Czech charity supporting single-parent families with clothes and household items reach out to Ukrainian women, with the spirit of giving bursting at the seams.
On a blustery morning in late February, a line of people more than a dozen deep stood outside one of the sprawling 19th century halls at Prague’s famous Holešovice market. They all carried identical blue IKEA bags stuffed with clothes, toiletries and other household goods for donation to those fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The charity collecting the items, Šatník (“wardrobe” in Czech), normally serves Prague’s single parent households with donated clothes and goods, but their community of volunteers and families immediately rallied around the acute needs of the refugees from Ukraine when Russian forces invaded February 24.
The Kremlin’s brutal military assault on Ukraine has created as many as 1.5 million refugees, according to the UNHCR. They are overwhelmingly women and children, as adult men under 60 are expected to stay in Ukraine. Most have fled to neighbouring Poland, Moldova, Romania or Slovakia, but nearly 100,000 have come to the Czech Republic according to the Czech Interior Ministry.
“I can’t tell you exactly, but the number of Ukrainian mothers who have come to the wardrobe is in the hundreds just in the last few days that I’ve been here”, said Marie Štulpová, a volunteer with Šatník. Štulpová is herself a single parent who has relied on the wardrobe in the past. Now she also offers her free time to help sort and organise the donations, which have increased massively in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
“We put the call out on Facebook asking for winter clothes and items for refugees from Ukraine, and within a few days one of our large halls at the market was full to the ceiling” said Štulpová, explaining that volunteers have started posting messages about their services in Ukrainian language and delivering flyers in Ukrainian to the Prague city authorities coordinating humanitarian response.
Czechs are supportive of the Ukrainian cause in no small part due to their own experience with occupation by Soviet forces in 1968 when Warsaw Pact tanks rolled over their borders to quash the Prague Spring democratic reform movement. The horror of a full-scale invasion of a sovereign democracy just a half a day’s drive away has also been a shock for Czech society that has energised individuals to join the humanitarian effort, and has unified the country and Europe against the war.
The volunteers also send shipments of donated goods to refugee intake centres around the country, as well as to Ukraine. A large shipment was recently transported to a children's home in Kyiv.
“It’s definitely down to our history, but also after experiencing the pandemic and the tornados in Moravia (eastern Czech Republic) in 2021, we are better organised and ready to help”, said Štulpová.
Women arriving from Ukraine can visit Šatník Monday-Friday from 10-17 and Saturday from 10-14. Follow their Facebook page for updates on current donation needs.