When 28-year-old Syrian Omar Alshakal saw the exodus of desperate people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he knew firsthand what they were going through — and started thinking about ways to help.

“As a person who came out of a war, I fully understand how people are afraid and flee, trying to be safe,” he told AFP, shivering in his coat and gray cap in the freezing temperatures at the Siret border crossing between Ukraine and Romania. .

“I try to make sure I can help as many people as possible and give hope for the future,” he says.


The stocky, bearded Alshakal spent periods in detention in Syria, along with countless others who took part in protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship.

Then, he says, in 2013 he was injured by an explosion near the car in which he was trying to take the injured to hospital.

After going to Turkey to seek medical care, in 2014 he decided with two friends to take a hard dive into Greek territory, the gateway to the EU where he dreamed of a new life.

After a short stay in Germany, he returned to Greece to help others flee and founded the Refugee4Refugees association on the island of Lesbos in 2017.

Children in tears
Last month, moved by the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, he decided to go to Siret, where 130,000 people have crossed the border since February 24, mostly women and children.

“I remember the first time I saw a little girl screaming and crying ‘Daddy’ at the border,” he recalls.

Many able-bodied men have remained in Ukraine to fight against the Russian forces.

His association rented a hotel a few kilometers from the border where they could accommodate between 50 and 100 refugees.

An outbuilding of the building is already filled with piles of food and hygiene supplies, Alshakal says as he and other volunteers unload a truckload of humanitarian aid.

The wooden skeleton of an extension of the site is nearby, in the hope that it will increase capacity.

‘A family’
The site is staffed by about 10 Alshakal colleagues from around the world, and the organization is trying to find more people to join.

Alshakal says he wants to “make those on the run feel like we’re one family.”

“We are together for the happiness and for the sadness,” he adds.

Having a Syrian passport means that travel doesn’t always go as smoothly as it could be.

On his way to Romania, he says he was stopped and questioned by the police about what he was planning to do there.

About his own future he says: “My life is back at home, next to my family and my friends”.

“I dream of going back, but don’t see it happening now,” he adds.

In Syria, his parents, a brother and a sister are waiting for him whom he has not seen for almost 12 years.

For now, he’s looking at it day by day.

“Today I hope no one needs help and everyone is safe, this is my dream.”


This post From Syria to Ukraine Border: A Refugee, Omar Alshakal, Helps Victims of War was original published at “https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/from-syria-to-ukraine-border-a-refugee-omar-alshakal-aids-war-victims/articleshow/90334364.cms”

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