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Tetyana has volunteered with the Red Cross of Ukraine for almost three years. The following is Tetyana’s personal story about the help she provided to civilians during Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and an explanation of the difference between the Ukrainian Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a meeting with ICRC President Peter Maurer, where they discussed the opening of the organization’s office in Rostov-on-Don. This scandal has provoked a wave of accusations and distrust towards the volunteers of the Ukrainian Red Cross. The reason for the accusations is the concern that the opening of the office will help Russia to legalize its “humanitarian corridors” and will facilitate the forced deportation of Ukrainians to the territory of the aggressor state. Here, we’ll try to explain why accusing the Ukrainian Red Cross is a mistake.

Tanya Romaniuk, URC’s volunteer

I’ve been with the Emergency Response Team of the Ukrainian Red Cross for almost three years. I came here at a critical moment in my life when it seemed that everything was falling apart. I remember seeing people with the red-cross emblems since the Revolution of Dignity; afterwards, I kept noticing them at protests and festivals. Now, these “little crosses” are basically my second family. I’m not a doctor, but I know how to provide first aid, that is, to support a person’s life until the ambulance arrives. I was interested in first aid and attended courses before joining the Red Cross because I believe that human life is of the utmost importance and wanted to know what to do if someone next to me became ill unexpectedly.

During the first month of the invasion, I was on duty in the Red Cross tent at one of Kyiv’s railway stations, providing psychological assistance and first-aid to people who arrived from the temporarily occupied territories. I went to the houses that were shelled. We set up tents and helped transport those who could not walk on their own. We helped them get warm, treated the wounds, and supported the survivors psychologically.

I accompanied the evacuation convoys from the temporarily occupied towns in the Kyiv region (Dymerka, Irpin) and transported people back to the capital. This is the most mentally taxing task, because often evacuations take place under fire. When there is a life-threatening situation, I remain calm, concentrated and have a clear plan of action. The realization of what could have happened comes later, when I’m in a safe place. But despite the danger, I never thought about leaving. At times like this, the hugs and the words of gratitude of those whom we helped encourage me to continue doing my work. I know I’m in the right place at the Red Cross.

What impresses me the most are the children I met during the field visits. At the age of 5-8, they are mature beyond their years. It’s striking to see the destroyed towns, the bodies strewn around the streets, and the people who bypass the undetonated missiles that stick out of the ground. It was staggering to see a man who, during the evacuation from Irpin, only took his cat. He didn’t take his documents or anything else, just his cat. As he was drinking tea in our tent at the train station, with his hands shaking, he started crying and saying: “What do I do? What should I do next?” Stories like this one break my heart.

I’ve always been proud to be a Red Cross volunteer. However, over the past two weeks, a lot of hatred has been directed towards me and my colleagues because of the events in Rostov. In the first days after the scandal, I wanted to take a taxi in Kyiv, but the man refused to drive me because of my Red Cross uniform. There was another situation when we brought a wounded man from Irpin to one of Kyiv’s hospitals. We were standing in the corridor waiting for him to be picked up and examined, and my boss asked the doctor, “How are you doing? Are the victims being taken directly to you? How are they feeling and in what condition are they?” The doctor looked at us and said, “Maybe they’re taken here, but I won’t tell a thing to the Red Cross.” The reason behind this is that people don’t know much about the structure of the Red Cross. The Ukrainian Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross are completely different organizations, united only by their involvement in the same cause.

Ukraine’s Red Cross is independent and autonomous; Ukrainians volunteer in this organisation. The hostile attitude towards us is demotivating and upsetting because the volunteers of the URC’s Emergency Response Team were involved from the first days of the full-scale war. Our work doesn’t bring us money; we hardly visit our homes and don’t see our relatives. All this is done in order to be able to quickly arrive at the scene (at the call of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine) and start providing assistance. We risk our lives in order to help evacuate thousands of people despite the shelling; we deliver humanitarian aid to the temporarily occupied cities and transport people with limited mobility to safer places; we teach people to provide first aid. We are constantly on duty at the railway station so that people will be able to get the necessary assistance and support. We have either heard or witnessed multiple stories of people suffering, and each one affected us. Among its principles, the Red Cross has a position of neutrality: we cannot take anyone’s side because the security of the civilian population on both sides is important to us. Thanks to this, Russian troops are allowing our presence in the occupied territories to help civilians. We don’t leak personal data or make videos, because next time we won’t be able to enter the occupied territories and help the people who remain there.

When I pass the Russian checkpoint, I need to be as restrained as possible, despite the feelings that are raging inside. If something goes wrong, anything can happen: they can shoot me or our crew, take me prisoner, and as a result, we will fail in the evacuation of civilians. My facial expression usually remains stony, and I answer the questions with restraint.

My only goal is to evacuate the civilian population, and that’s what I focus on. As long as they don’t hurt me physically, I have to behave calmly, so I wouldn’t provoke anyone. During the evacuation, the Red Cross vehicle is a guarantee that the convoy is official and its movement is coordinated at the highest levels on both sides. Of course, sometimes the military loses contact, and on several occasions, we ended up in very dangerous situations where we could be killed because soldiers lacked the necessary information about the convoy. It’s a miracle that we’ve survived.

I understand that I could be killed in the process. But I have no children or family, and I believe that if something happens to me, it will be less painful than if something bad happens to someone with children or family, who will be left to fend for themselves. I’m not afraid to die, but I’m scared for my team and my relatives. I don’t think about myself at all. I zero in on my tasks because I know that what I do is important. And that I am in my element because helping people is what I have been passionate about since I was 16 years old. We are now saving thousands of lives, and these are thousands of other people’s “little universes”: their moms and dads, their grandparents, their daughters and sons. Once a week, I make sure to talk to a psychologist, so I wouldn’t keep all of it to myself.

Across Ukraine, the URC employs about 500 volunteers in the Emergency Response Team, including about 50 people in Kyiv alone. Each of us is pained by what’s happening in Ukraine today. We are working on the same front at our maximum capacity — so let’s unite, support each other, and bring victory closer together.

Comment from URC

The Ukrainian Red Cross Society (URCS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are different organizations. The Ukrainian Red Cross has an exclusively national mandate — it works only on the territory of Ukraine.

The ICRC has an international mandate, acting as a neutral and impartial mediator between all parties of the armed conflict to resolve humanitarian issues.

Therefore, we would like to emphasize that the Ukrainian Red Cross is not connected with the ICRC’s official visit to the Russian Federation, and with the opening of offices or humanitarian centers in Rostov-on-Don.

The Ukrainian Red Cross protects people’s lives, alleviates their suffering during armed conflicts and natural disasters, as well as assists public authorities in activities in the humanitarian sphere. URCS assists in providing humanitarian aid and supports the work of local authorities in the evacuation of the population, but can NOT initiate humanitarian corridors.

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