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Danish charity brings entire kindergarten’s contents to help Ukrainian kids in need

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DYMER–CHERNIHIV, Ukraine - The contents of an entire kindergarten in Copenhagen, Denmark have been transported to Ukraine by Danish organization Help Ukrainian Kids (Hjælp ukrainske børn) with toys, furniture and playground equipment being sent to four different Ukrainian institutions that help disadvantaged children.

“We’ve brought 11 tons of humanitarian aid from a Danish kindergarten that has a value of about Hr 1 million, and we are now taking all this equipment to four different places,” Oleksandra Ihnatyk-Eriksen, the director of the Danish aid organization, told the Kyiv Post.

Ihnatyk-Eriksen, accompanied by her Danish husband Henning Eriksen, are now traveling around Ukraine with a truck delivering all the contents of the kindergarten, which was closed down in Copenhagen for city planning reasons.

The aid recipients are Lisova Zastava, a children’s camp near Kyiv for refugees and kids of Ukrainian soldiers, the Chernihiv Regional Psychological and Neurological Hospital and its department for mentally ill children, the Krupivskiy Education and Rehabilitation Center for children with vision problems in Volyn, and the Znamenskiy orphanage for children with cerebral palsy in Kirovohrad.

Apart from furniture and toys, the aid even includes a sledge for the neurological hospital in Chernihiv for mentally ill children. Eriksen said the head of the Chernihiv hospital, Volodymyr Yachenko, told him it was the first time in 30 years that anybody had provided the hospital with any aid.

“It’s unbelievable,” Eriksen said.

The kindergarten’s kitchen went to Lisova Zastava, a volunteer-run children’s camp north of Kyiv offering 24-day stays for up to 120 children of refugees and Ukrainian servicemen at a time.

“They don’t get anything from the state, that’s for sure,” Eriksen said of the Ukrainian children’s camp volunteers. “But they show that a lot is possible if you have the will.”

While visiting Lisova Zastava, Eriksen was touched to see a 4-5 year old girl sitting quietly by herself as other kids played around her. “She showed the tell-tale signs of psychological damage from the war,” said Eriksen, who is a social worker working with troubled children back in Denmark.

Ihnatyk-Eriksen proudly pointed out bicycles, lighting fixtures and lampshades brought from Denmark. In spite of the transportation costs, she said it was actually easier to bring such aid from Denmark than to locally source it.

“In Ukraine is impossible to find this kind of equipment [for free], because they don’t have this tradition of donating things when places close,” she said.

However, each time Ihnatyk-Eriksen visits places in need in Ukraine, they ask her for more equipment, and by the time she leaves she has a list of new requests. Part of her work is to carefully select aid recipients.

“Anybody who wants to receive humanitarian aid from our organization needs to send us a request, and we check through our volunteers which places really need help before we send anything.”

Regular site visits and requests for official documentation are part of the vetting process.

“We send our donors all the official documentation, photos or even videos to reassure them that the humanitarian aid is not disappearing or being sold in the market,” Ihnatyk-Eriksen said.

According to her, this is one of the reasons why some people prefer working with her organization than sending humanitarian aid directly to the Ukrainian government.

“Some Danish people don’t trust the Ukrainian government because of the corruption scandals. In the past year there were many stories of humanitarian aid that later disappeared or was sold in the market, so people want to see the official documentation,” she said.

The Danish group was formed in June 2014, after Ihnatyk-Eriksen and her husband heard about a children’s home being hastily evacuated from the war zone in eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014. Together, the two collected no less than 41 large boxes of clothes and household supplies for the children, donated by their community in suburban Copenhagen.

That initial charity effort was soon followed by others. Earlier shipments included five ambulances, medical supplies, and even named aid boxes individually packaged for war widows with children, complete with children’s clothes, cosmetics, and letters of condolence.

“During the past year we’ve brought 93 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, which had a [total] value of more than Hr 11 million,” Ihnatyk-Eriksen said.

Eriksen said the total aid provided to Ukraine by the organization was about to hit the 100-ton mark.

His wife expects to ship much more aid to Ukraine before the end of the year.

“By the end of 2015 we expect to have brought eight more trucks with about 70 tons of humanitarian aid like clothes, furniture, and hospital equipment. We also want to bring the contents of a second kindergarten and an old people’s home,” she said.

Eriksen said the aid organization’s warehouse in Copenhagen is now full of clothes and supplies. He said he was impressed by his fellow Danes’ willingness to donate – especially considering that Ukraine was largely unknown, or even seen as part of Russia by many in Western Europe before the EuroMaidan uprising raised awareness.

“We have overcome resistance [to donate] because we help innocent children, and we can prove that the aid reaches those in need,” Eriksen said.

Kyiv Post summer intern Pablo Gabilondo can be reached at pgwff@mail.missouri.edu.

Kyiv Post staff writer Johannes Wamberg Andersen can be reached at johannes.wa@gmail.com.

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