No need to feel helpless in assisting Ukrainians
“I have ghosts that I carry, but I carry them gently into the work that I do”,
As Daniel Wordsworth trudged across the expanse of no-man’s land between Romania and Ukraine, the CEO of World Vision Australia was touched by the sight of about 200 women and small children walking with him through the snow.
“I was walking with this group of mums with children and it’s very haunting and sweet, and it’s very conflicting – it’s horrible what’s going on,” he says.
“I have ghosts that I carry, but I carry them gently into the work that I do,” he adds, referring to the people he met on his visit earlier this month to the border town of Siret in Romania and during a mercy dash across the border to take emergencies supplies to a hospital in Ukraine.
In Siret, which has received hundreds of thousands of refugees in the weeks since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Daniel was particularly struck by the experience of Christina and her eight-year-old daughter, who had just crossed the border.
“She talked about the fact that the morning they left, which was two days before she got to the border, on the front step of the house, the husband went east and she went west with their child. They kissed each other, hugged each other. And then he literally went in the truck east to fight. She took a bus west with her child.
“She said ‘I wanted to stay and fight myself, but we decided that our daughter’s survival was the highest priority.’ But it’s a heavy load for her to carry and you don’t know if you will ever get home, or if you will you have a husband and a father waiting for you when you do. Once you cross that no-man’s land between borders, it’s only a hundred metres across, but it’s 10,000 miles to get back.”
With his 25 years of experience in working with refugees in the world’s toughest places, Daniel has observed that refugees almost never go back home.
“There’s a million reasons why, but I’ve just noticed over time, there is something about that little 100-metre stretch that once you’ve crossed it, it becomes a gulf,” he says.
“That’s why, when I spoke to the Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia [Volodymyr Shalkivskyi], he said, ‘Please don’t call them refugees because you’re creating a gulf that they can’t cross or return from, and we need them to come back home.’”
“Things are being done and they’re being done because of Australian donations.”
As World Vision gears up to assist thousands of people crossing the country in Ukraine and into Romania, Moldova and Georgia, Daniel’s main message to Australians is there’s no reason to feel helpless.
“We’ve all been through so much over the last few years in our own country. We’ve had so much anxiety, so much instability, so much uncertainty, so much isolation, and right at the moment where we think we were getting out of it, we get hit with Omicron. And then even the week that this subsides, we get hit with [the Russian invasion of Ukraine] and the danger in the face of all of this is to go helpless,” he says.
“And so the key message is, there is absolutely no reason to feel helpless. One, we believe in a big God. Two, we do believe that the arc of justice does bend over time – there’ll be an accounting for all these things.
“And also World Vision is there, so when somebody donates – I delivered those things myself, I know it works. I know you can go into a hospital and you can resupply that hospital within 48 hours of learning about it. And I know that now we’re in two more hospitals and that we’re going to keep on doing that. So things can be done; things are being done and they’re being done because of Australian donations. So there’s no reason for a person to feel helpless in the face of that.”
World Vision has been working around the clock with local leaders to find ways to meet the urgent need for food, hospital supplies and other goods and get them to children and patients in hospitals, in particular, Daniel says.
World Vision’s humanitarian deliveries include hospital supplies such as mattresses, pillows, sheets, towels, soap and disinfectant, as well as food items such as pasta, grains, rice, oil, condensed milk and canned meat to hungry children and families and especially sick patients.
This week the agency delivered four truckloads of supplies to the sprawling Romexpo refugee shelter in Bucharest, including baby food, hygiene products, baby food, nappies, food items, and sterilisers. It plans to help 450,000 people in the first six months as Ukrainian refugees flood the centre seeking assistance with basic needs.
The assistance comes as the total numbers of Ukrainians entering Romania hit 500,000 this week, with 10 million people now displaced inside and outside of Ukraine.
The make-shift refugee centre has set up 560 beds but has a capacity of 2000. These are on top of the 6000 officially provided beds by the Bucharest City Council and has been set up in anticipation of a Russian advance into the city of Odessa. The city is predicting an extra 10,000 refugees will flee to Bucharest if Odessa becomes caught up in the conflict.
“Our role is to support where the greatest needs are for infants and children,” Daniel said.
“This will be the first of many truckloads of supplies that World Vision will provide to the shelter, as we anticipate refugee numbers to continue growing and needs to soar. And with food prices forecast to increase by between 8 and 22 per cent, it’s going to become a lot harder for those fleeing to feed their children and access basic supplies like baby formula.”
“World Vision is the largest force for good driven by everyday people that’s ever existed.”
Asked if World Vision’s resources are being stretched by the commitments it’s made to supply emergency needs to refugees in countries bordering Ukraine, he says “we’re not being stretched yet.”
“Depending on what happens inside Ukraine, that’s where the stretch might happen. We’re talking about three and a half million refugees that have crossed over, but they’re crossing over into environments like Poland. So in those settings, we are one of a team that’s responding to that crisis and we can play our part. Inside Ukraine, estimates are there are 10 million people that are displaced and on the road and moving around.
“The hospital that I visited was in a town. And in that area around, when I was there, there were around 500 refugees. Now there’s 210,000. So stepping into that space will be a stretch and a challenge, but thankfully we’re designed for these levels.”
Asked what he means by that, Daniel answers: “World Vision is the largest force for good driven by everyday people that’s ever existed … UNICEF is large but UNICEF’s a government organisation – it’s part of the United Nations system. In World Vision, we’re just regular people. UNICEF shows what the international community of nations does. World Vision shows what all the rest of us do, right? So we represent the idealism and the aspirations and the compassion and the kindness of everyday people … One of the main reasons I’m with World Vision is I know that when something dreadful like this happens, we have the size and reach that we can go in immediately and do something … We’re an organisation that is designed for disaster agility and uncertainty.”
You can support World Vision’s Ukraine appeal here.