From Portugal to Eastern Europe, civil society has mobilised to take humanitarian aid to Ukraine and the borders, with improvised locations filling up daily with boxes and bags waiting to travel.
The Benfica parish council set up an operations centre to collect goods at the Baldaya Palace in Lisbon, which began on Monday and, having exceeded expectations, will continue until Saturday.
In the library, the books shelves have been hidden behind hundreds of bags and boxes of donations, which were organised on Wednesday and stored in a warehouse, which is still being built.
These goods are waiting to be transported by two trucks that are leaving tonight for Ukraine, a country facing armed conflict for a week after the Russian invasion.
“We have collected more than 60 tonnes, and we have delivered 20 tonnes,” the president of the parish council, Ricardo Marques, told Lusa on Thursday, saying that, since Monday, that room of the palace is filled daily with food, medicines, toys and, above all, clothes.
At the entrance, Filomena Gaspar carries two large bags of clothes. It was all she could bring herself, and for this reason, she was pleased when the president himself told her that they would be collecting goods until Saturday.
“I think all solidarity is good because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and we may need it,” she said.
Shortly before, Deolinda Ribeiro had also arrived with goods to donate. She had been there on Wednesday and would be back again, she told Lusa, stressing that she wanted to help as much as possible.
“The reaction and the contributions have been overwhelming,” noted Ricardo Marques, anticipating that, in addition to the two truckloads that have already been delivered to the churches of Arroios and Nossa Senhora do Amparo and then went on to Poland, those that leave later today for a military base in southern Ukraine and the one that, on Tuesday, will make the journey between Benfica and Romania, a sixth will be needed to ensure that all the goods are sent.
Before leaving, Filomena and Deolinda still met Oksana, a Ukrainian woman living in Portugal, and her nephew Andriy, who arrived on Saturday from Ukraine.
At the end of the week, she will receive more relatives who managed to flee the country, and the help she received in recent days was such that she wanted to share with her compatriots who are still in Ukraine or at the borders.
“In a situation like this, no one can be indifferent. And even we, who have this difficulty… On Saturday, we are going to be nine people at home, it’s going to be a bit difficult, but we want to give everything we can because they have nothing there,” he said.
The family was prepared to leave the country, and as soon as the conflict reached the city of Lviv, where they live, some took what they could – little more than their clothes, according to Oksana – and left for the border with Poland. Many stayed behind to fight or because they didn’t want to abandon their children and husbands.
“We had a lot of luck that other people didn’t have,” she stressed emotionally, mentioning that the support shown by the Portuguese has moved her. “You have a huge heart, and I can’t describe it. I have no words to thank each and every one of you,” she added.
On the other side, donations were received by volunteers like João Santos, one of hundreds.
“I’ve been here since the first day,” he told Lusa, reporting that the work was intensifying every day, especially on Wednesday, when all the efforts were concentrated to prepare the trucks of today: “We had a very intensive day, with a very big delivery, we had lots of volunteers working, and we managed to have a lot of material organised here to make the delivery”.
Similar initiatives are multiplying up and down the country – from companies, parishes, municipalities, civic movements, and associations.
In Lisbon, another of the various collection points is at Farmácia Miranda, which, after speaking to a Ukrainian citizen living in Portugal who could transport the goods, decided to join in the aid to Ukraine.
There, the adhesion also exceeded the expectations of the clinical director and the small room where the donated goods are kept and from where they leave daily to a warehouse in Loures was already very busy by mid-morning.
“People are showing a lot of unity and compassion for those who, at this moment, need it most,” explained Mariana Noronha, adding that they’ve managed to deliver a lot of things – including clothes and food, but also medicines and first aid material.
“We’ve had immense generosity from the medical profession,” she added, mentioning that they’ve already received several doctors who have offered to write prescriptions for drugs that can only be made available in this way.