The most extraordinary stories always start from the heart.
It was February 24th. A day like any other for us, but a horrific day for the Ukrainian people, the beginning of a war that has shaken the whole world.
“We cannot remain indifferent,” the Italian President said, and while I watched the reports on TV at breakfast, my mind began to run. I wanted to do something… but what? Maybe I could just get in my car, drive to the Ukrainian border and pick up as many people as I could. The situation was so horrendous, it was impossible to ignore. I HAD TO DO SOMETHING. So I got in touch with Sapori Reclusi’s partner Bus Company and asked them if we could go to the border together. They agreed right away: “Count us in”.
Then and there, all the members of the association got to work organizing the first trip to Suceava, on the Romanian-Ukrainian border. Five days later we were on the road. The idea had come to fruition: to bring aid to those affected by the war and come back with some of the people fleeing. At least a few of them.
48 hours later we reached our destination and unloaded our boxes in the warehouses indicated by the NGO IBO Italia. Thanks to a network of Romanian charities, we were able to pick up 40 passengers, all women and children.
The return trip was not easy. The huge queues at passport control at the border between Romania and Hungary led to delays that felt never-ending. Complicated by the fact that not all of the asylum seekers with us had a passport.
But after ten hours we were able to set off again
Several families were Milan, while 12 people came to Cuneo. Some were temporarily hosted by two families in Fossano, and others in Cuneo, before travelling on to Rome, Naples and Palermo a few days later.
It felt like we had done very little, and we wanted to do a lot more. The stories of Milena, Sofia and Filippo, the members of the association who had experienced it all first-hand, made us want to organize another trip. And on 20th March another bus set off, this time for Przemyls, on the border between Poland and Ukraine. On board were Davide, Filippo, Olek, Ludovico, Federico and Riki, together with Daniela and Mario from Croce Bianca in Fossano.
Each journey is a new experience, and there were hold-ups this time too.
At the border everything felt a bit surreal: someone playing the piano, the impeccable organization of the humanitarian mission of the New Federal State of China, the Polish soldiers directing operations.
To pick up the refugees, we had to drive further into Ukraine, and once more lots of people crowded on board: women, children, teens, and one man aged over 80. Now they have all been given accommodation thanks to Caritas in Fossano (CN) and the town council of Bene Vagienna (CN).
We set off again a few days later with the “Stop the War Now” convoy, heading for Lviv.
With a minibus from Bus Company, we hit the road with a driver, a nurse, Filippo – one of our members – and the chairman and director of the association FOCSIV. Once we arrived in Lviv we delivered all the medicines and essentials we’d brought with us to the collection centre. We spent the night in Lviv then headed back to Italy the next day, taking more than 300 people to safety.
We were determined to keep helping, so we made the journey to the Polish-Ukrainian border once more. Now our network of contacts is getting closer and more efficient. This time, thanks to NO BORDER, we managed to get in touch with Radical Air Force and Taxi for Solidarity, two German associations that have been transporting medical supplies to the hospital in Lviv and Kharkiv on a daily basis since the beginning of the conflict. Bandages, gloves, syringes and medicines were purchased in large quantities and brought to the warehouses of the aforementioned organizations in Przemyśl.
In terms of assisting refugees, our contacts on the ground helped yet again in locating people ready to come to Italy with us. We are now working with two associations in Rzeszow and volunteers from the Italian info desk in the Przemyśl refugee centre. In all, we managed to pick up a total of 21 people: 10 have been helped to join their families in various Italian cities, while the other 11 are being hosted in the Fossano area, with all the care and dignity that this task requires.
There is a lot of work to be done and not only at the border; in just a few weeks, we have built up a network of different bodies. Communication and outreach are at the heart of this undertaking, and we are now working with Caritas in Fossano and other associations in the Cuneo area, to help support and integrate the refugees who have arrived in the area.
The aim is to foster cultural exchanges that will make long-term integration more feasible: we want to set up Italian courses for the refugees, help them find work and provide financial and personal support to all the people who have accepted our help, through linguistic mediators. Above all we want to foster their inclusion in the local community.
The best way to keep all our emotions in check is to focus on the amazing work everyone is doing, the strength shown by these people, their determination to hope for a better future, and the sense that we are incredibly lucky to be able to play our part. We will be returning to Poland, Romania and Ukraine.
It is harrowing to think of the stories we have left behind, and those we carry with us. All we can do is try to lend a hand and hope for the best.
And that is why we will not stop until the war is over.
We thank everyone who is helping us to make this happen:
THE TEAM OF SAPORI RECLUSI
Milena Punzi Anfossi
Piero Fabrizio Corona
Andrea Alciati, Andrea Fantino, Antonella Toppia, Aurelian Virga, Bruno Chiapello, Carlo Ramondetti , Carlo Sarotto, Caterina Rebutto, Chiara Violino, Cristian Casale, Daniel Saveanu , Daniela Bertone, Davide Sebastiano, Donatella Badagliacca, Dumitru Plesca, Elena Novikova , Elena Ramondetti, Franco Felician, Frediano Cignolini, Giusi Cantale, Ivana Borsotto, Marco Bertorello, Mario Sarvia, Maurizio Nardi, Mazzimo Zoppi, Mimmo Vittone, Mirella Rinaldi, Omar Tesio, Perla Giannotti, Riccardo Bima