Among the many items at 44 Clarendon Street are rows and rows of pre-worn boots, shoes and sandals, neatly lined up, awaiting new owners. These items of footwear will be claimed in the coming days by Ukrainian refugees who have fled their country, taking with them little except papers, babies and courage.
In the window of the new Palyantsya Charity Center is their mission statement: “The purpose of this center is to provide displaced people from Ukraine with clothing and essential items.
The center opened yesterday and was installed by Coffee Art in a store space that was vacant. By noon, according to Marta Dziuma, already more than 100 people had taken advantage of the service.
Dziuma came to Ireland from Ukraine four years ago and works as a volunteer and translator at the centre.
Svitlana Belimenko, who arrived in Ireland just a week ago from near Zaporizhzia, has also volunteered. Belimenko, who puts clothes on hangers, came with her two daughters and two grandchildren, including a newborn. One of his daughters is pregnant. “My husband and my two sons stayed,” she said. It was one of his sons who advised the family to come to Ireland.
They came with nothing but documents. They had lived through days and nights of rockets and seen bombs being dropped from planes. “We took shelter in a bunker overnight, and when we came out we heard there was a train going by,” she explains. They did not return home to collect anything. They boarded a succession of trains and buses, waited in line at the border for 19 hours and arrived in Ireland after 12 days of travel.
The center contains toiletries, sanitary products, clothing for men, women and children, toys, books and baby food. Everything is arranged like in a flea market, except that there is no price on anything: everything is free. All items were donated by the public and were collected offsite. (There is no facility to accept donations at 44 Clarendon Street itself.)
According to Marta Dziuma, the most requested items are shoes, then toys, then clothes. The Belimenko family came with only the clothes they were wearing.
Irina Latyntseva stands with her four-year-old twins and seven-year-old brother, watching them choose toys. A twin holds a Batman figurine with a shout of joy. The family fled Kyiv and are now staying at the Address Connolly hotel on rue Amiens, which is closed to the general public until “at least June 30”, according to its website. Latyntseva’s husband came with her, as their eldest son has special needs.
“We are trying to get the twins into kindergarten. We came to Ireland because we heard there were schools for children with special needs. That was our main priority coming here,” she says, patting her eldest son’s head, who is holding her tightly.
Svitlana Dovban left her home in Odessa on March 2 and arrived in Ireland on March 8. She traveled alone. She too now volunteers at the Palyantsya centre; striking in her black puffer jacket and bright pink coat she wore when she left Ukraine.
“I came to Ireland because it’s away from war and I feel safer, because it’s a neutral country,” she says. His house has since been destroyed by shelling. “I came with a small bag,” she said. “I have to start over from the beginning.”