Mission #SafePassage in Ukraine: full report from the first mission


9 TONNES OF HUMANITARIAN AID DELIVERED TO LVIV.
177 WOMEN, CHILDREN AND MEN BROUGHT TO SAFETY IN ITALY.

 

The first Mission “Safe Passage in Ukraine” – promoted by MEDITERRANEA Saving Humans and supported by CNA, Gesco Group, Fiom, Fiom Lazio, Archdiocese of Bologna, Municipality of Bologna, Casetta Rossa of Rome, il Cantiere, and the Spazio di Mutuo Soccorso of Milan, Officina 31021 of Mogliano, Veneto – left Naples and Bologna on Wednesday, March 16th, and arrived at the border between Poland and Ukraine the following day. The first activity carried out by our caravan was at the refugee centre in Przemysl, where part of the humanitarian aid destined for the people who had crossed the border was unloaded, and where the mission was divided into two parts. The first part, led by Head of Mission, Laura Marmorale, remained in the refugee centres on the border, and the second part, led by Beppe Caccia, continued to the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

 

 

On the Polish-Ukrainian border, the mission worked in the refugee centres: first in Przemysl and, then, in Korczowa, where it stayed until Sunday,  March 20th. Thanks to the essential help of our Ukrainian cultural mediators and our medical staff, we were able to bring first aid to the people fleeing the war. Many of them were wounded during the bombings, while others had been suffering for a long time from serious illness which had gone untreated due to the ongoing conflict. They included a woman with breast cancer, other women with multiple injuries, and a young man with psychiatric issues. In the Korczowa refugee centre, we found dozens of voluntary organisations from all over Europe and Israel, with whom we actively cooperated both in welcoming the refugees, organising a safe journey to Italy, and in running the centre. Overall, the caravan brought about 100 people back to Italy from the centres in Przemysl and Korczowa, in addition to those who were brought to Italy by the vans that entered Lviv and by another bus that arrived from Veneto to accompany the caravan.

A total of 177 people traveled to a place of safety thanks to our mission. Of these, the vast majority were women and children. A total of seven different nationalities were rescued: Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Georgians, Russians, Italians, Ecuadorians, and Colombians (the latter were students at the University of Dnipro). One of the objectives of the caravan was to provide safe entry routes to the borders of the European Union for all people fleeing war, without any kind of discrimination on the basis of nationality or origin, and we succeeded. Of the people who arrived in Italy, 91 arrived in Naples, where they underwent medical screening and are, now, hosted by families thanks to the help of Mediterranea volunteers and the support of the CNA and the Gesco group, which have been engaged in mediation between the refugees and the families willing to host them. Two women were hospitalised at the Ospedale del Mare in Naples. Others were entrusted to the Association “Amici Bambini di Chernobyl” of Monselice (in the province of Padua), which mediated with the families willing to receive the refugees. Others reached their families directly from Bologna, where they were transported by the caravan buses.

 

From the refugee centres we visited, we heard the alarm of Polish volunteers and the authorities over speculation of the skin color of the people fleeing the country. The first phenomenon is that of “paid passage”, whereby people fleeing war are asked for hundreds of euros per person for a car transfer. This is a horrible phenomenon of speculation, carried out by people from different countries who travel to the border in rented vehicles. Many people, who have arrived without money both at the border and in Lviv, cannot afford a paid trip. “Safe passage in Ukraina” gave 177 people the opportunity to arrive to a safe place free of charge.

The second phenomenon is the disappearance of young women from refugee centres. Strict controls on people leaving the centres have been made necessary precisely because of the disappearance of people, mainly young women, whose traces were lost after they had been registered. Mediterranea Saving Humans was accepted as an Italian actor in the centres of Korczowa and Przemysl, where it operated with the utmost transparency, receiving, especially in Korczowa, the cooperation and appreciation of the other organisations present. We share the same alarm regarding the speculation of the skin color of those fleeing the bombings and regarding the dangers of human trafficking on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

Passing through several border controls and checkpoints, our caravan entered Lviv in the early afternoon of Friday, March 18th. We arrived just a few hours after the Russian missile attack hit the city’s airport, damaging hangars and infrastructure.

 

With our six vans, we transported and distributed about 9 tonnes of humanitarian aid, including: medicines and medical devices, food, basic necessities, warm clothes, and blankets. Part of this aid, collected by the Belarusian association in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna, was delivered to a local association that helps children with Down’s syndrome. Clothes and food were mostly unloaded at the Salesian Fathers of Don Bosco family home in Lviv, which is primarily committed to supporting refugees and has given us hospitality during our stay. Medical equipment and medicines were taken directly to the “Veterans” Hospital in the suburb of Vynnyky, a facility reserved for the hospitalisation of wounded civilians and soldiers from war zones. 200 patients were already being treated for gunshot wounds, severe and very severe burns, and crush injuries as a result of the Russian bombing of cities in the east and south of the country.

Just as we were meeting the director of the hospital, the first of a long series of air raid alarms sounded. We, along with the doctors and patients, had to go to the hospital’s underground shelters in search of safety. This was an unprecedented situation for Lviv, signaling that even the westernmost regions of Ukraine have become a potential target of Putin’s aggression and the Russian forces’ missile attacks.

During the 48 hours we spent in Lviv, from Friday to Sunday,  Detjon Begaj, the Mayor of Bologna mission’s town councilor and envoy, and Gianluca Peciola, from the region of Lazio, joined us in meeting with Regional Authorities and the Municipality’s Head of International Relations. These important meetings served to establish relations between these cities and to clarify the primary needs of an urban area of about 700 thousand inhabitants that found itself having to manage an influx of over 200 thousand refugees in the period of three weeks. Symbolically, thanks to Mediterranea’s convoy, Councillor Begaj was then able to transport to Italy the children’s books destined for the Ukrainian stand at the Bologna Book Fair that is currently underway.

Finally, on Sunday, March 20th, our caravan of six vans left for the Polish border. About 40 refugees occupied the last available seats. They, like all those who traveled on board the buses that left the refugees centres, arrived at their destination, by the following morning of Tuesday, March 22nd, and were  welcomed in various Italian cities: from Turin to Bologna, from Padua to Naples, from Rome to Palermo.

 

In spite of the terrible war situation and the subsequent feeling that all our efforts are just a drop in the ocean, the objectives that our Mission had set for itself were achieved: delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine; providing a safe route for refugees to enter Europe, without any discrimination, and their dignified reception in Italy; and, building relationships with the Ukrainian civil society in order to create future initiatives.

While our ship Mare Jonio is ready to set sail for Mission #11 of monitoring and rescue in the Central Mediterranean, we can safely say that the one that ended last week will be only the first of the #SafePassage missions on land. MEDITERRANEAN Saving Humans activists are, in fact, preparing to participate, together with a wide range of Catholic and lay pacifist associations, in the “STOP THE WAR NOW” delegation that will travel to Ukraine from March 31st to April 2nd. This is our way of being against war and always putting the protection of people first.

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