Helena Laatio/ Finnish Red Cross
Yelena Khliyan has been working hard since June last year as the chairwoman of Rostov-on-Don regional Red Cross branch. That is when the influx of refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine started.
“There was a catastrophic number of people to our region to be received at the same time”, says the chairwoman about the tens of thousands of refugees which were pouring in at one point in Rostov-on-Don, adding up to 60.000.
During those first days, the Red Cross branch managed to distribute 163 tons of food to the people often arriving with nothing but a suitcase packed in a hurry, as they had to leave their homes under the pressure of heavy shelling.
Upon arrival, the everyday basics for living such as clothes, shoes, bed clothes and hygiene products became their essential needs.
“Travelling here was very difficult with children,” says Natalia, mother of seven young children. “They wanted to go to sleep, they were cranky and suffered from travel sickness. When we got here, all we wanted to do was to get some sleep,” the mother continues.
Trust in Red Cross
“We were well received and were given everything from food to toothbrushes and diapers”, says Irina, another mother who stays in a spacious house together with Natalia. The place they live in is privately owned and was donated to the Red Cross branch, accommodating now about 130 people, of which 70 are children. The local branch also delivers supplies to the house such as food, diapers and other necessities.
The branch set up a fund raising campaign promoted in the different local media platforms. Generous donations from enterprises, businessmen and private people poured in, trusting that the Red Cross will do a good job at assisting the refugees from Ukraine in their basic needs. “We have focussed our activities on the most vulnerable groups of people: the disabled, families with many children and single-parent families” says Khliyan.
A lot of support was given by the local community: “We have been surprised by how people have been willing to give their last to help the refugees,” she adds referring to the many offers of support she received at her office at the time.
Another crucial relationship for the Red Cross branch is that with the local authorities. The effective coordination of their work is essential in relieving the plight of refugees.
In one instance during the summer the already difficult situation of the refugees got worse because of extremely hot temperatures. When the authorities declared a state of emergency the Red Cross was on the ground, providing people with water and medical aid.
Currently, the number of refugees in Rostov-on-Don region is 39.000. Most of them have been accommodated in temporary shelters, and relatives and friends have also welcomed many people to stay in their homes.
Some refugees decided to set up a new home in Russia but many wish to return to their homes. “We want to go home, I have my precious kitchen garden there, children’s toys and everything else,” says Natalia, the mother of seven.
Note: For security reasons only the first names of the refugees have been used.