Solidarity With Ukrainian Refugees On Show In The Courtyard of The Moravian Gallery

In the Moravian Gallery on Husova, as in many other places in Brno, we can witness great solidarity with Ukrainian people fleeing the war. Every day, from noon until 6 pm, the gallery accepts donations of all kinds of goods that may be useful for refugees, who can then come, have a cup of coffee and pick up what they need. Brno Daily met some of the volunteers from the Vesna association which is operating the donation centre. Photo credit: Coline B. / Brno Daily

Brno, March 19 (BD) –  At Husova 18a, in the courtyard between the Pražák palace and Besední, a few dozen people are chatting and walking among racks loaded with clothes, boxes filled with toys, and strollers gathered around a sculpture. Seeing the smiling faces and hearing the children’s laughter, you might think you are at a Sunday flea market or a neighbour’s party, but the reality is quite different. Here are collected all kinds of goods, from lamps to shampoo, and from books to coats, offered by generous residents of Brno to newly arrived Ukrainian refugees. From morning to evening, generous members of the public arrive with their arms full of donations and the refugees come to get what they need. A few volunteers run in all directions to receive all the goods and arrange them by category.

Barbora Antonova is the main organiser of the goods collection at the Moravian Gallery, as well as some other additional solidarity actions. Photo credit: Coline B. / Brno Daily

The organiser of this small miracle, set up in the hours following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is Barbora Antonova. She looks tired, but her eyes still sparkle under her sequined cap. She explains that a year ago now, she set up the small organisation Vesna with other women, the purpose of which was to help single mothers in need. “That’s why we have the know-how, why we have a community of women who are already united,” she says. This small group therefore adapted its activities immediately to be ready for the arrival of the first refugees. While they previously welcomed their guests only on Wednesdays and Thursdays, they started working Fridays as well, then Saturdays, then seven days a week.

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Rodrig is a Cameroonian master student in museology in Brno, and started volunteering a week ago. Photo credit: Coline B. / Brno Daily

“When the war started, we tried to do both, to continue to take care of single mothers while helping refugees, but it was too much. It was not possible,” says Barbora regretfully. She also observes that women who were previously helped by the association feel offended, because they can see all the solidarity towards Ukrainian families and the amount of donations, which is solidarity they have never benefited from. Fortunately, the association has still managed to maintain cooperation with the city’s social services so that they can pick up the basic necessities that precarious mothers need.

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Donations are carefully sorted: shoes and clothes by size, cutlery by category, toys by age. Photo credit: Coline B. / Brno Daily

What is happening at Husova is just “the tip of the iceberg,” Barbora says. Indeed, in addition to material assistance, the centre also offers an information service for Ukrainian refugees. The recently-launched website offers families in the Czech Republic the opportunity to “adopt” a Ukrainian family. Specifically, a team of students are in charge of putting participating families in contact. They try to find matches in fields of interest or the age of the children. “That’s great, it solves a lot of problems,” says Barbora with enthusiasm. Creating links on the spot, as well as obviously providing reassurance, also allows refugees to feel less lost in their efforts and saves them precious time. They can therefore seek advice on finding an apartment, carrying out administrative procedures, and all sorts of other everyday things.

Nela, 16, is a high school student in Brno. She came because she wanted to be useful and one of her teachers told her about this place where she could help as a volunteer. Photo credit: Coline B. / Brno Daily

Although she hopes she is “over a crisis,” Barbora says she, like all volunteers, is exhausted from the hard work. The small team has been joined by many new volunteers and is trying to transform itself into a more stable structure, while continuing to move forward. Ideally, it would help to be able to set up fixed schedules for everyone, which would allow for better organisation. Barbora would also like to access more financial means, both to help the refugees and to be able to remunerate the volunteers if their work becomes long-term. For this, she hopes to get more support from the state, but knows that Vesna relies for the moment mainly on the help of generous people.

Jan Press, the director of the Moravian Gallery, is one of them. He had already lent Vesna the small premises at the back of the courtyard since last December, but recently cancelled an exhibition so that the premises could be used for the support of refugees. Volunteers therefore now benefit from a room equipped with computers, some with Ukrainian keyboards, more storage space for donations and a large room which allows them to organize leisure and educational activities for the children.

Hanna arrived from Ukraine by train three days ago, accompanied by her three children and two friends. Photo credit: Coline B. / Brno Daily

If you want to help, be aware that the most requested material remains bedding (eg. mattresses, blankets, pillows) but baby food, cutlery, kitchen appliances, cosmetics, cleaning products, and writing material are also very important. 

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