New school year, new clothes for refugee children in Ukraine

Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) Europe has donated more than 30,000 pieces of new clothing worth some 95,000 euros to refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable people in Ukraine's Kyiv, Odesa and Zakarpattia regions.

Sudanese refugee Julia Hamdam finding the right fit at the family support centre in Odesa.   © UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk

KYIV, Ukraine, Sept 22 (UNHCR) - The first day of school is always difficult. It means getting out of bed early, adjusting to new routines, coping with separation anxieties and meeting new classmates for the first time. Poorer students also have to worry about smaller details like what to wear to school.

But thanks to a donation from Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) Europe, young refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable children in Ukraine now have new clothes to wear for the new school year.

Burundian refugee Alexander Nrkunziza was very proud when his son Roma passed an interview to be enrolled in the local school #109 in Odesa. The single father raised his two boys, aged five and seven, on his own after his wife left last year, telling him to send the kids to an orphanage. He now repairs apartments for a living, and lives with the boys in a small communal flat. New clothes are a luxury when he can barely make enough to support the family.

"We are very grateful for these clothes. This is of great help," said Nrkunziza when he received H&M's donation package at an Odesa family support centre run by UNHCR's partner, Sympathy. "Roma will wear it to school. And I can save some money to pay kindergarten fee for my younger son."

Roma and Sasha Nrkunziza trying on their H&M clothes in Odesa as their father (right) looks on.  © UNHCR/N.Prokopchuk

Six-year-old Julia Hamdam also stopped by the family support centre before starting school in September. With the help of Sympathy aid worker and fellow refugee Mare Momini, she chose some clothes for physical training classes in school. Light exercise will be important for the little girl, who suffers from asthma and spends a lot of time in hospital.

Julia, whose father arrived in Ukraine from western Sudan six years ago, wants to be a doctor when she grows up, so that she can help sick children like herself. Born in exile, she has never seen Sudan and says that Ukraine is her favourite country. Meanwhile, her family watches recent news about the conflict in western Sudan's Darfur region with great fear and anxiety - they know nothing about the fate of Julia's grandparents and hope they are still alive.

Julia and Roma are among the many refugee children receiving the H&M clothes. In all, more than 30,000 pieces of clothing being distributed to refugees and vulnerable locals in three regions of Ukraine - Kyiv, Odesa and Zakarpattia. Elderly people, single parents, unaccompanied minors and newly-arrived asylum seekers also benefit from the donation.

The personalised packages are distributed by five Ukrainian non-governmental organizations - Ukrainian National Society of the Red Cross, Caritas Spes, Foundation for Environment and Health Protection (NEEKA), Foundation for Refugee Protection (Sympathy) and Charitable Foundation ROKADA.

In western Ukraine's Zakarpattia province, UNHCR through NEEKA provided H&M clothes not only to refugees and asylum seekers but also to migrants - among them potential asylum seekers - detained by border guards while transiting through Ukraine.

Zakarpattia borders the new European Union states of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, and is Ukraine's poorest province with the highest unemployment rate. In the tiny mountain village of Stuzhytsia, there is no hospital or telephone line. It is populated mainly by women and children because all the men have left to work in neighbouring Central Europe or Russia.

Together with the Red Cross, UNHCR assisted the poorest among the local population. Maria Koren is a mother of nine whose husband is working in Russia as a builder and comes home twice a year. She has a small garden, hens and goats, so she can feed her children. But like most other families in this remote village, she cannot afford to buy new clothes for her children.

"My children used to wear second-hand clothes given by other people," said Koren, beaming at the H&M package. "I can't remember the last time they received new clothes!"

By Natalia Prokopchuk
UNHCR Ukraine