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Only a few days after the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, the reaction of Brno’s Ukrainian community was swift. Since this Friday, a movement of solidarity driven by young people has organised a collection of donations of basic necessities, destined for the Ukrainian border. Photo credit: CB / Brno Daily

Brno, Feb 28 (BD) – At Kopečná 16 in Staré Brno, there is no time to waste. It is the end of another rainy day in Brno, but a group of young people are not planning on returning to the warmth of their homes yet. This small team of friends from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus, shocked by the information they were learning about the Russian attack on Ukraine, decided to set up an organisation to send necessities to the Ukrainian refugees who had managed to reach the borders, and bring back anyone who needed to the Czech Republic.

“As people started spreading the news around, the small group expanded, of course. […] As you can see, there are a lot of young people who came out and organised by themselves, mainly from post-USSR countries,” said Anton Vaykhel, the main organiser of the donations drive.

An urgent need of necessities 

On foot or by car, people were arriving continuously from 10am until 6pm on Saturday, arms or car trunks overflowing with food and clothes bags, at the entrance decorated with the Ukrainian flag. When donations arrive, volunteers at the centre sort them by category, put them into large bags and boxes, and load them into the cars that are going to Ukraine. 

Pile of bags ready to be delivered to people in Ukraine. Photo Credit: CB / Brno Daily

“When I published the post on Facebook, I put a list of basic needs,” said Anton. “Firstly, it is oriented towards families, mothers, and children. The first item on the list is diapers. Then, baby food, perishable food (something you can eat without cooking), hygiene products, disinfectants; basically, what people might need when crossing the border in an emergency.”

As we were wondering why people kept writing on pieces of paper, Anton reminded us to write our names on the wall of gratitude, filling up fast and providing much-needed motivation, as a demonstration of how many people have been generous, and encouragement to others.

The wall of gratitude. Photo Credit: CB / Brno Daily

Freedom taxis already on their way to the Ukraine border 

Even though the organisation has been in operation for just two days, they have already sent cars, mini-vans, and buses to the border. The aim is to move now while the situation in Ukraine still allows a certain freedom of movement, so that vulnerable people can cross the border more easily and receive humanitarian help as soon as possible.

“People organise themselves first, they use their own car to get on the road,” explained Anton. “But they have also rented a lot of cars by now. 25 normal cars just left on their way to the border, and there were also 20-plus minivans, and four huge buses filled with items. As you see now, a lot of cars are also leaving.” 

Volunteers loading a minivan and a car, almost ready to leave for Ukraine. Photo Credit: CB / Brno Daily

Soon to return to the Czech Republic

The organisation based on Kopečná is working hand in hand with the Czech immigration department. They give each driver the department’s contact details. When the car reaches the border, drivers must call immigration, who will put them in touch with the refugees who need transport to the Czech Republic. They also must report the number of passengers, children, and what documents they have on board, before dropping them where the immigration office tells them.

But, “they don’t come back [to Brno] directly,” said Anton. “For instance, [the immigration office] says we have this or that accommodation in Prague. So, they go to Prague or Ostrava, wherever accommodation is available.”

However, the lack of shelter is starting to be felt. Just a few minutes after the interview, the young girl I was speaking to received a call: “Immigration called today and said there will no longer be available accommodation. So, for now, if some local people from Brno are ready to open their own home… The previous system might no longer be accurate. Right now, we are looking for accommodation for 15 people who are coming from Ukraine. If this information could be spread, it would be great.”

The Kopečná organization has been created in a situation of emergency. They must always stay up-to-date with the current news in Ukraine and the changing policy in the Czech Republic. In other words, they must deal with the unexpected every day, with limited means, while ensuring the continuity of their humanitarian aid. That is why their most important need is to be known, considered, and helped. 

If you want to help

You can easily find them at their permanent office at Kopečná 16 in Staré Brno. The opening hours for the donations drive are from 10am to 6pm this week, but from next week will be from 9am to 6pm.

For now, the main contact is Anton’s Instagram account (@anton_vaykhel), especially if you want to bring back a member of your family from Ukraine. However, he is also organising a team to communicate with contacts, so more opportunities to assist may appear soon.

Anton Vaykhel, the organiser. Photo Credit: CB / Brno Daily

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