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Ukrainian women become volunteers in support of fellow Ukrainians seeking safety in Russia

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By Helena Laatio, Finnish Red Cross

There is a steady whirring of a half a dozen of sewing machines. Women, some of them belonging to those who flew from the conflict zone in Ukraine, are sewing bed sheets meant for people with similar stories of flight from the dangers posed by the violence in their country. Most of them left their homes with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

The sewing class is held on the premises of the Russian Red Cross Society's branch office in Belgorod, near the Ukrainian border. Here the women have already produced heaps of towels, pillows and blankets for those seeking shelter in Russia.

They are taught sewing skills by Margarita Pak, herself from Ukraine and a former shoe designer by profession. "Fortunately my mother taught me how to sew when I was a child, now I can work as a teacher at the Red Cross,” says Pak.

Those who attend the class have also now become Red Cross volunteers. Everything they sew is given to vulnerable people in Belgorod.

Immediate and effective response

Belgorod has received many people from Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict early last year. The local Red Cross has been involved in the relief work, in cooperation with local authorities, from the very start. The first task was to organize shelter, food, clothes and other basic necessities. “June 2014 was very difficult for us and we worked around the clock,” says Nina Ushakova, the chairwoman of the Belgorod Regional Red Cross.

The Belgorod branch contacted the media to highlight the needs of people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine. The response was immediate. “Sometimes there were more people willing to help than those who sought assistance,” says Ushakova. “We have a lot of Red Cross volunteers who went to the temporary shelters where people who flew Ukraine were accommodated in and compiled lists of their urgent needs.” Many local people contacted the Red Cross offering a place to stay to the new comers.

Some of the people arriving were housed in the main building of a former youth camp on the outskirts of Belgorod. The local Red Cross provides them with supplies on a regular basis. “The assistance has been excellent, we are very happy,” says Anna Perepelenko. She has just picked up a bag full of washing powder, shampoo and other hygiene products which has been delivered by the Red Cross.

The Belgorod Red Cross has recently worked out a shopping system in the form of cash vouchers. These enable people from Ukraine seeking safety and temporary shelter in Russia to choose clothing and hygiene products from the shop and the individually allocated vouchers can be used as payment. Transport to the shopping centre is also provided.

“We are very happy for anything, because we have nothing at the moment. Summer is coming and we only have these winter clothes in which we came over here. Thank you for helping us,” says Olga Aksyonova, examining and choosing clothes for children. When asked if she would consider becoming a Red Cross volunteer, Askyonova says: “Of course, we have been helped, why shouldn’t we help others in turn when the situation calms down?”