‘Those practical acts of kindness are blowing my mind’ – Dublin charity hub offers essential items for Ukrainian refugees

Anastasia Plastyn (7), who came to Ireland from Kiyv, looks through some of the children’s clothes at the Ukrainian Hub. Photo: Frank McGrath

Paul Hyland

A new centre where Ukrainian refugees can pick up clothes and other essential items has opened in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin.

The Ukrainian Hub is run by a group of local volunteers. It evolved out of a much smaller charity centre which opened in nearby Sandycove shortly after the Russian invasion began.

A large crowd gathered in Dún Laoghaire Shopping Centre for yesterday’s grand opening and within minutes of the shutters lifting a miniature play area had formed where young children picked their toys of choice.

One of the main organisers of the hub is Oxana Crossen. She moved here from Moscow 20 years ago and lives in Dún Laoghaire with her husband and three children.

She described herself as “half Ukrainian” and said the ongoing war is a “disaster”.

Ms Crossen said when they initially launched an appeal for items the response from the Irish public was so great they had to find a bigger location.

Thankfully she said the management at Dún Laoghaire Shopping Centre has offered them a unit and additional storage space for three months free of charge.

“People are arriving without much clothes and with kids. We are providing the necessities like clothes and toiletries and underwear for all ages,” she said.

“Books and things for school, and we’re giving it all away for free. We have people volunteering for the next three months.”

Ms Crossen said they have assisted “hundreds” of refugees, most of whom are based in Dublin, but some have come from as far away as Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare.

“The next thing we will be doing is trying to help people to learn English with volunteers here and with Irish friends because Irish people are very open to spending time, going for walks, going for coffee and helping people to get more integrated into the culture,” she said.

“This is a community place. We only spent €200 on the hub. The electrician who did the work is a guy we know, all the Irish ladies who are here are people we know. So it’s such a great community project that brought people together.”

Ms Crossen said a service called Befriend is also being established where people can share information about courses and job opportunities, while another service called Mumz2mumz is being organised where Ukrainian mothers can pick up large items such as buggies.

Another one of the main organisers of the hub is a woman called Lena, who did not want to give her last name.

Lena is from Russia and moved to Dublin 10 years ago. She said many Ukrainian people described the Sandycove hub as “such a heartwarming place” and they are hoping to replicate that feeling in Dún Laoghaire.

“Often when they see us Russians and we speak Russian to them, and I go ‘can I give you a hug’, they really appreciate that,” she said.

“We are leaving politics behind and we are concentrating on this humanitarian effort and human connections.”

Lena said it is important Ukrainian people “aren’t dumped with stuff” and that they can come in to a place like the hub and choose the clothes and other items that they want and need.

“Some stories are really heartbreaking, when you speak to them and they say they literally came without a change of underwear. Then they come here and at least they can fulfil their first needs before they get paid and can buy something for themselves.

“A girl came in and said she liked painting and one of the volunteers when to Arts and Hobby and bought a painting set. It’s those little things that are very humane and kind – it’s those little practical acts of kindness that are blowing my mind.”

Lena said there are volunteers around the country ready to set up more hubs, but they need the Government to provide premises.

“After three months, we hope there will be no need for the hub, but if there is what are we going to do? We can’t pay €1,000 a month for the unit, so what the Government needs to do is provide premises, make sure there is insurance and it’s set up and then let people do it.

“There is so many people who are willing to help and they don’t know how.”

Several Ukrainian teenagers who have already enrolled in Dublin schools were at yesterday’s grand opening.

Pauline Plastyn (14) moved to Dublin with her family last month and they are currently staying in a city centre hotel. She said she has “really liked” her time in Ireland so far.

“Because this country is really different from ours and people are really kind and peaceful. Everyone is making you feel at home and really comfortable,” she said.

“I also have a lot of teenagers living in the same hotel as me and we are going to the same school. Unfortunately, I don’t like the holidays because I like school. I’d like to study here. I’m going to be a criminal psychologist.”

The new hub is located in Unit 2, Georges Mall, Dún Laoghaire Shopping Centre and is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday.