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Watch: What a child fleeing the war in Ukraine packed in her rucksack

12 Mar 2022 3 minute read
“Olena” Waiting at the train station with her mum Pictures: Deb Barry/Save the Children

A Welsh humanitarian worker who is in Poland leading the Save the Children Fund’s response to the refugee crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has shared the heartbreaking story of what a young girl packed in her rucksack as she fled to safety with her family.

Since the start of the war just over two weeks ago, more than 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine, leaving their homes, jobs and loved ones. It’s estimated that half of the refugees are children.

Deb Barry from Caerphilly, who has spent more than a quarter of a century working overseas on humanitarian disasters including in Afghanistan and Syria, was visiting a reception centre to assess the short and long-term needs of those arriving. She was stopped by a mother and her eight-year-old daughter Olena, who recognised her distinctive Save the Children t-shirt.

“I heard a lady calling ‘Save the Children – can I ask you for help?’ and after stopping and talking with her, we found out that they were trying to get to their friends in Berlin but had no idea how to get there.”

“Her daughter insisted on showing me what she had packed for the journey and took pride in pulling out her favourite toy rabbit, a colouring book and some pens, a hairbrush, a change of clothes, a toilet roll, face cream and a pot of potatoes out of her rucksack.

“It really made me think what these children must be thinking and experiencing and how it must feel for parents having to tell their children to pack up their stuff and flee for their lives, having to leave fathers, brothers and grandfathers behind.

“The psychological effects of this conflict on children are unimaginable,” said Deb.

Significant distress

Irina Saghoyan, Save the Children’s Eastern Europe Director, said: “We will not give up on the children in Ukraine. Our commitment to children and the communities we serve remains unchanged.

“Our incredible partners have been instrumental in ensuring we can still get life-saving aid to children and parents.

“Children have witnessed or experienced acts of violence, some showing signs of significant distress. Our partner Slavic Heart is telling us that children urgently need mental health support, along with food, warm clothes and medicine. We need funding to ensure critical support can continue for children impacted by this crisis.

“This conflict will have far-reaching consequences for children in Europe and around the world. We will continue to respond where we are most needed and where children need urgent protection.”

The Welsh public has helped raise almost £8 million in a single week for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal which includes £4 million from the Welsh Government.

In total, more than £150 million has been donated across the UK. This includes £25 million matched by the UK Government.

Donations can be made to the DEC appeal here 

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