On the threshold of the Brdy Mountains in Czechia is the town of Dobříš with 8,700 inhabitants. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 1,000 people who had to left their homes due to the war have come to this region. They came with little, sometimes with nothing. But the community of Dobříš shows that it can lend a helping hand and persist in helping.
The local action group Brdy-Vltava, which operates in Dobříš and surrounding municipalities, started helping on 25 February, when it organised the first humanitarian aid, which went to the border with Slovakia. This was quickly followed by the cooperation with other organisations and volunteers in the region, creating a corridor of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, which consisted of preparing improvised accommodation and distributing aid where it was most needed. "We supplied Slovak colleagues from local action groups at the border who bore the brunt of the initial migration. We were helped by people from all over our region, including representatives of municipalities," says Markéta Dvořáková, director of Brdy – Vltava, describing the beginnings of the coordinated assistance.
In the first few months, everything was done on a voluntary basis, but in June, the organisation was supported by the Ministry of the Interior and, in addition to extended material assistance, it was able to start paying those who were involved in the assistance in the region, mostly the refugees themselves. The Dobříš Community Centre has become a meeting place for the new Ukrainian community and the centre of many activities that have started to be prepared there in cooperation with the Czech neighbours. Czech language courses for children and adults, leisure activities, clubs for children, joint movie screenings and relaxing afternoons where Czech and Ukrainian children meet and can get to know each other's cultural worlds.
But providing help is not so easy. According to Markéta Dvořáková, the biggest complication is the difficulty of planning, because it is impossible to predict with certainty how the whole situation will continue to develop. Often, a lot of improvisation has to be done according to current needs. "In order to keep the aid continuous for as long as possible, we have to raise external funds, and the projects are usually short-term for a few months. Nevertheless, we are ready to help for as long as it is needed, even with the help of volunteers, whom I would like to thank very much," says Markéta Dvořáková describing the challenges of coordinating the aid.
Cooperation with IOM Czechia
In its area, MAS Brdy-Vltava continuously maps the current needs of Ukrainian refugees. With the weather getting colder, quality blankets, other bedding and, in addition to these, kitchen equipment have proved to be in great short supply. With the financial support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with whom they have recently partnered, they are now expanding their assistance to include the purchase and distribution of blankets, pillows, bedding and sheets as well as energy efficient kitchen appliances and utensils to better equip kitchens of Ukrainian refugees in need. Integration activities are also continuing with IOM support, bringing Ukrainian and Czech children together and providing local schools with the necessary equipment to teach new pupils.
"I think they are happy for the help. Sometimes they hug us and cry. I haven't seen so much gratitude in a long time, even though we also provide similar support to locals in need," says Markéta Dvořáková when asked how Ukrainian refugees react to the help offered. As they themselves say, they are not very used to such help. Here, however, they assist with its organisation and coordination.
Among them is Natali. Since she left the war zone and came to the Dobříš region, she has been in daily contact with the staff of the community centre, who have helped with difficult social situations and provided material and psychological assistance. She thus became the unofficial representative of the local Ukrainian refugees and shortly afterwards was invited to start working at the community centre. She is involved in organizing joint events for people from Ukraine and the Czech Republic, distributing food and basic needs, and counselling.
"This position requires not only participation in many areas of assistance and cooperation with specialists of the local organization, but also personal competence, communication skills, mental stability and the desire to help people in critical situations. The difficult part of it all, however, is that you are experiencing the same problems. Sometimes you lack skills and practical knowledge in certain situations," Natali reveals the positives and difficulties of her new job.
According to Markéta Dvořáková, the biggest contribution to the integration of people from Ukraine is that the local community accepted them, provided them with housing and support. The support in Dobříš works on a family basis, as the refugees were taken in by specific families with whom they remain in contact. "Of course, together with the people from Ukraine, we want the conflict to finally end so that they can return home and those who wish to stay can grow their potential for the benefit of themselves and our community," says Markéta Dvořáková.
Community - foundation of help
The community helping people in need in Dobříš and surrounding municipalities, and now also those who had to leave their homes because of the war, is among many others in Czechia, other countries in Europe and around the world that show the power of social solidarity. It demonstrates that through joint efforts and coordinated action, aid can be effectively provided and sustained. All it takes is a community.