In the letter from our exiled Belarusian partner organization “Our House/Nash Dom” , the well-known chairwoman Olga Karach describes how much more the humanitarian aid of ISHR means for her and the Ukrainian-Belarusian exile community in Lithuania than just the distribution of relief goods: They offer the refugees a Point of contact, here you can not only get things that you need, but also exchange ideas, share your suffering, and much more importantly – also tackle things yourself, gain professional experience, gain strength and get back on your feet.
Here is the letter from Olga Karach to the ISHR:
How ISHR’s humanitarian aid is changing the lives of Ukrainian and Belarusian refugees
A large shipment of relief goods from our partner organization, the International Society for Human Rights/IGFM from Germany, has just arrived. For ISHR, the humanitarian mission to support refugees plays an important role.
After the events of 2020 in Belarus, ISHR is actively cooperating with the Belarusian Center for Civil Initiatives “Our House (Nash Dom)” in Vilnius (Lithuania) to support Belarusian political refugees and after the start of the war in Ukraine Ukrainian war refugees. During the time of this cooperation, the ISHR (Wittlich working group headed by ISHR honorary chairwoman Katrin Bornmüller) collected and delivered a total of 75 tons of humanitarian cargo.
For us, it was of strategic importance that Belarusians and Ukrainians, who had to flee to Lithuania from repression and war, are friends and help each other. Initially, the Belarusian community had gathered and built up around these deliveries, and in March it was also joined by the Ukrainian community. To date, we have not only a support group chat and a chat of Our House humanitarian aid camp with 576 Ukrainian and Belarusian participants, but also a separate chat of Our House volunteers with 46 participants who do all the work including sorting and ensure fair distribution.
I am very happy that out of these hundreds of people we have helped, a group of volunteer coordinators has formed and today not only “Our House” handles all the help alone, but now it is the task of 46 people from the Ukraine and Belarus is taken over on a voluntary basis.
When the first big relief truck came, everything was organized in a very chaotic way, we unloaded the truck for about 7 hours, despite the huge number of people involved, it was difficult to understand how best to distribute everything, there were many disputes and sometimes even insults.
People who see that they are being helped and that they are not left alone with their problems were inspired and engaged themselves in the organizational process. Today I know that wherever I am, anytime a truck arrives, everything is well organized and properly distributed. The last truck took only two hours to unload, although the number of people was the same as for the first truck: people already knew what they had to do and how everything should be organized.
I think that’s a great result.
The number of volunteers from Belarusian and Ukrainian refugees who voluntarily unload the truck is not decreasing, but growing. This is an important indicator that people are not just taking the help and thinking that everyone should and must help them, but that they are willing to give and do something for themselves and others. It is important to support this need of the people.
I’m glad that ISHR’s humanitarian care and these trucks have become an indicator that we’re on the right track, that people are doing something for themselves and others and don’t see us as some kind of service staff for refugees (that was my fear with the arrival of the first truck). I’m glad it isn’t; I see people connecting and becoming friends after working together to unload and sort relief supplies. It is important that people take responsibility. Your humanitarian assistance will be a reason for these people to develop their leadership skills here. The skills acquired here in organizing processes in humanitarian aid will also help them in the future to solve the problems of the local exile communities of Belarusians and Ukrainians.
I really appreciate the humanitarian aid deliveries by ISHR and your support: all of this helps us a lot. We protect people from depression and despair as best we can. The situation of Belarusian and Ukrainian refugees here is desperate. There are many terrible tragedies and it is so important that a person is not left alone with their grief. Unfortunately, there are many terrible situations, and the fact that we work together, see each other, is the easiest way to notice that something is wrong with a person, even if he is silent about it. Often people come to get clothes and to talk to each other, to share their experiences and also to just “cry” together. In this way, our area of humanitarian aid has become a kind of psychological emergency aid for people in crisis. It’s bad that we don’t have professional psychologists, but it’s good that people trust us enough to come to us to share their pain.
Unfortunately, on June 3, 2022, the capital, Vilnius, was closed to Ukrainian refugees: their numbers are huge, and the city simply cannot take them anymore. Now they are sent to Kaunas or Alytus, which is not very good, since it will be more difficult for them to get to Vilnius for humanitarian aid. Also, it means their chances of getting registered are reduced as there are problems with the Ukrainians already in Vilnius, the infrastructure just can’t keep up. In such a situation, we feel a special responsibility to ensure that Ukrainian refugees receive all the help and support we can offer.
When we first opened our humanitarian aid camp about 2 years ago, it was visited daily by 2-4 people who took clothes and left. Today the flow of people is huge, some even come at night or early in the morning. They often mistake us for a government organization as our camp is bigger and better than the camp of the Vilnius Migration Board. Today at least 50-60 people come into the office every day and we can only be happy about that.
We would like to thank the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) again for their help in enabling us to help other people. We see the flow of people growing and they all need help. Thank you for helping us and for letting us together support other people in such difficult circumstances.
Olga Karach, “Our House/Nash Dom”