'It's a nightmare': West Hampstead Ukrainian woman as she organises appeal

Bags full of donations outside West Hampstead house

"I was so stressed I couldn't even cry. I was just shaking." - Credit: Iryna Lewis

A Ukrainian woman living in West Hampstead organised a community donation drive for war-torn Kyiv, filling two cars with aid.

Iryna Lewis, 44, was heartbroken to hear from her friends and family in the Ukrainian capital about how the invasion has destroyed their lives. So on Saturday (February 26), she put a call out on Facebook asking people to donate blankets, clothes, food and medical supplies.

"I started to do this donation thing to settle down myself because I was just so nervous about the situation," Iryna said. "I was so stressed I couldn't even cry. I was just shaking.

"One of my friends in Kyiv has been living in underground stations for four days. They can't move from Kyiv because it's very dangerous. My cousin's 18-year-old son has to fight in the army. He was bombed straight away. I don't know if he's alive or not. It's a nightmare."

Iryna's aunt lives in Kyiv but refuses to stay with Iryna's parents who live in central Ukraine, where it is safer. Referring to when she fled Donetsk in 2014, She told Iryna: "I’ve run already, I can’t run all my life."

Local people's donations over the weekend reminded Iryna, who has lived in West Hampstead for eight years,  that "most people are kind, generous and loving". 

Chocolate with a post-it note that says 'Thinking of you all and sending love and secuirty'

Iryna has been able to send more than 150 large parcels of aid to Ukraine. - Credit: Iryna Lewis

In just 24 hours, 150 large parcels of aid were collected on Iryna's front drive at Beechcroft Avenue. The response has been "overwhelming" and much more than Iryna could have expected.

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"The sense of community is amazing. Yesterday, there were so many people here. They came and hugged me," she said.

Card that says "We stand with you"

Messages of solidarity accompanied the donations. - Credit: Iryna Lewis

"Many innocent people there are scared, confused and angry, whilst feeling trapped and isolated. Knowing that strangers in another country care enough about their plight to reach out and send help will mean the world and, I hope, will make them understand that they are supported and are in our thoughts."

The donations will be sent to Poland by car and will then be collected by men from Ukraine who will take them to the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. There they will be taken to an aid centre that organises supplies and decides who to give them to. A lot of aid will be sent to children with no families.