For the last few weeks, the world has been in a state of standstill. When Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, there was no way to know what was going to happen next. After weeks of devastation, tension, and insurmountable loss there is still no certainty of where this war is headed. This state of precariousness and panic that’s being experienced by everyone in the world is only felt more intensely by the citizens of Ukraine. They are working to save each other, their children, and to ensure their future as an independent republic. All across Europe there has been an outpouring of donations, and efforts to help Ukrainian civilians to safety. The Economist reported that as of March 12th, over 1.3 million refugees have entered Poland; an estimated 2.2 million refuges that have left Ukraine. Countries in the European Union are allowing all Ukrainian civilians into the EU for a year, under visa-free travel. These efforts have proven to be integral in the evacuation of Ukrainian cities, but these efforts would be null and void if we didn’t have people willing to travel across Eastern Europe to help.
In this time of conflict and fear, one decision, an act of bravery, and the compassion we all strive to embody can make all the difference in the world. Among those who vividly illustrate that compassion and bravery is a group of eight volunteers who left Ireland together on a Geraghty Travel bus this past week. They started a journey across Europe to provide supplies, aid, and transportation to Ukrainian refugees, and Grace Kennedy is one of those volunteers.
Grace, along with seven others, began the sixty hour journey to Poland on March 15. Galway has sent over four trucks, along with one coach bus. This chance to offer refuge was borne out of a desire to make an impact, and support the people of Ukraine. This operation was not supported by any big organization, or official charity. It was put together by a small group of people from the West of Ireland who knew this was the right thing to do, and heeded a call to help any way they could.
Talking to Grace while she was on the bus traveling back from the border, she explains how this effort came to fruition. “We’re not a charity, we’re not an organization, we’re just two friends that texted one night 3 weeks ago saying we should collect a few boxes and send them over to Ukraine.” Beginning with a post to Facebook, and a car-park set up, this was a spark for something truly transformative, “..the cars just kept coming, the vans kept coming… it was just more than we ever, ever expected.” Grace reiterates that they have no official recognition, but they are still, as she puts it, “breaking all the rules and doing all we can.”
This transition from operating a collection point for supplies, to dropping everything and getting on a bus to Poland encapsulates the true compassion that makes a significance difference in times of distress. The events that led to this decision were a reflection of a genuine desire to be a force for change, and help those most vulnerable. Aidan Geraghty, of Geraghty Travel, had been trying to connect with any charity organization, and offer their time and buses to be used to transport refugees. Grace comments on how it all happened so quickly. “All of the big organizations told them, ‘don’t do that, we just need the money…’ I had done an interview with a Galway radio station and Aidan Geraghty had [heard and] drove down. Aidan said ‘my daughter thinks that we should go; I have a bus, you have a contact there so let’s link up between the two of us.’ Fast forward two weeks later, and here we are.” After traveling for days, and making it to the border, their work is still not done. Their journey home includes stops in different cities all over Poland. On Facebook, Grace documents their travels; most recently stopping in Warsaw to pick up more passengers, and headed next to Poznan. Grace says, “The more attention our Facebook page got, the more contact I got from families in Ukraine. I sort of ended up matching families unofficially. People in Galway would offer a spare room, I would check my phone and have a message from someone in Ukraine and I would link them together. It got very personal, and I couldn’t back away.”
These efforts made by the people have been transformative on a personal level, as well as a communal one, and there are still opportunities to help. One thing Grace stresses is the pressure that needs to be put on people in positions of authority to allow the process to be easier and more accessible in this time of need. “I would like people to be more aware, be more outspoken.” She shares from her perspective that right now, the steps required to get the refugees in a home and acclimated into a community can be challenging. The process is slow, and Grace stresses the importance of getting everyone into a position of stability.
Grace, Aidan and his daughter, the volunteers, families from Ukraine, all traveling across Europe on a Geraghty Travel bus. The bus is adorned with a window sticker; two flags, one Irish the other Ukrainian. The words, “AID FROM IRELAND” are written across the bus windows – a message that is perhaps as simple as the decision made to help. In this moment of violence collectively being experienced by the world, these simple moments of solace and support being shown by individuals has transformed sentiment into action. A call to action, that will not only result in more aid for Ukrainian refugees but serves as a spark for compassion and strength – something essential and unifying if the world hopes to overcome violence and aggression.