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Supporting the Irish humanitarian effort in Ukraine: Mykola’s Story


February 21, 2023 • 3 min read

GOAL's Security Officer in Ukraine, Mykola Ostapenko, speaks about support from Ireland in response to the break out of conflict in Ukraine in February 2022, and why he wanted to help by working with GOAL.

Early Days of the War

Before the war, I was interested in horse-riding. I’ve been interested in horses from a young age, and would help the mounted police unit in Kharkiv, where I previously worked as a police officer, to care for and train their horses. This was my passion, and remains so.

A day after the invasion began, an Irish woman that I had ordered bridle parts from online contacted me to see if I was ok and if there was anything me and my family needed. She even invited me to Ireland. I had never met this person before, but she was willing to help a complete stranger. I learned then that Irish people are so willing to give their support to those in need.

I was so grateful but told her that there were other people who needed the support more. While I worked in Kharkiv at the time, my family and my home are in Zakarpattia region in the west of Ukraine, by the Hungarian border. Fortunately, I had a safe haven to go to after evacuating from Kharkiv, which is still the target of heavy shelling and missile strikes today.

Mykola coordinating with GOAL/Right to Protection programme participants at a centre for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

An Opportunity to Join Irish Humanitarian Aid Effort  

When I heard about GOAL’s work in Ukraine, I remembered this Irish woman’s kindness. It was a wonderful coincidence. I felt gratitude when I heard the Irish NGO was launching its activity here to help Ukrainian people in this time of need. This strengthened my resolve to apply to work with GOAL.

Working with GOAL is giving me the opportunity to help people in my home country in its darkest hour. I am proud to now be GOAL’s Security Officer for Ukraine, making sure our staff and the people we work with are safe while delivering vital support to people who need it the most.

Thankfully, the horses in the former mounted police unit in Kharkiv, which had to disband due to the regular shelling there, are all safe. Four younger horses were transferred to Kyiv mounted police, and the other six horses were evacuated to a private farm 60 km away from Kharkiv, so I am delighted to know they are being looked after as well.

Kharkiv’s mounted police unit, which Mykola supported before the war.

GOAL Response In Ukraine

Within days of the Russian invasion, GOAL teams were on the ground in Poland and Western Ukraine, distributing food and non-food items such as hygiene kits, clothes and blankets to families fleeing the conflict.

Working with a Ukrainian partner organisation, Right To Protection, GOAL embarked on a larger programme offering legal and personal rights’ advice to internally displaced people in five regions of Ukraine. The programme aims to ensure families are aware of their entitlements and protections following the loss of homes and livelihoods, as well as where to access critical services.

GOAL and Right To Protection are providing these services in temporary shelters across Ukraine; in Kyiv, Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Poltava and Sumy oblasts. GOAL has also delivered over 30 generators and over 100 electric heaters to provide power and heat for temporary displacement centres in a number of regions, including Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine, where near-daily shelling continues.

You can support GOAL’s work in Ukraine with a donation today.