A woman carries an infant as they cross the border into Poland from Ukraine A woman carries an infant as they cross the border into Poland from Ukraine  (AFP or licensors)

Irish aid agency Trócaire providing vital support to Ukraine

The aid agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Trócaire, is providing vital support to help people in Ukraine and those who have fled the country. Its Chief Executive, Caoimhe de Barra, speaks about the importance of protecting civilians, the psychological trauma being endured, and the compassion and generosity of people coming to the fore.

By Lydia O’Kane

As the horror of war continues to unfold in Ukraine, the Irish overseas aid agency Trócaire is playing its part in making sure people in Ukraine and those fleeing the country get the help and support they need.

The agency, which is part of the Caritas Internationalis Federation, is partnering with both Caritas Ukraine and Caritas Poland to support the increasing needs of people in Ukraine and the hundreds of thousands of people on the move, primarily women and children.

Practical support and advice

Assistance, in the form of food, shelter, psychosocial support, and transport is being given to those who are making their way to the border, and to those left behind in Ukraine.

The Chief Executive of Trócaire, Caoimhe de Barra, told Vatican Radio that support is being given in very concrete ways.

“If people move into another country they lose their mobile network… so providing access to a sim phone, access to practical information and advice on what to do next and where to go next, that is part of the work that we’re supporting with Caritas Poland.”

Listen to the interview

Psychological trauma

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, men, women, and children have endured daily barrages of shelling, watched on as their homes were destroyed, and lost loved ones.

The psychological trauma that people are suffering, said Ms de Barra, is “absolutely huge."  

“Specifically for children, what you can see, and it’s very visceral, it’s very real; you can see it and hear it in the interviews and images we’re receiving on our screens.”

She went on to say that the reports they are hearing from their partners are that the people who are reaching the border now are more vulnerable and fragile and have fewer resources than those who decided to flee in the early days of the invasion.

“Providing psychosocial support, what we call ‘First Aid’ in psychosocial terms, that is incredibly important because people’s immediate physical needs can be taken care of, but the hidden trauma and the damage that that does, especially to children, is very deep and very lasting,” said the Trocaire CEO.

Volunteers from Caritas Poland
Volunteers from Caritas Poland

Risk of human trafficking

One of the areas Trócaire is focusing on, as a member of the Caritas network, is looking very closely at the risks for people once they’re over a border.

Ms. de Barra stressed that “unfortunately, human trafficking can really surge at a time like this when people are very vulnerable, where you have maybe women and children or separated young people who are very vulnerable to being brought into an environment which could be extremely dangerous for them.”

Generosity and compassion

As this war goes on, funding will be increasingly needed to support those in Ukraine and beyond who are suffering at this time.

“What we are seeing is people’s compassion really coming to the fore,” noted Ms. de Barra.

In Ireland, “people are donating to Trócaire, both for Ukraine but also for the many other conflicts that are unreported, that do not reach us but that are also huge in scale and impact on vulnerable people,” she said.

Trócaire has also joined the Irish Emergency Alliance (IEA) which is a group of seven leading humanitarian agencies that have launched a fundraising appeal in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

Ukraine crisis and risks

Asked if the situation in Ukraine is on an even greater scale than what Trócaire has witnessed in other countries, the chief executive responded, “the fundamentals are the same but what is different is the degree of coverage of this crisis.”

“The suffering that we are witnessing of people who are struggling to leave where they grew up, where they’ve lived all their lives… their experience is common across every conflict and refugee crisis… What is different about this crisis I think, is the fact that there is a huge nuclear threat attached to it. So, I think to some degree the fact that you have that risk attached to this crisis means it is getting more attention at the highest levels of government but also from the media.”

Protecting civilians

As this crisis shows no signs of abating, Ms. de Barra said it was extremely important that governments, humanitarian agencies, and the media continue to maintain a focus “on the absolute need to respect and protect civilians affected by conflict.”

She stressed that in Ukraine right now there are faltering attempts to create humanitarian access. Civilians, she said, need to be reached safely with humanitarian support, and to leave or move within the country or across the border safely and in a protected manner.

“The first rule of conflict is that civilians must be protected. It is illegal, contrary to international law for civilians to be attacked, for civilian infrastructure to be attacked, or for civilians to be prevented from leaving somewhere safely.”

09 March 2022, 13:02