The Algarve’s Ukrainian community has banded together and is calling for help to collect desperately needed supplies for their fellow citizens who are at war with Russia. Their goal is also to put pressure on government leaders to take stronger measures against the Russian invasion of their country.
The main spokesperson for the Association of Ukrainians in the Algarve (AUA) has been Natalia Borysenkova, director of the Portuguese-Ukrainian Education and Cultural Centre ‘Escola Tarás Shevtchenko’, who has lived in the Algarve for around 20 years.
She has attended some of the main demonstrations for peace which have taken place in Faro and provided insight into how the war has been affecting Ukrainians abroad.
“We are starting to lose hope that the world’s politicians are going to help us,” said Natalia.
“Our citizens are fighting, they haven’t all fled the cities. It is not just the Ukrainian army fighting, we have several groups of civil territorial defences. Women are making Molotov cocktails, while men try to put up defences around the cities. Younger citizens are out looking and trying to destroy the marks that saboteurs make to guide Russian bombers to strategic targets,” she told Barlavento newspaper.
Despite the Ukrainian people’s valiant efforts, Natalia is worried about Russia’s overpowering forces.
“We are a country that is 28 times smaller than Russia! Our armed forces are around five times smaller than the Russian army. We may not resist much longer due to a shortage of defenders,” she lamented.
Camila Vyshenko, an 18-year-old Ukrainian studying Tourism at the University of the Algarve, added that the people of Ukraine are feeling an “internal anxiety that cannot be explained.
“I don’t think anyone has ever felt so threatened. My friends who are there are more united than ever and say, with pride, that they are going to join the army because they would rather die in an independent Ukraine than in an annexed Ukraine.
“I was born here, I am Portuguese, but I am also Ukrainian. This is a difficult time for me. I have my dreams, but how can I think about the future if there is not going to be a tomorrow? I do not know what is going to happen to my family,” the emotional young student confessed.
The silver lining is the support that the Algarve has already shown to the Ukrainian people.
“We have so much help and support that I would never have imagined. I am receiving dozens of phone calls from people, schools, organisations and several small companies that want to set up collection points and help us however they can,” said Natalia.
Several Algarve councils have offered to pay for the transportation of Ukrainian refugees from the Ukrainian-Polish border to Portugal.
“We are collaborating with the updating of the lists with the data and contact information of every refugee who needs to come to Portugal. We are trying to create a meeting point for these people at one of the border cities in Poland,” she added.
The Ukrainian community in the Algarve has also been working hard creating “Centres of Ukraine Resistance”, said Natalia, the work is being divided into two areas: logistics and refugee support.
Algarve fish canning companies have also promised to help by providing canned goods, while collection points have been set up at supermarkets.
Clothes are not among the needed items as “people have already given a lot and we’ve reached the conclusion that it takes up a lot of space in a van that is going to travel 4,000 kilometres.” Medicine, hygiene products and food are the priorities.
The donated items will be transported to Ukraine by a haulage company owned by a Ukrainian man in the Algarve who will transport the cargo for free.
While the number of Ukrainian refugees in the Algarve is still low, Natalia expects the number to increase day-by-day “dramatically” despite the distance between the two countries.
The association’s goal is to create a list of people willing to provide accommodation to refugees, even if temporarily. It is also working together with the National Support Centre for the Integration of Migrants (CNAIM) to ensure that refugees can be integrated legally into society.
Regarding the war, Natalia said that “no one expected this would happen.
“It is a stab in the heart from the Russians and a stab in the back form the Belarussians,” said the association’s representative, adding that what Russian president Vladimir Putin has said about the Ukraine is “not true”.
“There are no Nazis in Kiev or anywhere. There are no threats. The only problem is that he does not want us to be independent and join the democratic countries. He wants us to remain a vassal (State). Putin has been breaking all the rules for years. He already cut away a piece of Georgia and Moldova and did the same in Nagorno-Karabakh (between Armenia and Azerbaijan).
“These are situations that should show the world that this needs to be stopped, but world leaders have not taken the adequate measures to end Russia’s violations of international law. The lack of adequate action has provoked this war with Ukraine. This time, Putin is going too far, he is invading and destroying our territory.
“Ukraine is much larger than those old Soviet republics I mentioned. Putin now has the courage to invade our country. He is trying to conquer Kiev, he has bombed and destroyed the heart of Kharkiv, the second largest Ukrainian city, and every day he is attacking several southern and eastern cities in Ukraine. He continues to try to invade and bring down our capital,” she said.
On the night the conflict broke out, Faro Mayor Rogério Bacalhau also addressed the ongoing conflict with a word of support to the Ukrainian people.
“They cannot continue living in the grasp of a dictator; that makes no sense these days. This is not the Medieval age, we are able to communicate and be with each other,” he said, vowing to help Ukrainian refugees in need.
“We must all have hope that this conflict will end soon and that the Ukrainian people will be able to have their independence and decide their own fate, which is what is at stake,” the mayor added.
Original article by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper