A heart and mind for solving universal problems
In a small town in Slovakia’s southwest, Romy Mikušincová grew up dreaming about discovering the origin of the stars and the universe. It was her curiosity, she says, that made her interested in pursuing a career in science – specifically in astrophysics and theoretical physics.
Today, she is living her dream. She studies theoretical physics and astrophysics at the Roma Tre University, where she researches one of the greatest mysteries of astrophysics: black holes. Black holes are created when stars at the end of their life become so dense they collapse in on themselves and even light cannot escape their gravity.
Still, there is much to learn.
“The study of black holesisn’t a time-limited projectbecause we discovernew informationevery day”, she says.“Currently, I’m working on a simulationof black hole surveillanceforIXPE (Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer), a satellite that will be launchedby the end of 2021”.
“Giving purpose to my free time”
The time and effortrequired of a theoretical physics student is immense. But even thatis not the only thing that keeps Romy busy.Just as her passion for science grew as a teenager, Romy began another journey as a volunteer for theSlovak Red Cross.“Volunteering was interesting mainly because I wanted to help others, and to give purpose to my free time,” she says.
These days, that free time is mostly spent ona newprojectthat addresses the needs of young peopleby discussingtopics that arenotoften talked about, but which are key social and humanitarian challenges.
“Our main topics arehate-speech, peer pressure,cyberbullying andgender equality,” says Romy, adding that due to Covid-19 restrictions, most of that work today is online.
The study of black holes may seem like light years from the everyday world of young people and volunteering. But to Romy, there is a clear connection. After all, the scientific method of asking questions, investigation and solving complex problems can also be very useful in the human sphere. “It’s a great advantage when someone from a science background enters the volunteering circle with the mindset of dealing with problems until they are solved,” she explains.
Accomplishing great things
This dual path of science and humanitarian concern is not new to Romy. Milan Holota, the director at Romy’s secondary school, said her preference for science-related subjects was clear early on, as was her desire to make the world around her a better place.
“Her favourite (subjects) were the natural science classes, and she was exceptional in her extracurriculars,” he said, referring to her after-school work with the Red Cross, where she became one of its most active members.
But she did not do all of this on her own. She recalls that the support oftwo women –hermother and her secondary school physics teacher– wereessential to her pursuit of a career in science and research.
This kind of support can be essential for young women and girls interested in science. For many, such a pathis blocked by cultural attitudes that steer girls away from male-dominated topics such as mathematics and science.
Accordingto theUNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS),there is a clear gender gapin the science field –only 30 per centof the world’s researchers are women.It was even less in Romy’s class at university.At the beginning of her university studies,onlya fourth of the studentswere women.
“I thinkit is mainly becausegirls are not encouraged topick careers in naturalscience,” she says.“I want to tell allwomen and girls tobuild strong relationshipswith each other,to stop belittling one anotherand to help one anotherbecause I thinkthat’s how we accomplish truly great things”.
Healing the invisible scars of the Ukraine conflict: IFRC and European Union launch mental health project
According to the WHO, one in five people are affected by mental health disorders in post-conflict settings. If left without treatment and adequate support, people from Ukraine face long-lasting effects that could harm themselves, their families and communities.
“Wounds of war are deep, sometimes too deep to manage alone,” says Nataliia Korniienko, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support delegate with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
As a Ukrainian herself who had to leave the country when the escalation began, she understands firsthand the stress faced by those fleeing conflict. “People are craving for someone to take the time to sit alongside them in their pain, but this often lacking for many fleeing Ukraine right now.”
In a regional initiative to meet this massive need, National Red Cross Societies in Ukraine and 24 EU/EAA countries have joined forces to offer mental health and psychosocial support services to hundreds of thousands of people from Ukraine. Funded by the European Union, and with technical assistance from the IFRC and the IFRC Psychosocial Centre, the project connects vulnerable people with mental health professionals and volunteers from the National Societies.
Support is offered in Ukrainian and other languages through various platforms, including helplines, mobile outreach and in-person group activities. Materials on psychosocial support in several languages are also going to be distributed among mental health professionals and the public.
Since the first days of the conflict, Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been assisting people at border crossing points, train stations and temporary shelters – listening and demonstrating empathy, sharing life-saving information, and taking care of vulnerable people.
Aneta Trgachevska, acting Head of Health and Care at IFRC Europe, said: “We try to reach everyone in need in a convenient, personalized way. Assistance will not be limited to just a couple of calls or meetings—a person will receive support as long as we are needed. This kind of early response can alleviate symptoms and prevent people from developing serious levels of distress or even mental health conditions.”
The content of this article is the sole responsibility of IFRC and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
| Press release
Ukraine: Six months in, IFRC warns of ripple effects and mounting humanitarian needs
Geneva/Budapest/Kyiv, 23 August 2022 – Six months into the escalation of conflict in Ukraine, humanitarian needs in and outside the country continue to grow. With the entire humanitarian system stretched, the conflict could have lasting impacts on the capacity of organizations and their donors to respond in Ukraine and to emergencies elsewhere.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Ukrainian Red Cross and 46 other Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies continue to scale up one of their largest responses in history to meet the humanitarian needs.
IFRC President Francesco Rocca says:
“People are at a critical breaking point. The human cost continues to mount, and the suffering has been unimaginable for millions. The devastating knock-on effects are only growing as the conflict drags on with rising food and fuel prices and worsening food crises. IFRC is continuing to scale up with the humanitarian need, but we cannot do it alone.”
In Ukraine and neighbouring countries, inflation, and shortages of essential products, such as fuel and food, impact the ability of people to afford basic supplies. The imminent arrival of colder weather in the weeks to come will bring additional humanitarian needs. While we have seen an incredible outpouring of generosity, these economic strains can affect how much host communities are able to assist people who have fled from conflict. On top of this, people who have fled are stuck between starting over or going back to uncertainty and potentially danger.
The conflict continues to have far-reaching consequences. The cost of food has gone up around the world. Ukraine is one of the world's biggest grain exporters. The country’s grain exports are down 46 per cent so far this year. This massive drop is having a major impact on the Greater Horn of Africa where more than 80 million are experiencing extreme hunger, the worst food crisis in the last 70 years.
As millions of people have been displaced, more than 100,000 local Red Cross volunteers and staff have rapidly mobilized in Ukraine, in bordering countries – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Russia and Belarus – and in 17 additional countries in the region.
Ukrainian Red Cross Director, General Maksym Dotsenko, says:
“People have had to leave everything behind and escape with their lives, many are living and planning day-by-day. With winter around the corner, we know that this will only become increasingly difficult for people who need the basics to survive – a warm place to live, food, goods, and services.”
“Our staff and volunteers continue to work around the clock to support people, even when many worry about their own families and their safety. Yet they continue to put on the Red Cross vest to deliver critical aid to those who need it. We are focused on being adaptable, flexible, and responsive to whatever happens next.”
Much about the future of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine remains unknown. Even if the conflict were to end tomorrow, it will take years to repair the damage to cities and homes and the impact on families. This outlook requires humanitarian organizations, governments, and donors to commit for the long term. New sources of funding and resources will have to be found outside of humanitarian budgets.
Guided by impartiality, the IFRC, along with other members of National Red Cross Red Crescent Societies, will continue scaling up, providing essential humanitarian aid; cash and voucher assistance; healthcare, including mental health support, first aid and medical supplies and care; and water and sanitation.
Note to editors:
We have experts available to provide the latest information from different countries and audio-visuals for use by the media.
For more information and to arrange an interview please contact:
In Budapest: Guy Lepage, +1 (365) 885-3155 (WhatsApp) | +36 204597933 | [email protected]
In Geneva: Jenelle Eli, +1 202-603-6803 |[email protected]
IFRC scales up cash assistance to people impacted by conflict in Ukraine
Three months into the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has distributed financial assistance totalling more than 4.3 million Swiss francs to thousands of people on the move.
IFRC Head of Emergency Operations for the Ukraine response, Anne Katherine Moore, said:
“The longer the conflict continues, the greater the needs become. The cost of basic necessities, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, is rising. Increases in the cost of fuel and apartment rentals are also being reported. Millions of people have lost their jobs and their savings are dwindling. Through a new mobile app, we have been able to ramp up our support to help people facing these financial challenges.”
The new technology makes it possible for the IFRC and responding National Societies to reach people at scale and to deliver cash assistance digitally. Successfully introduced in Romania, the mobile app allows refugees to self-register for assistance online, negating the need and cost involved of having to travel to a central location.
The app will soon be expanded to Poland and Slovakia, where cash assistance is already being provided through more traditional methods such as in-person registration, as well as Ukraine and other neighbouring countries.
“This is the fastest we have ever delivered cash at this scale. It has the potential to be a game-changer for our work not just in this response, but also in future operations,” Moore continued.
Cash assistance is a dignified and efficient way to support people impacted by the conflict, allowing them to purchase items specific to their individual needs, while also supporting local economies. It is one part of our integrated and wide-ranging Red Cross and Red Crescent response to the conflict that also includes the provision of health care, first aid, psychosocial support and the distribution of basic household necessities.
Speaking about next steps, Moore said: “There is no short-term solution to the needs of the more than 14 million people who have been forced to flee their homes. We know that even if the conflict was to end tomorrow, rebuilding and recovery will take years. People have lost their homes, their livelihoods, and access to timely healthcare. The IFRC, in support of local National Red Cross Societies in the region, will be there helping people now, and in the months and years to come.”
Watch: our response 3 months on
During the past three months:
Together, we have reached more than 2.1million people with life-saving aid within Ukraine and in surrounding countries. This is 1 in 10 people who had to flee their homes because of the conflict.
Along the travel routes within and outside Ukraine, we've set up 142 Humanitarian Service Points in 15 countries to provide those fleeing with a safe environment. There, they receive essential services like food, hygiene items, blankets, clothing water, first aid, psychosocial support, information, and financial assistance.
In total, we distributed 2.3 million kilograms of aid.
71,000 Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers are responding to the crisis.
Ukraine conflict: How the Red Cross provides much-needed support to people leaving the country
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.”
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.
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.
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.
| Press release
Ukraine: Millions at risk as health concerns exacerbate vulnerabilities
Budapest/Geneva, 10 March 2022 – As the conflict continues in Ukraine and a cold front descends, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warns of the dire health - including the spread of COVID-19 - and mental health consequences for millions of people both inside and outside of the country.
The fighting in Ukraine has continued for two weeks and no one has been left unscathed. An estimated 18 million people – a third of the country’s population – will need humanitarian assistance, and more than 2.3 million people have fled to neighbouring countries. As the lives of millions are being upended, there is a real concern of diseases spreading, pre-existing health conditions worsening and mental health concerns increasing.
“Many of the people affected were already vulnerable before the conflict and now face an even harsher situation as they are losing their homes and their livelihoods, being forced to seek shelter wherever they can or fleeing their country in search of safety. They urgently need food, water and shelter, but also emergency medical care, protective measures and psychosocial support to avert an even greater humanitarian catastrophe,” said Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, IFRC Regional Director for Europe.
At the Przemyśl railway station in Poland, a woman was crying and being comforted by a volunteer from the Polish Red Cross. When asked what had happened, she answered that she had spent the whole night and day waiting for the train from Ukraine that would bring her daughter to safety. The train had finally arrived, but her daughter had not.
People fleeing conflict often experience highly distressing situations, loss and trauma, which may impact their mental health and ability to cope. Psychosocial support will be needed in the days, weeks, and months to come.
In conflict settings, public health measures to prevent diseases from spreading become extremely challenging. People are forced to shelter in crowded spaces with limited sanitary conditions or access to basic health services, which increases the risk of infectious disease outbreaks, such as tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases. The spread of COVID-19 is a particular concern as the vaccination rate in Ukraine is among the lowest in Europe with only one-third of the population having received the first dose. Ukraine also has one of the highest rates of multidrug resistant tuberculosis in the world.
Adding to what is already a desperate situation, temperatures are dropping below freezing. There is an urgent need for warm clothing and adequate shelter to shield people in temporary locations and those who are queuing at the borders from the elements, the majority of whom are women, children and older people.
“Our Red Cross and Red Crescent teams in Ukraine and neighbouring countries are doing their utmost to support anyone in need, in particular those who are most at-risk including unaccompanied minors, single parent households, older people, and people with disabilities. They have the full support of IFRC and our global network, but more funding is desperately needed as millions of lives are at stake. Even if the armed conflict was to end tomorrow, the humanitarian consequences will be felt for years to come,” said Bischoff Ebbesen.
Notes to editors
In Ukraine, Red Cross teams are providing first aid and first aid training, helping in reception centres and to transport people to safety, and distributing relief items, including warm clothes. Despite the mortal danger they themselves are under, 3,000 new local volunteers have stepped up to support their neighbours.
In Hungary, Red Cross teams are operating three health service points at the border. They are also running reception and collection centres where they are welcoming people crossing from Ukraine and distributing relief goods.
In Poland, where 60 per cent (more than a million) of people from Ukraine are fleeing, the Polish Red Cross has activated more than 20 rescue teams, including approximately 450 medics, who are providing round-the-clock health care and psychosocial support at five of the eight border points as well as in major cities.
In Moldova, volunteers and staff from Moldova Red Cross have provided support to approximately 200,000 people who have crossed over from Ukraine. They are at all border crossing points offering hot tea, warm food, diapers, and personal protective equipment including face masks and sanitizer. Volunteers are also helping at reception centres, assisting with food preparation and playing with children.
In Russia, Red Cross teams have delivered 187 tonnes of aid including clothing, hygiene kits, baby products and household items. They are providing psychosocial support, have opened a mental health support hotline and, to date, have provided 756 consultations. More than 160 calls have come in to the restoring family links hotline.
In Romania, volunteers and staff from the local Red Cross are at various border crossings distributing food items, water, basic necessities, hygiene products, and thousands of SIM cards to people in need. The Red Cross is helping local authorities in equipping reception centres with tents, bedding, food and hygiene and baby items. Volunteers are also visiting placement centres, playing with children and helping local staff to prepare food and other necessary support.
In Slovakia the Red Cross is at all three of the country’s border crossings, where teams are providing services such as warming shelters, referrals to essential services, and first aid. As people are quickly moving on from the border area, the Red Cross is quickly scaling up support along the routes. This support includes psychosocial support and providing child-friendly spaces; social services, particularly referrals for services such as education, healthcare and registration for legal status; providing first aid, health assessments, referrals to clinical care and COVID-19 testing.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
In Budapest: Kathy Mueller, [email protected], +1 226 376 4013
In Budapest: Nora Peter, [email protected], +36 70 953 7709
In Geneva: Caroline Haga, +358 50 598 0500, [email protected]
Read more about the IFRC's emergency appeal for Ukraine and impacted countries.
Photos and videos:
Ukraine - Romania - Hungary - Croatia - Poland - Slovakia - Russia - Moldova - IFRC Newsroom
Russia-Ukraine: International armed conflict
More than one year on from the escalation of international armed conflict in Ukraine, the devastation continues to affect every aspect of people's lives. Many of the millions who fled are unable to return home, and those who remain face dire conditions, with limited access to water, heat, health care and other essential services. The impacts on people's mental health, whether they are inside or outside of Ukraine, continue to grow. Through this Emergency Appeal, the IFRC continues to support the Ukrainian Red Cross and other National Societies in the region who are standing side-by-side with communities, providing crucial and long-term humanitarian aid to meet a wide range of needs.
Slovak Red Cross
You’re sick of lockdown. When will all this end? Well, maybe we have the perfect antidote.
Europe is experiencing the fastest rise in Coronavirus infections in the world and health systems in many countries in our region are approaching breaking point. Yet worryingly, we are witnessing an alarming rise in people saying they are sick and tired of being restricted.
Worrying signs abound that people are failing to take the second wave seriously. Many countries have seen protests against new lockdown restrictions, and in Turkey, a Red Crescent survey  found that despite high levels of awareness, some people are less inclined to follow preventive measures now compared to in the early stages of the outbreak.
This pandemic fatigue is only set to worsen as people see the end in sight due to the promising vaccine news and as they’re tempted to buck restrictions of the looming long, dark winter of lockdowns.
But there are things you can do to get through this time and make yourself feel better.
Your actions now are critical and can make a real difference. Consider where we are. With almost 16 million confirmed cases, and 350,000 deaths, Europe accounts for more than half of the new cases globally.
But one of the best ways you can combat pandemic fatigue is to do something that you know is making a real difference, like volunteering for your local Red Cross or Red Crescent. Many of our European Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and branches are desperate for fresh faces and more helping hands as we adapt our work to respond to this unprecedented emergency.
The Coronavirus pandemic has seen a shift from our traditional work and a move into new areas of assistance, as we respond rapidly to the second wave hitting Europe. We’re stepping in to fill gaps in hospitals and health clinics, we are alongside health authorities as they carry out mass testing, we’re supporting the most vulnerable so they don’t fall between the cracks and we’re reaching out to those who are most isolated and alone to defeat loneliness but also to take the dog for a walk or do the shopping.
Our work during the second wave includes in Slovakia where 1,500 local Red Cross personnel are supporting a programme aiming to test the entire adult population; in the Czech Republic we’re training thousands of new volunteers to work in hospitals as hundreds of health workers become sick, French Red Cross staff and volunteers are operating mobile testing units at train stations across Paris and Kyrgystan Red Crescent volunteers are providing first aid and transport for coronavirus patients around the clock.
Many of us are just tired of the relentless nature of this pandemic and are feeling there’s nothing we can do to end it. But there is a lot one person can do. You can play your part by staying the course. Practise social distancing, wear a mask, wash your hands, avoid crowds.
The sorts of thing you might be doing include working on telephone support lines, being part of a team preparing and delivering food, cash and other aid, supporting a mobile testing site or being a friendly face and a listening ear for someone who might not have any other human contact that day.
I can tell you these things are making a difference. In fact, our volunteers tell us that they get back as much as they give.
I urge you to join us. We need you, and you just might find that you need us.
| Press release
COVID-19: Red Cross Red Crescent steps up European response, urges Governments to strengthen testing, tracing and isolation measures
Budapest/Geneva, 11 November 2020 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is urging Governments to strengthen their “test-trace-quarantine” systems to help prevent future surges of COVID-19.
This call comes as multiple European countries put in place new restrictions to stop community transmission and to avoid the collapse of health systems.
Francesco Rocca, IFRC President, said:
“The recent restrictions across Europe signal that more must be done, and we see ourselves as a critical piece of that puzzle. We understand that these measures are difficult for many people, but they are needed to both flatten the curve and provide an opportunity to fix what hasn’t been working.
“In many countries, we have been supporting local authorities in testing, contact tracing and isolation measures. This system can be effective only when it can be carried out fully and in a coordinated way. We are scaling up these critical activities across more countries. No one wants this second wave to be followed by a third or a fourth.”
Across Europe, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are supporting embattled health systems by conducting COVID-19 testing, transporting patients and providing psychosocial support. They are also offering a range of services designed to ensure that highly vulnerable people can complete everyday tasks, including grocery shopping and picking up medicines, while still fully complying with restrictions.
However, with the situation worsening in many countries, the Red Cross and Red Crescent stands ready to do more, said IFRC President Rocca:
“Our collective effort to prevent transmission will pay dividends going forward. We offer our help to ensure the worst can be behind us and lockdowns won’t be necessary in the future. National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are already supporting their own local authorities to flatten the curve, stop the spread of the virus and save lives – and we stand ready to do more.”
In France, Red Cross volunteers are supporting walk-in COVID testing units at railway stations across Paris. In Monaco, Red Cross volunteers are helping rapidly escalate the country’s testing regime. In the Netherlands, Red Cross volunteers are on hand to assist scaled-up testing and crowd control at numerous testing sites. And in Georgia, the local Red Cross is training medical students in testing for COVID-19 to supplement its ramped-up response to the pandemic, an effort that now involves tens of thousands of volunteers.
Red Cross teams in Slovakia are helping authorities test every person in the country. In the Czech Republic, Red Cross volunteers are training thousands of people to support health care workers in hospitals and in Italy, the Red Cross has deployed several field hospitals and has strengthened its ambulance services to support local health systems, as well as providing psychosocial support.
“Our volunteers have been doing all they can to ensure peoples’ needs are met in a safe manner with as many COVID-19 precautions in place as possible – and we will need to do more. Above all, we want to thank all people who have been helping for months on end to serve their communities. It will be a long path, but together, I know we can succeed,” Francesco Rocca said.
More than 300,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Europe, and in the past week the region has registered more than half of all new infections reported globally.