'I can't just sit here and watch it anymore, I have to do something'

Grace in "The War at Home" which will be airing on RTÉ One on Monday September 19 at 9:35pm.

Grace in "The War at Home" which will be airing on RTÉ One on Monday September 19 at 9:35pm.

Ballybrit native Grace Kennedy has raised over €70,000 and organised aid, transport, accommodation and support to those fleeing the conflict, finding homes for 5,000 Ukrainians in Ireland.

In February 2022, televisions around the world watched on February 24, as Russian president Vladimir Putin announced his decision to launch an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine via land, sea and air. For Kennedy, a law tutor in University of Galway, this is a time she remembers with absolute clarity.

Kennedy, who will be appearing on the 'The War at Home', on RTÉ One on Monday, September 19 at 9:35pm said, "I was sitting watching the news, and 'I was like I can't just sit here and watch it anymore, I have to do something."

Inspired to help, Kennedy and a friend put up a "very simple post" on Facebook calling for donations of food, medicine and other aid to be brought to a car park in Merlin Park. Initially hoping for 1 small van, this turned into 6 trucks and numerous buses.

"People were so generous, we ended up using the Racecourse for about 2 weeks because the volume of aid was colossal," she said.

Kennedy's initial visit to Ukraine was in one of those trucks, and shortly after arriving she realised, "there's no point sending aid. You're better off to get people out and get them to safety in Ireland. I started a GoFundMe and people started donating and I've pretty much gone over to Ukraine every second week since."

For Kennedy, the routine of finding people who need aid starts initially with her finding a house for them to go to in Ireland. She's passionate about it being a "door to door" experience, "I always make sure that I have a host family organised already before I start the whole movement of people, because otherwise they'll end up in Citywest and the tents in Gormanstown for a long, long, long, long time and I just don't agree with it.

When it comes to those who have opened their homes to accommodate people she has brought back from Ukraine, Kennedy speaks with great warmth saying, "Thank God people all over Ireland have been so good, and have really opened their homes, which is not easy, I know it's not. I've had so many people living with me and I get it. It's a huge change in your life, it's not like they're on holiday, it's a long term thing."

One of the first families Kennedy helped to come to Ireland currently lives in Clonbur. It started with Luda who was in a group of five including her two young children and two elderly parents in ill health. Upon learning Kennedy was in the area, Luda reached out, her diabetic father's insulin had run out and there was no hope for getting any more. They had ran under rocket fire to get away from the invasion, with just one carrier bag between them.

A "lovely" man donated his holiday home in Clonbur, near Cong to the family, allowing them some form of normalcy. The children are now in school, and Kennedy reports that Arsen, Luda's son, now plays for Ballinrobe and scored "9 goals in his first match." Likewise, Luda's father who now regularly visits their local pub for a pint of Guinness.

As the days get colder, Ukraine and it's people are heading into what Kennedy calls an, "impossible winter," and is currently fundraising for a greatly needed water filtration system for Kharkiv hospital, who currently have no fresh water.

For those interested in updates or donating visit, 'Grace Kennedy- Journey to Ireland' on the GoFundMe website.

 

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