‘I knew him all my life and now he’s gone’ – reality of war in Ukraine hits home in NI

The fear of losing a loved one during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has become a reality for one woman helping to organise emergency supplies to be sent from Northern Ireland to those in need.

Sylwia Lis is originally from Poland, where thousands of Ukrainians are trying to flee to escape the conflict engulfing their country.

She has been helping with the aid effort, stockpiling donations of clothes, nappies, medical supplies and more at her florists shop in Kilkeel, before they are taken to a transit company in Mallusk to be sent on to both Ukraine and Poland.

But a phone call from back home brought the impact of war into sharp, grief-stricken focus – confirmation a lifelong friend is now counted among the many fatalities.

“He was in Ukraine helping evacuate the women and children and obviously he got killed… He was just shot,” an emotional Sylwia told UTV.

“It’s just shocking because I knew him all my life and now he’s gone for something like that, totally unnecessary, you know?”

Sylwia says she knows there will be many more phone calls like the one she has just received, but it only strengthens her resolve to help those most in need.

She is also urging people to set aside differences and recognise the good in fellow human beings.

“I think we have to start to really open our hearts and be more kind to each other. Really,” she said.

“Stop this divide because you are Polish, because you are Russia, because you are German, because you are Protestant, or Catholic, or Muslim.

“Just start to see the good in people a wee bit more.”

Ways to help from home

  • Donate to reputable non-profit charities

If you can afford it, donating money to reputable non-profits will go a long way to supporting those on the ground.

Unicef The Red Cross International Rescue Committee

  • Write to your MP

Writing a letter to your local MP can help urge the government to do more to help the Ukraine during the invasion.

  • Support local journalism

The fact we’re so up to date with what’s happening in Ukraine is largely down to the tireless work of journalists reporting on the ground. The Kyiv Independent, Expres and Sevodyna are all examples of Ukrainian newspapers.

Educating yourself on the history and nuances of the crisis from respected sources before speaking about it online will help tackle disinformation.

  • Join a peace protest

This might not seem as direct a way to help Ukrainians as, for example, donating money – but it could still have a big impact.

Joining a peace protest (if you are able to do so and feel comfortable being in a crowd) is a public way of showing your support for the people of Ukraine, and putting pressure on those in powerful positions to help those affected.

Protesters show their support for Ukraine outside of Belfast City Hall Credit: Pacemaker

  • Donate items locally

Donation points are being set up across the UK and Ireland to help collect items for refugees, including non-perishables, blankets, sleeping bags, winter clothes, toiletries, and baby supplies.

Volunteers are also needed to help sort through the items and pack them up to send them overseas. Keep an eye on social media for details of collection points near you.