Ukraine: Safe Passage #1

16 / Mar / 2022 20 / Mar / 2022

Mission Logbook

The first "Safe Passage in Ukraine" Mission - promoted by Mediterranea Saving Humans and supported by CNA, Gesco Group, National Fiom, the Organisations "Un Ponte Per" and "Libera di Portici" of Naples, Fiom Lazio, Archdiocese of Bologna, Municipality of Bologna, Casetta Rossa of Rome, Il Cantiere and Spazio di Mutuo Soccorso of Milan, Officina 31021 of Mogliano Veneto - left from Naples and Bologna on Wednesday 16 March, arriving at the border between Poland and Ukraine the following day. The first activity carried out by our caravan was at the refugee collection 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 sections. The first part, led by mission leader Laura Marmorale, remained in the refugee centres on the border, the second part, led by Beppe Caccia, continued to the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

On the Polish-Ukrainian border, the mission worked at refugee centres, first in Przemysl, then in Korczowa, where it stayed until Sunday 20 March. Thanks to the crucial 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 had wounds caused by the bombing, others had long been suffering from serious illnesses, untreated because of the ongoing conflict. Among them was a woman with breast cancer, other women with polytrauma and a boy with psychiatric problems. Inside the Korczowa refugee centre, we found dozens of volunteer organisations from all over Europe and Israel, with whom we actively collaborated both in welcoming the refugees and organising a safe journey to Italy, and in running the centre. In total, the caravan brought back to Italy from the centres in Przemysl and Korczowa about 100 people, in addition to those who were brought to Italy by the vans that arrived in Lviv and by a further bus that arrived from Veneto to accompany the convoy.

A total of 177 people have found passage to a safe place thanks to our mission. Of these, the vast majority are women and children. A total of seven different nationalities of the people rescued: Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Georgians, Russians, Italians, Ecuadorians and Colombians (the latter students at the University of Dnipro). One of the goals of the caravan was to provide a safe channel of entry into 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 have arrived in Naples, where they have undergone health prophylaxis and are being hosted by families thanks to the help of Mediterranea volunteers and the support of the CNA and the Gesco group, who have been engaged in mediation between the refugees and the families willing to host them. For two women, hospitalisation was arranged at the Ospedale del Mare in Naples. Others were entrusted to the 'Amici Bambini di Chernobyl' Organisation of Monselice (in the province of Padua), which carried out mediation work with families willing to take them in. Still others reached their families directly from Bologna where they were transported by the convoy buses.

From the refugee centres where we have been, we have picked up the alarm of Polish volunteers and authorities about speculation on the skin of people fleeing war. 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, having arrived without money both on the border and in Lviv, cannot afford a paid trip. "Instead, 'Safe passage in Ukraina' gave 177 people the opportunity to arrive in 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 into thin air of people, mainly young women, whose traces were lost after registration on entry. Mediterranea Saving Humans has been accredited as an Italian structure in the centre in Korczowa and in the one in Przemysl, where it has operated with the utmost transparency, receiving especially in Korczowa the cooperation and appreciation of the other organisations present. We make our own these alarms about speculation on the skin of those fleeing the bombs and the dangers of the criminal phenomena of human trafficking on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

In Lviv our convoy entered in the early afternoon of Friday 18 March, passing several border controls and checkpoints. We arrived a few hours after the Russian missile attack that had hit the city's airport, damaging hangars and infrastructure.

With our six vans, we transported and distributed around 9 tonnes of humanitarian aid, in particular medicines and medical devices, food and basic necessities, warm clothes and blankets. Part of this aid, collected by the Organisation of Belarusians in Bologna and Emilia-Romagna, was handed over to a local Organisation that cares for children with Down syndrome. Clothes and food have largely been unloaded at the Salesian Fathers of the Sons of Don Bosco family home in Lviv, which is primarily engaged in supporting refugees and has given us hospitality these days. Medical equipment and medicines, on the other hand, have been 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. There are already 200, out of about 700 beds available, patients being treated with gunshot wounds, severe and very severe burns and crush injuries, the result of Russian bombardment 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 alarms sounded and, together with the doctors and patients, we had to find protection in the underground shelters of the facility.

An unprecedented situation for Lviv, signalling how even the westernmost regions of Ukraine have become a potential target of Putin's aggression and missile attacks by Russian forces.

During the 48 hours, from Friday to Sunday, that we spent in Lviv, we also met - together with Detjon Begaj, city councillor and envoy of the Mayor of Bologna in the mission, and Gianluca Peciola of the Lazio Region - the Regional Authorities and the Head of International Relations of the Municipality. Important meetings that served to establish relations between cities and to clarify the main needs facing an urban context of approximately 700,000 inhabitants that had to deal with the influx of over 200,000 refugees in the space of three weeks. Symbolically, then, Councillor Begaj, thanks to Mediterranea's convoy, was able to transport to Italy the children's books destined for the Ukrainian stand at the Bologna Book Fair taking place these days.

Finally, on Sunday 20 March, the caravan of our six vans set off again towards the border with Poland, occupying all the places available on board with around 40 refugees who, like all those who travelled on board the buses that left the collection centres, arrived at their destination to be received in the various Italian cities, from Turin to Bologna, Padua to Naples, Rome to Palermo, by the morning of the following Tuesday 22.

Despite the terrible war situation and the consequent feeling that all our efforts represent just a drop in the ocean, the goals that our Mission had set itself were achieved: delivery of humanitarian aid to Ukraine; safe channel of entry for refugees into Europe, without any discrimination, and their dignified reception in Italy; building relations with Ukrainian civil society in view of future initiatives.

While our ship Mare Jonio is ready to set sail on Mission #11 of monitoring and rescue in the Central Mediterranean, we can safely say that the one that ended last week will only be the first of the Safe Passage Missions over land. Indeed, activists from Mediterranea Saving Humans are preparing to participate, together with a wide range of Catholic and secular pacifist Organisations, in the "STOP THE WAR NOW" delegation that will travel to Ukraine from 31 March to 2 April. This is our being against war and always putting the protection of people first.

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