“It all started so quickly, nobody expected that a war would occur right in the heart of Europe. And yet, here we are, silently watching the news feed reporting on the horrors of an ongoing war in Ukraine.
It was a very strange feeling. I was thinking about all those friends and colleagues of mine from the YMCA, all those lovely people I met throughout my journey with the Y. I was not sure what was happening to them. I could only pray that they are safe.
But deep inside I knew that my thoughts alone would not be enough. How can we be of help from this small town in Romania? There was not much time to waste, as the first waves of refugees were already crossing the borders. All the NGOs in the county united within a coalition to provide support and set up an emergency and first-line support point at the border. My hometown, Baia Mare, is only 40 km from the border with Ukraine.
YMCA Romania was at the forefront of it all. The first weekend we went to have an overview of the situation. Analyzing and checking the needs of the volunteer and the refugees were our priorities. Then, after checking the situation locally, we decided to provide food and supplies for the volunteers, ensuring they have a warm meal and can perform their duty in the harsh February wind. Help came from every corner, from charities, associations, local councils, and simple people who were kind enough to bring everything – from food to basic medical supplies for all those fleeing the war.
I was impressed by the quick response from everyone. But indeed shocked to see so many people fleeing. Families with children. Little ones carrying small backpacks filled with everything they could salvage. It is indeed horrifying knowing what these kids went through to reach the border to safety. You could see the tears in their eyes, but none of them were crying, the general feeling was that they had to escape, cross the border, reach safety, stay in Romania or continue the journey to the West of Europe.
A remarkable setting indeed. Older people barely walk. Taking a rest after having traveled for 5 days to reach the border. As the war went it was more and more difficult for them to reach the western borders. I remember one night, it was one of the first nights waiting in the cold, for our collages from the YMCA to arrive. There were traffic jams, lines of 20-30km of cars waiting to reach the border crossing point. Many families got separated, and many women with their children were crossing the border in hope that the little ones will be as far as possible from the conflict.
Indeed these were chilling moments, especially when we could hear the sirens going off on the other side of the border. Our team worked endlessly in the process of registering all those in need of accommodation and transportation- ensuring the setup of the Blue Dot Facility. Some of us even went further, we contacted YMCA Karpati, the closest YMCA in the region of Ivano-Frankivsk to establish a communication avenue and link up with the refugee center to provide first-line support. We were living historical moments, two YMCAs from different countries linking up together to serve the communities, through war and hardship- our values and mission remain unaltered for 177 years.
In moments like this one, the YMCA provides not only relief but a network of people from all walks of life standing together in solidarity and support. Our acts of kindness and humanity are materialised in the help we provide – ‘Together, indeed, we care ‘- is not only a statement, but it is also a call for movement strengthening, for humanity, care, and most importantly – PEACE.”
Andy Tomsa, Romania
Peacework Institute Participant