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Irish News Ukraine Appeal: 'I would ask people to walk a mile in their shoes'

A firefighter hugs an elderly woman after she was evacuated from an apartment building hit by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine, yesterday. Picture by Ukrainian State Emergency Service, Associated Press

PEOPLE in Northern Ireland have been urged to "walk a mile" in a refugee's shoes as part of an Irish News aid appeal.

The newspaper has partnered with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) – which brings together charities including Concern Worldwide, the Red Cross and Save The Children – to raise money for refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Kevin McCaughan, from the British Red Cross in Northern Ireland, said refugees need support in the immediate, medium and longer term.

"You have people who have just come out of Ukraine who are standing in queues at (border) checkpoints," he said.

"Most of them are women, children or the very elderly. They are in shock because they have had to leave family behind, they have had to leave fathers and sons behind.

"They have left with a bag on their back. Their lives have changed completely in a few weeks."

He said refugees need basic essentials including food and water, shelter and heat.

"They also need compassion and love, which they are getting in countries bordering Ukraine," he said.

Mariana Vishegirskaya walks downstairs at a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9. Ms Vishegirskaya survived the shelling and later delivered a baby girl in another hospital. Picture by Evgeniy Maloletka, Associated Press

He also noted that the spread of Covid is a serious issue.

The British Red Cross has said that vaccination rates in Ukraine and neighbouring countries are among the lowest in Europe.

"Mass displacements of people increase the transmission of respiratory diseases including Covid-19," the charity said.

"The World Health Organization warns that many people are at risk of severe disease, which is particularly concerning as lifesaving oxygen supplies are critically low and maintaining supply chains becomes more difficult."

The Executive Office announced late on Sunday that people in Northern Ireland will be offered £350 a month to open their homes.

The Republic has already welcomed 5,500 refugees.

Mr McCaughan said refugees who come to Northern Ireland will need trauma support.

"The Red Cross do psychological first aid," he said.

"When refugees come here, they will have to process what they have seen. They are going to be worried about husbands and sons and extended family members in Ukraine who they can't communicate with because broadband is down.

"They will be seeing everything on television. Imagine the trauma that will cause.

"People will not have English as their first language. There will be people who won't be able to speak English at all.

"I would ask people to walk a mile in their shoes. Imagine it is you and your husband or son is in Ukraine fighting, maybe lifting a gun for the first time."

He noted that the refugee crisis is complex. Thousands of people have also travelled to family in Russia. Many more who were displaced by the annexation of Crimea in 2014 are having to move again.

Mr McCaughan said of the more than 2.8 million refugees who have left Ukraine, 300,000 fled in just one day.

He said the work that communities in the north have done to raise money or donate essential items to refugees is "amazing", adding that cash donations can be quickly sent to aid workers.

"The people on the ground can purchase locally, they can source what's required and support the local economy, which is really important," he said.

"Poland has got 1.5 million refugees. Moldova, which is a really small state, has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees."

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