Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, two Ukrainian volunteers have been repeating the round trip of some 5,000 kilometers in a van from Madrid to Poland or Romania almost non-stop with the aim that tons of humanitarian aid reach their compatriots.
It all started with the idea of a small supermarket of Ukrainian products at number 8 of Méndez Álvaro street in Madrid to collect donations to send them to the country at war, an initiative that has provoked a wave of solidarity in the capital, where people of all nationalities come to make their deliveries.
The tons of products (food, clothing, flashlights, sleeping bags, etc.) leave in two vans from Madrid to the Polish or Romanian customs, where the Ukrainian military is responsible for distributing the products in the safest way to different cities in the country.
This is how Maxi told Efe, one of the workers at the Ucramarket store, converted into an improvised NGO that With the flood of donations he has received these days, he is now asking for help from someone who has a van to get to the border with Romania, since the two vehicles they have are not enough.
It was not among the initial plans of this small store to make massive donations but “it has gone further”, says its assistant, Katerina, a 26-year-old Ukrainian who, although she lives with her 9-month-old baby and her husband in Spain, has in Ukraine to his father and other relatives.
The objective was to take a single truck to Ukraine but since the ‘Culture without Borders’ association got in touch with them, it went to more and there are already four trucks with three tons each.
Katerina expects to exceed 100 tons of basic products, but currently what they need most are medicine and military-patterned clothing, as well as tents, sleeping bags, canned food -but not in glass jars-, or fast food, also flashlights, batteries, headphones…
The boxes are piled up on the narrow sidewalk of Méndez Álvaro street, next to the Atocha stationwhere cars form a double row to wait their turn to deliver their donations.
There are dozens of volunteers of all nationalities: Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Mexican, Cuban…
“I am very proud of how they understand the situation, many people come crying, a Russian girl started crying yesterday, and I was very proud of how she understands it, of what she suffers with us,” says Katerina, already with her voice choked with emotion because “When you think about it more deeply, there are no words to explain the pain we feel”.
Ana and her husband have been volunteering for four days in this store, with the function of getting boxes from 11 in the morning until 9 at night. “If someone can donate cardboard boxes, it would be very important because they charge us 80 cents for each one, let’s see if a supermarket or someone echoes”underlines.
Ana already knew the supermarket, although she found out about the initiative from a niece from Cantabria, and when they went to ask, they stayed as volunteers: “People collaborate in an impressive way, with an amount of food… We collect tons of food a day,” he says.
There are many Ukrainian volunteers or with a Ukrainian family, like María, who has been living in Madrid for four years, where her family is, her brother, and when mentioning them she cannot hold back her tears, neither can Cristina, who although she was born in Spain her parents are Ukrainians.
This 17-year-old girl comments that his mother went to the store to buy a Ukrainian flag to go to the anti-war demonstrationbut seeing that they began to collect products, he decided that instead of going to the demonstration the whole family would get down to work to help.
“Now we come here every day,” he says. the young woman, whom her institute has also allowed her to go one morning to collaborate with her compatriotsand that he greatly appreciates the help of so many people who bring their donations and who are making boxes and helping in an “impressive” way.
She says that she feels more at ease helping her country in this way “because you can’t do it any other way”, and she remembers a lot about her grandparents, her cousins, her uncles, who they are “anguished and afraid that we will not be able to see each other again” and with the “impotence of not being able to do anything”.
A few meters away is Alfredo, who gets out of his car and hands a bag of medicine to one of the volunteers, “I took something I had and I also stopped at the pharmacy, it’s not much, but it’s something,” he explains. while looking at the pile of boxes in front of the door: “This is impressive, it excites”.
Ana, accompanied by her husband and her young son, comes with a good load of diapers, thermal clothes, medicines and even a travel cot, “We don’t know yet if they will want it” because of the size, he comments as he takes the bags out of the trunk.
“We had things at home and we haven’t thought about it. There are a lot of people and a lot of help, and we can’t do it anymore, otherwise we would contribute everything that was in our power“says the woman.
The work of the volunteers is incessant, some do not even stop to eat, since the environment it is urgent and of being very aware that a war is being waged 3,635 kilometers away.