Ukraine conflict: How the Red Cross provides much-needed support to people leaving the country

Little Hanna from Kharkiv stands with her mother as they collect a hygiene kit from the Ukrainian Red Cross as they make their way out of Ukraine in late March 2022.

Little Hanna from Kharkiv stands with her mother to collect a hygiene kit from the Ukrainian Red Cross as they make their way out of Ukraine in late March 2022.

Photo: IFRC/Marko Kokic

Insights from the Ukraine-Slovakia border from Kathy Mueller, IFRC Communications Coordinator in the region.

They arrive at the border between Ukraine and Slovakia exhausted after two or three days of travelling. Some come by car. Many others are on foot, carrying bags, dragging suitcases.

Since late February, nearly 6 million people have fled Ukraine to seek safety in other countries.

There are women and there are children. Many, many children. The few men in the line up tend to be older. The younger ones have largely stayed behind to support their country in the conflict.

The youngsters help the weary and worried adults carry their few precious belongings. They wear backpacks with teddy bears attached. One little girl carries her own bag of diapers. While some little ones cling to their mothers with all the strength their tiny hands can muster, older ones run about, excited about the adventure they have been told they are on. Their mothers scramble to corral them.

People come to this border at Uzhhorod crossing all hours of the day and night. Volunteers with the Ukrainian Red Cross greet them. They provide information, food, hot drinks, clothing, and blankets. Decked out in their vibrant red emergency uniforms, they help carry people’s belongings up to the border crossing. Some need wheelchairs and the volunteers jump up to help. Once they cross the border, they will be welcomed by volunteers from the Slovak Red Cross.

Olexander Bodnar is the 23-year-old man who heads up the volunteer team for the Ukrainian Red Cross in Uzhhorod, at the country’s western border. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the team takes shifts at this crossing.

“My team are the most wonderful people on the earth,” he says. “We have so many kind people who have joined us. We have 130 volunteers who have signed up since the conflict began. Many are nurses and doctors.”

Olexander and his partner Diana are a young couple who share a love of volunteering for the Ukrainian Red Cross. They've both been helping people affected by the conflict to flee to Slovakia via the Ozhhorod border crossing, where Olexander leads a team of volunteers.

Olexander and his partner Diana are a young couple who share a love of volunteering for the Ukrainian Red Cross. They've both been helping people affected by the conflict to flee to Slovakia via the Ozhhorod border crossing, where Olexander leads a team of volunteers.

Photo: IFRC/Kathy Mueller

Medical skills are highly valued. In a newly constructed building, the Red Cross has set up a small clinic, stocked with things like baby food and diapers. Cots line one side of the clinic as a place for weary travellers to rest, if only for a little while. It is here that the volunteers perform basic first aid. Many of the older people complain of rising blood pressure. Trained volunteers check it and tell me that most of the time, it’s fine. They are under extreme stress, and some experience panic attacks – a normal reaction during an abnormal event.

Vira from Irpin and Tatiana from Zaporizhzhia both fled their homes with only a rucksack on their backs. They are still having trouble believing what is happening in Ukraine. They talk about the crisis as they sift through hygiene items provided by the Ukrainian Red Cross to help them with their onward journeys.

Vira from Irpin and Tatiana from Zaporizhzhia both fled their homes with only a rucksack on their backs. They are still having trouble believing what is happening in Ukraine. They talk about the crisis as they sift through hygiene items provided by the Ukrainian Red Cross to help them with their onward journeys.

Photo: IFRC/Marko Kokic

Olexander shares a story about an older woman who was leaving her beloved country with her husband, who had just had surgery:

“She fell to her knees and asked God to protect her country. She said ‘My dear Ukraine, please forgive me. I don’t want to leave you, but I must.’”

Tears filled Olexander’s eyes as he helped the couple approach the border crossing.

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The IFRC is supporting the Ukrainian Red Cross, and many other Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the surrounding region, to help people affected by the conflict in Ukraine. Learn more about our work here.