Cork volunteers open free shop for Ukrainian refugees

Families who have fled Ukraine can get everything they need from a special ‘shop’ set up by volunteers in Cork.

Everything in the store is free, and it’s been set up for anyone new to Ukraine, many of whom left with little more than the clothes on their backs.

The shop is run and organized by volunteers Valerie Kirby and Kate Durrant at Blarney GAA Club.

Kate said a family came in and then burst into tears.

“They were so overwhelmed by everything – what they came from and the generosity and warmth they now feel in being welcomed to Ireland,” she said.

Some of the people who come are quite affected, understandably, by what they’ve been through.

“We can’t do much except watch the news and see what’s going on. This shop is how our community helps.

It’s all part of the new volunteer enterprise, Safe Harbor For Ukraine (SHFU).

Created among others by Limerick car dealer Rory Dennehy, it first focused on bringing aid to Ukraine and then bringing refugees back to Ireland.

Its GoFundMe page has – as of 9 a.m. Thursday – raised €86,149 of a target of €100,000.

The first of what could end up being more coaches run by SHFU brought back 33 Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Cork on Monday afternoon for the start of a new life away from the war-torn country.

Five-year-old Diana Petrovsky discovers new surroundings when she arrives at the Kingsley Hotel in Cork with her brother, mother and grandparents from Ukraine. Photo: Michael MacSweeney/Provision

The 23 women and 10 children were forced to flee their homes.

They were picked up at the Ukrainian border by Mr Dennehy and his fellow volunteers and driven from the Polish border in a Cronin’s Coaches coach through Germany, Belgium and France, before taking a ferry from Cherbourg to Rosslare, Co Wexford.

They then arrived for a two-night stay at the Kingsley Hotel in Sunday’s Well, Cork City, on Monday.

Laura Wojnar, Siobhan and Finn Donnelly as refugees arrived at the Kingsley Hotel, Cork from Ukraine.  Photo: Michael MacSweeney/Provision
Laura Wojnar, Siobhan and Finn Donnelly as refugees arrived at the Kingsley Hotel, Cork from Ukraine. Photo: Michael MacSweeney/Provision

They have since started to arrive at the people who will welcome them.

“We’ve been appealing to the people of Blarney for all sorts of things,” Kate said. “And the response has been just brilliant.

We have just about anything refugees will want, including pajamas, booster seats, school bags, clothes of all shapes and sizes, toys, and we’ve even donated a range of cosmetics .

“The neighborhood children also wrote little words of welcome for the refugees.

Among the refugees are a woman and her son who crossed the Polish border from Ukraine last Saturday at 1 a.m., without knowing anyone.

Natalia Katser, 36, and Illia, six, were dropped off at the border by their husband, Ihor, before he left to help defend their hometown of Vinnytsia, located about 260km south of the capital kyiv.

It has been bombed several times, with its airport destroyed by long-range cruise missiles in the first week of March, followed by the recent attack on the city’s television tower.

She also left behind her two parents – her mother Nadia, who is unwell and has a heart condition, and her father Leonid.

As of March 6, international travelers to Ireland are no longer required to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative PCR test on arrival.

However, a department spokesperson said: “HSE doctors/public health teams are working closely with Immigration and IPAS to carry out risk assessments for Covid and other health issues , including infectious diseases.”

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