THEY arrive exhausted, relieved, and stressed, with many carrying heartbreak for their homeland and desperate worry for people left behind.
But, for the weary Ukrainian refugees who reach Ireland through Shannon Airport, the first thing they receive on clearing emigration is that most Irish of welcomes – a cup of tea.
And the Red Cross volunteers who meet them provide much more in the line of food, hygiene supplies, baby essentials, colouring books, cuddly toys and playthings for children, but most importantly of all, support and reassurance that they are safe.
Aiden Lonergan, a Garda Sergeant and Red Cross volunteer, told the Limerick Post that there are up to five volunteers at a time – many of them from Limerick – who are at the airport six days out of seven to meet the refugee flights.
“We provide them with essentials and privacy to come to terms with where they are. They have had a traumatic journey. Some become distressed and we provide psychological first aid for them,” he explained.
“The airport has been very good, they provide dedicated rooms where people can wait in privacy while their accommodation is being sorted and Zest, the food franchise at Shannon Airport, provides food and drinks.”
For the refugees landing in a country which is strange to many of them, the symbol of the Red Cross at the airport is a welcome sight when they arrive from Krakow and Wroclaw in Poland and from Budapest in Hungary.
“This is a symbol they have seen many times on their journey to safety and it gives them reassurance,” said Aiden.
In an interview with RTÉ, Red Cross volunteer Aebh O’Callaghan, said the arrivals are completely exhausted.
“Many of them are women and children and grandmothers,” she said.
“They are at the point of being catatonic with tiredness and hunger after the trauma of what they have witnessed, and the panic and distress in trying to travel and escape.”
Some of the arrivals will spend their first nights on Irish soil in hotels, while others have already been matched with families and accommodation.
The time of respite in the private rooms at the airport gives them time to regroup, get something to eat and drink, access the internet and allow the children some time for the normalising activity of play.
The Red Cross is asking people not to deliver supplies to Shannon Airport, as this creates a logistical problem. People who want to help are asked instead to donate to the Red Cross appeal.
Anyone interested in becoming a Red Cross volunteer should log on here