Ukraine aid from Ireland: ‘You can’t not do something’

Donations of food, toys and essentials flow in race to help displaced Ukrainians

As impromptu donation drives sprang up around Dublin to help Ukrainian refugees streaming into Poland and elsewhere, Kasia and Daniel Kuty quickly ran out of space in their Lucan home.

"[It's] like a huge Tesco. We can't walk, we can't sit, we can't cook because it's full," Kasia says of the magnitude of handouts people have been dropping off there since the weekend.

Sorting through a mixture of clothing, pillows, sleeping bags and other essentials, the Polish couple appears giddy but overwhelmed both by the volume and spirit of response.

“It’s unreal. I am so proud of these people,” Daniel says. “Random people; all nationalities, all people.”


Across the city and no doubt further afield, a makeshift community effort to send supplies to refugee camps is accelerating as quickly as it can cope with the flashflood of donations.

For the Kutys, who have lived in Ireland for 16 years, it is not just the amount of goods, it is the scale of social media messages and offers of assistance.

They say they have been in contact with local officials in Poland and with the Wosp Foundation, the country's largest charity, to better target and distribute their efforts. All the while the people keep coming, mostly with young children in tow – to "explain how to share with a tragedy", Daniel says.

Goods vs money

On Monday, the Irish Red Cross advised against sending goods to affected areas, saying it was better if people donated money to organisations responding to the crisis in Ukraine as they could source emergency relief goods locally. It said sending physical good could add more stress to logistics on the ground. An Post on Tuesday said donations to the Red Cross and Unicef could be made without a fee at any outlet.

Among those collecting and packaging goods for refugees, however, there is an overwhelming sense that they need to do something directly themselves.

In Inchicore, west Dublin, a mezzanine platform at the Rascals Brewing Company normally used for visitor tours, has been stockpiling bags and boxes of goods destined for Rzeszów, the largest city in southeastern Poland, about 2,400km from Dublin.

The company's marketing manager Joe Donnelly is stunned by the level of donations, fielding calls and watching people stop by with whatever they have to give.

“No we can’t take mattresses in,” he tells an upset woman on the phone. “An air bed? Is it new?”

Rascals’ restaurant manager Dorota has a brother-in-law who is driving the truck to Poland himself. Since last Saturday afternoon, the company transformed itself into a temporary collection point.

“We have been absolutely overwhelmed ever since,” says Joe. “Literally, literally, we cannot cope.

Women and children

“It’s been breathtaking it really has. I thought to myself on Saturday evening I will buy a few things just in case we don’t get a big response [but] you should see the place here, it’s absolutely astonishing. Part of our business is packaging and distribution so we are really well-placed to manage the logistics of this.”

There is a certain uniformity to donation requests. The messages circulating on social media and in community WhatsApp groups stipulate dried foods, hygiene and medical supplies, baby food, toys. Most of the requests are focused on women and especially children.

Standing outside her apartment in Baldoyle, Romanian mother Sonia Craciun explains that her efforts are focused on the children, many of whom will be among the tens of thousands who have sought shelter in her home country.

Her tumble dryer rattles noisily in the background; she is drying donated clothes and cleaning shoes, she explains, much of which has come from neighbours. A Romanian transport company will send the materials on a bus on Wednesday night.

“I saw all these images with kids and they have only one toy with them and everything else left behind. It’s more about the kids,” she says, visibly upset. “Let’s see how many people we still get [in Romania] because we are at 43,000. So there is more to come for sure.”

Early on Monday morning, not long after sending out a local community appeal, Eileen Staunton and her husband were clearing out their small garage in their Sutton home, making space for whatever would come. A handful of hours later, car and van loads of donations began to arrive.

“You can’t not do something,” she says matter-of-factly at her kitchen table. “I am just thinking of the three million people that live in Kyiv and it looks as if they will probably leave.”

Her neighbour and fellow organiser, Lilly Molloy-Connolly, says that with supplies arriving so quickly, they are beginning to wonder if the one truck they have arranged for Friday will be sufficient, particularly given they have been offered bulk baby product donations from an Irish company.

“We have an outrageous amount of stuff,” she says, unconsciously touching on the scale of response few involved in this humanitarian push might have expected when they set out. “We will probably need a couple of trucks.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times