ukrainian refugees

The Art of Coffee chain has set up a charity centre in Dublin for refugees from Ukraine

Marta Dziuma and Svitlana Dovban, both volunteers at the Palyanytsya Ukrainian Charity Centre at Clarendon Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Among the many items in 44 Clarendon Street are rows and rows of pre-worn boots, shoes and sandals, neatly lined up, awaiting new owners. These items of footwear will be claimed in the coming days by the Ukrainian refugees who have fled their country, carrying little except documents, babies and courage.

Displayed in the window of the newly-created Palyantsya Charity Centre is their mission statement: "The purpose of this centre is to provide displaced people from Ukraine with clothing and essential items."

The centre opened yesterday, and was set up by the Art of Coffee in a shop space that was vacant. By noon, according to Marta Dziuma, already more than 100 people had availed of the service.

Dziuma came to Ireland from Ukraine four years ago, and is working as a volunteer and translator at the centre.

Shoes on display at the Palyanytsya Ukrainian Charity Centre. The purpose of the centre is to provide refugees from Ukraine with clothing and essentials. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Also volunteering there was Svitlana Belimenko, who only arrived in Ireland one week ago from near Zaporizhzia. Belimenko, who is putting clothes on hangers, came with her two daughters and two grandchildren, one a newborn. One of her daughters is pregnant. “My husband and two sons stayed behind,” she said. It was one of her sons who advised the family to come to Ireland.

They came with nothing except documents. They had lived through days and nights of rockets, and seeing bombs being dropped from planes. “We were sheltering in a bunker overnight, and when we came out, we heard there was a train going,” she explains. They did not return home to collect anything. They got on a succession of trains and buses, queued at the border for 19 hours, and arrived in Ireland after 12 days of travelling.

The centre contains toiletries, sanitary products, clothes for men, women, and children, toys, books and baby food. Everything is laid out like in a second-hand shop, except there are no prices on anything: everything is free. All items have been donated by the public, and were collected off-site. (There is no facility to accept donations at 44 Clarendon Street itself.)

Stock at the Palyanytsya Ukrainian Charity Centre at 44 Clarendon Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

According to Marta Dziuma, the most requested items are footwear, then toys, and then clothes. The Belimenko family came with only the clothes they were wearing.

Irina Latyntseva is standing with her four-year-old twin boys and their seven-year-old brother, watching as they choose toys. One twin holds up a Batman figure with a shout of glee. The family fled from Kyiv, and are now staying in the Address Connolly Hotel on Amiens Street, which is closed to the general public until “at least the 30th of June”, according to its website. Latyntseva’s husband came with her, as their eldest son has special needs.

Svitlana Dovban helping Anastasia Suvikova, who arrived in Ireland on March 18th. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

“We are trying to get the twins into kindergarten. We came to Ireland because we heard they have schools for children with special needs. That was our main priority for coming here,” she says, patting the head of her eldest son, who is holding onto her tightly.

Svitlana Dovban left her home in Odessa on March 2nd, and arrived in Ireland on March 8th. She travelled alone. She too is now volunteering at the Palyantsya centre; striking in her black padded jacket and bright-pink coat, which she was wearing when she left Ukraine.

“I came to Ireland because it is far from the war and it feels safer, because it is a neutral country,” she says. Her home has since been destroyed by shelling. “I came with one small bag,” she says. “I need to start again from the beginning.”