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Marta Dropa, one of the volunteers coordinating the delivery of aid from France to Ukraine. Lyon, France. March 2022
Marta Dropa, one of the volunteers coordinating the delivery of aid from France to Ukraine. Lyon, France. March 2022   -   Copyright  Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews

Ukrainians abroad: Lost and frightened but desperate to help

The day before Russia invaded Ukraine a friend of mine came over for dinner. She is Ukrainian, like me. We stayed up til the early hours of Thursday discussing the escalation at the border, the possible scenarios, the best way to convince our families to come here or whether we should make an effort to return home.

We managed to sleep for a couple of hours before it was time to get up for work. When we met at the kitchen for an early morning coffee both of us already knew the war had started but didn't say a word. Before I put the kettle on, my friend already had a list of items to be sent to help the army and civilians back home and was looking for the most necessary and urgent ones.

If there is something I can be thankful for, it’s that I faced the most difficult news in my life with someone who could understand how it feels, and who was more into action than words.

And the most important thing, of course, is that my family in my native Kyiv is still intact. I failed to convince them to move to safety when it was still possible, I didn’t try hard enough, I have to live with that.

Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
Natalia and Kostyantyn, Ukrainians living in Lyon, hug during the aid collection in Lyon, Frence. March 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews

I believe, most Ukrainians living abroad feel the same way. Here in the west, the news about my home country was really scary for some months, at home - the authorities from the state office and ski resort were telling Ukrainians not to panic.

But now my country, my native city, is being ruined, all those lives lost… I think it hasn't really got to me yet. One thing appears loud and clear, nothing is left of our normal lives, it has all been ruined by the Russian invasion.

Aris Messinis/AFP
Police officers remove the body of a passerby killed in an airstrike that hit Kyiv's main television tower in Kyiv. March 2022.Aris Messinis/AFP

The guilt, shame and despair of not being home right now overwhelms me. As a journalist, during the past seven years, I travelled a lot to the Ukrainian east to bring the protracted conflict there to the spotlight in the west. And now when all of this is unfolding, I am not there.

The failure of evacuating my family and friends to safety made everything else unimportant though. Why I am in France at all then?

For Ukrainians abroad, we are taking every minute as it comes. And action is the only way to make each minute pass a bit faster. That is why it surprises me little that my fellow citizens voluntarily return home in their thousands from abroad to join the fight. Pretty much everybody I know outside the country has become a war-response volunteer these days - coordinating, collecting, transporting, informing, giving the professional psychological support.

The Ukrainian church of Lyon is crowded in the evenings this week. I see some people I know: Ukrainian, French, Russian. The heavyweight trucks are loaded with aid to go to Ukraine. Local drivers stop to give money for the cause.

Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
The volunteers sorting aid collected in France to be sent to Ukraine. March 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
Volunteers load a truck with aid in Lyon, France. March, 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
Nataliia Liubchenkova/Euronews
A Ukrainian driver and other volunteers are loading the truck with aid to go to Ukraine from Lyon, France. March 2022Nataliia Liubchenkova/Euronews

Inside the building, people are sorting the items by categories and packing the boxes. Food, clothes for children, medication, blankets... I don’t see anybody who is leading the process or raising their voice to give instructions, but everybody knows what to do. I don’t know how it works. This is one of two spots in my city where I feel ok these days.

Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
A volunteer takes some rest and reads a French magazine featuring Ukraine's fierce resistance to invasion. March 2022. Lyon, FranceNatalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
A volunteer carries collected aid to the sorting place before it will be sent to Ukraine. March 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews

While one lorry was loaded with aid here on Wednesday night there was enough packed aid to fill another three. By Thursday evening, five trucks were sent to Ukraine just from the Lyon region. As well as the trucks there are small vans that are constantly circulating. Everything is coordinated by a young working mother over the phone. Normally, she loves the mountains, cycling and spending time with her little daughter.

Now, surrounded by proactive Ukrainians, she somehow finds heavy load trucks who agree to go to Ukraine for free, people who collect aid from everywhere, people who sort it, everywhere there are these quiet leaders and things are moving forward.

Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
The demonstration against the Russian invasion of Ukraine at Place Bellecour, Lyon, France. February 2022Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews

Another place for me to be right now is Lyon's central square on Sundays. Where the crowded demonstrations condemning the invasion of Ukraine are being held. The support of the French people, of the international community, is extremely important for us right now while indifference hurts.

My friends in eastern Ukraine are asking for good news from here, I don’t know what to say. Is this enough? I don’t know.