A Cork-based teacher who travelled to the border between Ukraine and Poland with a minibus full of medical and humanitarian supplies for children in two orphanages said the recipients were in tears at the thoughts of the kindness of people who had donated aid.
Cormac O’Brien, who works as a guidance counsellor in Skibbereen Community School, travelled to the border during the recent Easter holidays.
The students in his Cork secondary school had engaged in various fundraisers to raise funds for the trip, while the medical items were supplied at cost price by a local pharmacist.
Mr O’Brien played down his volunteer role but said their donations had a big impact on the local people on the Polish side of the Ukraine border.
“It was a drop in the ocean, but it meant an awful lot to the people on the ground. I met people in tears at the thought that I had come all the way from Ireland with so many supplies. The support I got was great,” he said.
The teacher, who spent ten days overall on his goodwill voyage, said two things resonated with him from his recent trip.
“The two things that stood out most from my trip was the generosity of the Polish people and the human element of this war. I didn’t get into the orphanage after I arrived as there was a Covid outbreak there. There is a reception centre next door for refugee families. I left the medical and humanitarian aid with them. It is like a sports hall with beds.
“There was a husband and wife co-ordinating the place. They told me stories of the people in the centre. They said the first few weeks the people were escaping the war and they got out before it got bad. The last few weeks they had people who encountered the Russian soldiers, and both the mothers and the children had a horrendous experience,” he added.
Mr O’Brien said the medical and humanitarian supplies from Cork were also repacked and distributed for people in Ukraine.
We got on good. The journey was intense but fine. Everything went without a hitch. Everything we hoped to do, we achieved. We delivered the aid to the two orphanages just outside Warsaw. Some of this aid was repackaged as it was required in Ukraine, so they divided up the supplies and they sentover a third of it back into the Ukraine. You would get to the border in 1.5 hours from Warsaw.
"The village Otwock where I dropped the aid has a population of 20,000 people,” said the guidance counsellor. “They have taken in 15,000 refugees. Everyone in that village has taken in a person or a family. They are just doing what needs to be done. I was so impressed by the generosity of the Polish people.”
On his return trip home, the Cork based teacher brought back three Ukrainian citizens to Skibbereen town. Mr O’Brien said the three family members have a ‘new start’ here, but they still have family members at home which represents a huge worry.
“I brought back a grandmother, her daughter, and her grandchild. Once I got word that there was a family looking to come back with me, we sourced an apartment for the three of them. The grandmother is from Kharkiv and her daughter and granddaughter were living in Kyiv.
“The mother is a primary school teacher, and her daughter was in secondary school. They had no English.
"They have a new start here, but they still have men folk back home in Ukraine and that is a huge worry for them,” he added.