E&M Authors Clémentine Dècle-Classen and Sindre Langmoen are working on the publication of a series of conversations with those involved in the grassroots support for Ukrainians. This article gives a small preview of the articles to come.
From Vienna to The Hague, the Russian invasion of Ukraine triggered a wide range of individual initiatives to support Ukrainians — those remaining at home or seeking refuge in Europe. Over the next couple of issues, E&M will publish a series of long-form conversations with a variety of different people who have involved themselves in the support of Ukraine, through the delivery of supplies, the transport or hosting of refugees, and much more. We will explore their motivations, their experiences, reflections, projects and hopes. We will detail how their efforts were started, organised, as well as note the failures along the way, and the glaring holes of refugee policies in the European Union.
It is an honour to share the stories of Juliette, Maurits, Chloe, Antje, Henryk, Zeynep, and Eduard, previews of which you may enjoy before the release of the full articles:
Juliette — In Vienna, on a cold winter evening shortly after the invasion began, Juliette, a French student in Economics & Sustainability, brought her sleeping bag to a classmate collecting donations to bring to refugees at the Hungarian border. A driver was needed to deliver the supplies and Juliette was happy to volunteer. As they arrived at the border with a few other cars, “it just felt so real” that Juliette and her classmate decided to put their lives on hold for a month and regularly drive between Vienna, Budapest and the border: not only to deliver supplies, but also driving Ukrainians back from the border to somewhere safe, as sufficient means of transportation had not yet been provided.
Maurits — Meanwhile, in The Hague, a Dutch man named Maurits organised a protest against Russian aggression already a month before the invasion. He used to live in Kyiv and has a special bond with Ukraine. He has been visiting his friends there regularly, but since the invasion those trips took on a new significance. After helping multiple people flee westwards, he now brings thousands of euros worth of equipment destined for his friends and acquaintances on the front. This includes night vision goggles, bulletproof vests, or thermal wear for women (which are lacking on the front). Soon, he hopes that he will bring not only suitcases or backpacks alone, but entire busloads of supplies eastwards.
Anastasia — Anastasia (name changed) is Ukrainian, living in the Netherlands, but was visiting her family when the invasion began. Since the eruption of the war, she has hosted her family as refugees, organised and participated in crowdfunding donations to support those affected by the violence, as well as purchased and brought a drone to her friend who is fighting on the front. However, working alone, she soon reached the limits of how much she could contribute, coordinate and crowdfund by herself.
Antje & Henryk — In Leipzig, Germany, the neighbours and friends Antje and Henryk provided a home and assistance to over 85 refugees. As the war broke out, they decided to join a group of volunteers who drove to the Polish border to meet the arriving refugees and help them seek shelter in Germany. Through their contacts with the real estate industry, they had the capacity of hosting and registering several dozen people fleeing the war, while doing their best to meaningfully help their guests integrate.
Zeynep — On the other side of Germany, in Stuttgart, Zeynep also took upon herself the responsibility of assisting the arriving Ukrainians. Zeynep has faced war before, as well as the experience of being a foreigner in Germany. Born and raised in Turkey, the effects of organised violence – whether terrorist bombings, insurgency or collapsing neighbouring states – have influenced her development as a person. Later, in Syria, she worked with refugee children in Syria while the war was going on, and reached a deeper understanding of how much their development and perspective as children had been warped by disruption, violence and death. Intimately familiar with the situation in which the fleeing refugees found themselves, Zeynep began volunteering in all the ways she could, principally by hosting a mother and her son for months, helping newcomers find housing and navigating the German system.
Eduard — Eduard is a German from Russia, and was in Georgia when the war broke out. Georgia was also the previous victim of Russian aggression, and 20 percent of Georgian territory is still under Russian occupation in a manner similar to the Donbas. During his time in Tbilisi, he witnessed strong solidarity among Georgians with Ukraine’s plight, which inspired him to help as he could. Through his international network, he knew a number of people linked to the Ukrainian medical sector and as soon as he returned to Germany he reached out and offered his help. While the journey has been eventful and not always successful, he succeeded in connecting people — those who need something with those who can provide it. Eduard organised the collection and transport of medical supplies, raised money and transported people back to safety in Germany. His engagement resulted in the local initiative „Helfe Ukraine Gütersloh“ which today still supports a network of over 80 Ukrainians in Germany.
Image by Mathias Reding