This interview first appeared in EU Today, and is republished here with the news portal’s permission.
Photo by Tungsten Rising on Unsplash
When you see the terrible consequences of the war with your own eyes, you understand that Western countries should help more, writes Gary Cartwright.
On Sunday, 2nd April, the All-Ukrainian Charitable Foundation “Peace and Good” delivered another batch of 20 tons of humanitarian aid, part of which was transferred to the front-line. Several foreign volunteers joined the Ukrainian philanthropists in their trip to Chasiv Yar, they handed over tourniquets to the volunteer battalion and a repeater for the 79th brigade.
Ukrainian News managed to communicate with Manfredi Magnano from Italy, Graham Holkey from America and Oleksandr Rietveld from the Netherlands, who have been helping Ukraine since the very beginning of the full-scale war unleashed by russia; in particular, two of the volunteers also cooperated with the Italian Charitable Foundation Hope.
Manfredi Magnano, a volunteer from Italy
We started the conversation with the Italian Manfredi Magnano, who moved to work at a humanitarian center in Poland at the beginning of last spring, and later continued the humanitarian mission directly in Ukraine.
How did it all start in Ukraine? When did you realise you wanted to help us?
“The thing is that my friend’s father was the head of the Italian humanitarian foundation Hope, so I understood well what was happening from the very beginning. In March 2022, I went to work at the warehouses of the Italian foundation on the Polish-Ukrainian border, in the city of Medyka. I was a logistics manager, helping with the distribution of humanitarian aid. There, in fact, I met various people, including Graham (ed. – another volunteer, an American), and this allowed me to start volunteering already in Ukraine.”
How many people are there in your team and how are decisions made about who to help and how much?
“When I worked directly in the warehouses, I had 5 volunteers under my supervision every day, mostly students from Dutch universities, coming from different countries around the world. The work was in shifts, in total, our team consisted of 21 people.
“We had three help algorithms. The first is the direct distribution of food packages to refugees who were crossing the border. The second is the transfer of specialised medical equipment. As a rule, we delivered it to a hospital in Lviv, and they distributed it around the country as needed. The third – when drivers who were delivering aid to hot spots and ordinary Ukrainians turned to us, we gave them part of the boxes with the humanitarian aid, and they transferred it further and reported to the Foundation.”
Tell us about your trip with the Chairty Foundation “Peace and Good” to Chasiv Yar?
“It was scary. First of all, when you don’t know the language, you don’t fully understand what is happening. Besides, I have no special training, for example, I do not know what to do if a car breaks down on the road that is shot through.”
What feelings overwhelm you when you’re giving help to those who are looking forward to it? And actually, how long do you plan to help Ukraine?
“When I’m giving help, in such moments I am very happy. However, I see with my own eyes the terrible consequences of the war, and I understand that Western countries should be much more involved in helping Ukraine. This war also affects the countries of Europe, and it will affect even more. I like Ukraine, the ideas for which it fights – for freedom. You are actually fighting for the freedom of my Motherland, Italy, too. Therefore, this is a personal mission for me. After the Victory, I plan to participate in the reconstruction of Ukraine, I will not quit volunteering.”
Graham Holkey, an American volunteer
Graham Holkey is an American student who studied in the Netherlands and, with the beginning of the war, went to the Polish-Ukrainian border, where he actively helped refugees. Today, he is more than ever full of strength and desire to continue his charitable mission. He believes in the absolute Victory of Ukraine.
Please tell us how you started helping Ukraine?
“In 2022, I was studying in the Netherlands and knew someone acquainted with people at the Italian Charitable Hope. So, in April, I was sent to Medyka (Poland), to help in the warehouse to distribute humanitarian aid and deal with logistics. There, I became friends with American drivers who drove humanitarian vehicles around Ukraine and evacuated people from dangerous regions. And, in fact, I began accompanying them in trips to Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhia regions, to take sick and old people to Western Ukraine.”
Have you come under fire?
“No. The closest I was to the front was Soledar, in December, back then it was not so dangerous there.”
What kind of help do you handle most often? With whom do you cooperate in Ukraine?
“In the summer we were delivering mainly dry rations and medicines. In winter, besides food, we also took generators.
“Mostly, I cooperate with volunteers. There are specialised chats in the messenger, where communications take place, which are later implemented in specific actions. In the future, I want to provide more help to the Charitable Foundation “Peace and Good”, because I see that they are doing a great job and work efficiently.
“I am glad that the help is going exactly as intended. This is very important and it motivates. The fact is that the number of foreign volunteers in Ukraine has noticeably decreased, this is due to the fact that most of them want to help with their hands, and not deal with logistics, like collecting money and transporting something from Western countries to the border. Volunteers just want to do deliveries inside Ukraine. For example, they’d rather be given a humanitarian cargo and a car, and they’d simply deliver it from point “A” to point “B” across the country and that’s it.
How long do you plan to volunteer in Ukraine and what would you like to wish Ukrainians?
“Because of the war, I’ve realised that I want to do logistics in the humanitarian sector. Therefore, for me, the volunteer experience that I am currently receiving in Ukraine is invaluable. I’m not going to stop volunteering as long as I can be useful in this cause. I really hope the war ends soon and with the unconditional Victory of Ukraine.”
Oleksandr Rietveld, a volunteer from the Netherlands
Our third interlocutor is Oleksandr Rietveld. He actually united all three volunteers into a new team to jointly help Ukraine even more.
How did you get involved in helping Ukraine?
“Straight away, from the second day of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, my friends and I began to actively collect humanitarian aid at our university. Many people responded to our initiative and started donating. And it turned out that we ended up being responsible for all the donations that were sent from Dutch universities.
“That’s the way our initiative had scaled, and in two months of work we were able to send five twenty-ton trucks to Ukraine, which is about 25 thousand boxes with humanitarian aid. Also, I and my friends transported refugees from Poland to the Netherlands and Germany, where they went on to find shelter themselves. And this is how I got to know many people in Ukraine.”
Where have you been with your Charitable mission? How big is your team?
“When we organised the foundation, there were six of us. In total the group of volunteers, which was directly engaged in sorting, transportation and other processes, was about 120 people. Most of them were students.
“Deliveries were mainly to Kyiv region, and cargoes were also sent to Donetsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia regions, to Mykolaiv, and also to the Lviv region, from where aid was further distributed throughout the country.
“We also handed supplies over to the Odesa and Lviv National Police. Most often, food, medical equipment and clothes were donated. I also supplied tourniquets to the “Karpatska Sich” battalion.
Who do you cooperate with in Ukraine? Tell us about your joint missions with the “Peace and Good” Foundation? How long have you known each other?
“In Ukraine, we worked directly with hospitals, as well as with the police and charitable foundations. Personally, I’ve helped also a Volunteer Battalion.
“One day I accidentally met the guys (Graham and Manfredi – ed. benefactors from America and Italy). Having had some volunteer experience and common ideas, we decided to act together. In mid-February 2023, there was an opportunity to deliver a powerful generator and other humanitarian aid to Lviv. It was arranged by an acquaintance of Graham’s who asked us to deliver the cargo.
“Through him, I met a guy who serves in one of the battalions. I asked if his unit needed anything. As a result, we raised money and purchased a Mavic drone. During this whole procedure of transferring the copter, so to speak, I also got to know Andrii, a representative of the “Peace and Good” Foundation. Since that moment, we remain actively in contact.”
Tell us about your trip with the “Peace and Good” Foundation to Chasiv Yar? And do you have joint plans with the Foundation for the near future?
“The trip left quite an impression on me. I have never been so close to a war zone. I was scared, even not so much for yourself, but for your relatives, who are worried.
“We, together with Graham and Manfredi, met with the Foundation team in Dnipro. We had with us tourniquets for the volunteer battalion and a repeater for the 79th brigade. Then we went to Donetsk region. There we spent the night at one of the bases. And the next day we went to Chasiv Yar, where we handed over humanitarian aid to the people.
“I have some interesting connections with foundations in the Netherlands, which are engaged in similar projects, as the “Peace and Good” Foundation. I mean the construction and repair of residential complexes for displaced persons and refugees. I hope, I will be able to somehow help establish connections.
“Actually, I myself have Ukrainian roots, and many Ukrainian friends. It’s personal to me, and I’m not going to stop helping if I get such a chance.”
In your opinion, what is the role of volunteers after the end of the war in Ukraine?
“I think that after the war is over and Ukraine wins unconditionally, the work of volunteers will not end, because the country will have to be rebuilt. A significant role in this will be borne by benefactors and volunteers. I am sure that various Foundations, as well as the “Peace and Good” Foundation, which existed long before the start of the war, will continue to help in peaceful times as well.”
What would you like to wish Ukrainians?
“Victory! And more support from the West along the way. Ukraine is paying a high price for peace in Europe, everyone should understand this today.”
As Oleksandr Tsverkovych, vice-president of the All-Ukrainian Charitable Foundation “Peace and Good”, noted, benefactors plan to continue developing international cooperation with foreign volunteers and foundations, as Ukrainians will need support for many years to come.
The All-Ukrainian Charitable Foundation “Peace and Good” was established in 2010 with the aim of providing assistance to people who find themselves in difficult life situations. About 8 million Ukrainians received assistance during the Foundation’s operation.
The Italian Charitable Foundation “Hope” is a non-profit and independent organization that was founded in 2006 and helps children and communities all over the world who are in a difficult situation and need help.
The Author, Gary Cartwright, is the Publisher of EU Today.