Group from West Cork town send lorry of humanitarian aid to Ukraine

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, a group of people from Castletownbere in West Cork rallied together in solidarity with a man who has been part of the community for nearly 20 years to provide assistance to his home country.
Group from West Cork town send lorry of humanitarian aid to Ukraine

James Cox

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, a group of people from Castletownbere in West Cork rallied together in solidarity with a man who has been part of the community for nearly 20 years to provide assistance to his home country.

Viktor Frolov has worked as a mechanic in Castletownbere for 17 years, and his first reaction was that he wanted to return to Ukraine to aid in the fight against the Russian invasion.

However, friends and colleagues convinced him that he could make a contribution from Ireland.

Paul O'Shea, Viktor's boss and one of the organisers of the appeal, told "When the invasion started, Viktor's home city Ivano-Frankivsk was shelled on the first day, three or four times, and naturally enough thoughts turned to his family, and joining the army he felt he could add something to it, loyalty to his country and the rest.

"Viktor was getting anxious to go home, Martin who is a senior mechanic in the garage here had a chat with Viktor and said ‘what can you add to it? You can do something better here by staying at home'. We had the idea at that stage."

The Castletownbere Fishermen's co-op supplied a lorry, and local man Jason Quirke volunteered to drive from West Cork to the Poland-Ukraine border, a 5,000km round trip.

Mr Quirke's father Tony has also driven lorries to the Ukraine, and they were both involved in similar trips with Chernobyl Aid Ireland in the past.

Once the lorry and driver had been secured, Mr O'Shea said Michelle McAdoo, a friend based in Ballincollig, helped to extend the appeal.

"She saw our appeal for money and had the same idea, so she set up a collection in Ballincollig GAA. They have a big Polish community and there was a Polish man already going over with a van full of aid, and they said if they could get beyond the one van-full, anything excess we could have."

This resulted in €70,000 worth of high-quality products for the appeal.

"They filled two big vans, and we brought €70,000 worth of high quality stuff, no clothes, it was all personal hygiene products, dry food, torches, batteries, baby food, all that kind of stuff. Enough toothpaste for the west coast of Ireland, I never saw so much toothpaste. Coupled with our own appeal, we looked for things like jackets and sleeping blankets, sleeping bags. We also had people come with money."

Locals in Ballincollig and Beara contributed to the aid. Picture: Paul O'Shea

Castletownbere locals stepped up and a total of €28,000 in cash was donated along with more essential products.

"The amount of stuff coming in, high quality stuff. Warm jackets, baby clothes. Because the money was donated locally we ended up with around €28,000, so we went to some local businesses, and they donated bandages, plasters," said Mr O'Shea.

"It will be sorted on the Ukrainian border for needs, and we felt we should give the rest of the money to the Red Cross because they know what they need as they’re there on the ground."

A number of local businesses went above and beyond in support of the appeal, including the likes of  J&D Wiseman, Harrington's Arro Home and Garden, Daybreak, Cross Pharmacy, Berehaven Pharmacy and Hanley's Drapery.

Mr O'Shea said one donation in particular, from an elderly couple from Bere Island, would live long in his memory.

Jason Quirke drove the lorry of high-quality aid to the Polish border.

"One thing that stood out for me, I was picking up a bag of clothes from a lady who came over on the Bere Island Ferry with her husband, a senior couple, donated €150 from their pension. If there was a moment that convinced me we were doing the right thing it was then."

Mr Quirke departed on St Patrick's Day to a "great round of applause" at the local parade, and reached the Polish border four days later where the aid was moved to another lorry for sorting.

"Jason would take the lorry into the middle of Ukraine if he could, he has no fear. It wouldn’t enter his head, he’s an experienced truck driver, nearly 50 and driving his whole life... he knows the drill," Mr O'Shea said.

"There is a lot of camaraderie with truck drivers, and he dealt with a Polish agent out there, and had been in contact with the Polish Embassy, so knew exactly what was happening before he left.

"He was in Cherbourg by 4pm the second day, then 750km to Eindhoven, then east of Frankfurt to the border between Germany and Poland, and then he drove nearly 500km again to finish the journey.

The lorry departs Castletownbere during the St Patrick's Day parade. Photo: Paul O'Shea

"If ever there was a man to take on this job, it was him. His father Tony was out last week with a load, and he’s going back again after that."

Mr O'Shea said Ukrainian refugees would be "welcomed with open arms" into the Beara community, and that Viktor and other Ukrainians already living in the area had added immensely to all aspects of local life.

"We would welcome Ukrainians with open arms into our community. There are a few already here, their personalities, work ethic, attitude, everything about them is top class. The Beara Peninsula is badly in need of a couple of hundred people.

"Viktor is delighted... he’s the frontman in this, and that’s what we want, to see what he helped to do for his people. People coming in to the garage to donate all wanted to see him and wish him the best, that was a lovely touch and shows a great local understanding of the right thing to do."

Mr O'Shea said the group would now raise funds to help Ukrainian refugees who arrive in the community to settle in.

"In the Beara Peninsula, it’s all about fishing. There’s a huge loss attached to the sea, families understand a lot about grief and loss, if there’s a death at sea, the Beara people will be the first to put their hand in their pocket for charitable funds.

"Every euro helps was our approach, the response was amazing.

"From next week we will keep the fund going and collections of kid’s clothes, school books, footballs, we’re hoping for an influx of people. We want to be here to look after people when they do arrive. We will keep a fund for Ukrainians arriving in the area."

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