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  • Writer's picturePascal Kuba

"The people in Switzerland are great"

For a year now, a terrible war has been raging in Ukraine. But not all people are able to seek shelter abroad. The sick in particular need humanitarian aid. The humanitarian association Switlo provides targeted support, as the fate of Viktor Oleschko shows.

February 24, 2023 marks the anniversary of the large-scale Russian invasion of all of Ukraine. Millions of people have lost their homes since the war began. Many of them travelled to Europe to find protection from Russian bombs. However, many Ukrainians are unable to leave their country. Two of them are Viktor and Irina Oleshko. They live in Zaporizhzhya, a town less than an hour's drive from the front. They cannot think about fleeing: Viktor is ill. The former plumber suffered a stroke during the night shift in 2019. "At first I could still move independently, but a year ago my condition deteriorated enormously. Since then, I can only sit or lie down," the 63-year-old says.

Viktor spent his whole life in Zaporizhzhya, his wife Irina also grew up in the region. When the war broke out, they were shocked. "It was an indescribable horror! We were scared, confused and didn't know what was happening to our country and our people," they tell us. Because of the war, help for people like Viktor and Irina is very hard to find. Both are now dependent on their neighbours who, for example, bring them wood for their stove so they don't have to freeze. They no longer have any family to look after them.

A few weeks ago, however, the couple received the help they needed. Several trucks from Switzerland arrived in Zaporizhzhya loaded with food, clothes and, most importantly, the vital medical aid for Viktor that came from Switlo's collection campaigns. For Viktor, this is of unimaginable value: adult nappies, a wheelchair and a new mattress could be provided for him. He was especially happy about the mattress, the old one was already very worn out. Insufficient for a person with such suffering. Viktor and his wife are incredibly grateful for the donation: "The people in Switzerland are great, God bless you!" Despite the long war, Viktor is confident and there is little lack of support for his country. "I think we will win," the 63-year-old says proudly.

Stories like this affect the Switlo humanitarian association in two ways over. It is heartbreaking especially for Olena, Andriy and their daughter Antonina. The Maltsev family is from the city of Zaporizhzhya and has been living in Freiamt, Aargau, for nine years now. They are also co-founders of Switlo. "I can't believe that something like this is happening in my home town. All the better that we can help the people there," says Antonina. At the same time, stories like this are also the reason why Switlo provides its services, despite great help from states and aid organisations. "We can perhaps reach people like Viktor better than large aid organisations, because we have an excellent network in the regions near the front, including Zaporizhzhya," says Andriy.

Since 24 February 2022, Switlo has been able to deliver 20 large trucks to Ukraine. The vast majority of the donations came from private individuals. "We thank the donors as often as we can. It is only thanks to their warmth and generosity that the people in the crisis areas can be supported," says Olena. Switlo has been able to help thousands of Ukrainians, from Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, a refugee centre, to the eastern Ukrainian cities of Zaporizhzhya, Kharkiv and Kherson. The last two cities were only recaptured in the summer of this year, which is why the humanitarian situation in these regions is sometimes worrying. This is another reason why further action by Switlo is indispensable. Switlo is still dependent on private donors.



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