Volunteering in Italy: evacuation under explosions and hundreds of lives saved

The war of 2022 showed that, if necessary, people come together even when they are hundreds and thousands of kilometers away from each other. Millions of people focused their efforts around a common problem: evacuation during explosions, establishing transport links, help with paperwork and finding housing. Our today’s heroine Olena went through all these stages. She is an ethnic Roma who has lived in Italy for more than 20 years. The woman could not stand aside, so from the first days she took an active part in helping Roma families. What difficulties she faced and what her activities are focused on now – read in the article.

The need to do something

Olena says that from the very beginning of the full-scale war, girls and entire families began to contact her through acquaintances and social networks. People needed urgent help. Evacuation was not established, most Roma were not adapted and socialized at a sufficient level to independently solve problems abroad. All the time, our heroine accompanied people “online”. Several hundred people were transported by free buses from Ukraine to Poland and Germany; some people also came to Italy.

“I believe that I should have helped, because there was a peaceful sky above me, and guns were whistling over my people. We had to find buses, housing abroad, and draw up documents. Most of the people never left the country, did not know the languages and could not simply ask for help at the border”,— Olena recalls the events with regret in her voice. The woman went through every stage together with the evacuees, so today most of these people call her mother.

The volunteer independently placed several families who left Ukraine with Italian families; she went with them to the consulate, embassy and other state bodies. They were given documents there, and their families helped them get a job. One family had 6 children, the other – 8, but the Italians reacted very well and did not show any stereotypes.

Several weeks of trip and hundreds of lives saved

It’s hard to imagine, but instead of 56 people, Olena accommodated more than 80 Roma on free shuttle buses. Since time and transport were limited, it was necessary to sacrifice comfort and act. It was very difficult to find buses, the woman connected all possible acquaintances in Ukraine, Poland and Italy in order to get at least some form of transport.

“My phone just didn’t have a moment of rest, I had to call and ask someone to help save our people”, — Olena recounts those days, barely restraining herself.

The woman admits that there were a lot of difficulties, but thanks to her perseverance and acquaintances, she managed to use 3 buses with which she made several trips. Bus owners provided transport, but for a limited time, because the flow of refugees was incredible.

“We were warned to place as much as possible, even on the roof of the bus. I called each passenger via video link and asked them to take their children in their arms, because the same women with children were standing at the door. This saved us a lot of space0”.

People were evacuated from Uman, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kherson and other cities in Ukraine. One of the most difficult cases was the story of Liudmyla. She walked with her small child from the Sumy region to Lviv. Olena and Liudmyla were in contact by phone for four days. This Roma girl went through a lot of difficulties: she walked through the forest, moved during explosions, stayed overnight near a lake and even stayed with our military for some part of the trip.

“Liudmyla got on a free bus service, but before that she had to go through 4 hellish days of trip. I told her to go to Lviv with all her might, and she succeeded”, — the woman shares her memories. Enough time has passed, but they still often communicate with Liudmyla, because the situation brought the women quite close.

Unfortunately, there have been cases when nationality has caused stereotypes in people. This became a hindrance and they did not want to help Roma at some stages of the evacuation. Then Olena took the situation into her own hands and managed to reach hearts.

“I had to pick up the phone and explain to people that bombs fall on everyone, regardless of nationality. Some understood, and some did not”.

Photo: Elena in Naples

Integration into the Italian present

Some Roma families stay in Italy, where aid is paid to refugees, and it is possible to find a job even with minimal knowledge of the language. However, the lion’s share is still in Germany and Poland. The situation has developed in this way, due to the delay in changes in Italian legislation. Only 2-3 weeks after the beginning of the full-scale war, the country implemented all the necessary conditions for accepting refugees. By this time, most of the people had already crossed the border of Poland and headed to other countries.

“The main difficulty in Italy was precisely because of the long-term organizational process. Churches and the Italian clergy were the first to come to the aid of refugees, and they began to set up reception points. I was very grateful and proud that the country in which I lived for so many years and paid taxes gave a helping hand to my people”, — the woman says, barely holding back tears. Olena admits that with the coming of the war, she began to feel guilty that she had the opportunity to live in peace and tranquility, so she did everything possible to help the needy.

At first, I had to explain to people that leaving “hot spots” is a necessity. They were going nowhere. Not everyone wanted to leave home, status, a certain position and leave with only one bag, but life is the most important thing.

Today, with the flow of time, Olena still assists Roma people to leave Ukraine, her acquaintances also do this. Evacuation continues, recently 40 more people were taken out through Poland. This evacuation was carried out by Elena’s friend, a Roma volunteer — Raisa Rostash.The woman is sure that all her activities are the result of a sense of patriotism and love for her people. She believes that if everyone does what they can at this moment, the results will be visible even sooner.

Ruslana Polianska

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