A heartwarming story of community spirit, compassion and generosity.
With summer approaching and the temperatures finally starting to rise, things are looking brighter for most people on the wonderful island of Mallorca, but unfortunately for some it will be a bitter sweet summer. With the war in Ukraine having wreaked havoc on the lives of so many of its citizens, the wonderful charm that this jewel of an island offers will be small comfort to the Ukrainian victims who have been lucky enough to make it here. Nevertheless, they are indeed luckier than many of their friends, family and fellow citizens and that luck is mostly due to the compassion, generosity and dedication of Captain Paul .
I had a wonderful conversation with Paul to find out how he had made it possible for over a hundred displaced Ukrainian citizens to find temporary homes on Mallorca. He explained to me how he got things started:
“It all started around the 24 February when I had been watching the news for a few days, seeing and hearing of the terrible events occurring in Ukraine. I had to stop following it because I found it too upsetting and felt helpless at not being able to do anything. So I had a chat with a few people and posted a message on Facebook saying I wanted to help and would quite happily bring someone to Mallorca, give them a home and essentially, a job. Then I got sponsors from some professional crew, which wasn’t exactly what I had intended so I then spoke to Aiysha at Radio 1 Mallorca. I explained how frustrated I was with the situation as I wasn’t getting very far and she suggested I went on the radio. We had a live chat about what I wanted to do and as a result started a WhatsApp group. On 4th March there were just two of us, on 6th March there were four of us and now in April there are over a hundred of us!
I then made contact with a great lady called Tracy who runs a company called Experience Mallorca, who do all kinds of adventure activities around the island, and she was also really keen to get involved with helping these people. I had never met her before and now we speak about 20 times per day and people think we are husband and wife! I then found a website called ICanHelp.host which assists people who are fleeing war-torn areas to find safe places to stay. I posted an advert and it got denied and I tried once more and it got denied again! I spoke to Tracy about it as I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong and she said she would try and lo and behold – no problem. I think I realise now that it was because I am a single guy and maybe they are exercising caution as most of the Ukrainians who are fleeing are women and children. So Tracy’s ad got published and received about 50 responses and it just went from there really.
Tracy and I, between us, spent a fair bit of our own money on flying these people to Mallorca and finding them homes. We went through our contacts spreading the word and found there were so many people in Mallorca who wanted to help but just like me, they didn’t know how to go about it. So we started to gather information on what kind of help they could offer, whether it be accommodation, clothing, bed linen, etc. Some people have offered up a spare room whilst others have been able to donate their entire home! The generosity of people has been incredible and to date we have now brought 120+ Ukrainians to the island and housed them.”
Next, I started going through all of the companies that have worked on and every single one of them were more than happy to help. I then began approaching other companies in the yachting industry and they have been equally as generous with their support and as we progress with our mission to help these people, it will be great for people to know how key the yachting community in Mallorca has been in providing sponsorship and donations
I have also been able to offer a young Ukrainian lady a home myself after she travelled for four days to get from Kiev to Poland as she had to go south first into Romania and track back up to Warsaw, walking with no sleep for three days! A lot of the routes out have been closed by bridges being blown up and blockades which have made leaving very difficult. Her mother and father didn’t want to leave and so she had to say goodbye to them in Kiev. Just today someone asked her how her parents are and her response was “they are alive”.
I was amazed how much Paul and Tracy have been able to achieve in just over one month and it does restore faith in humankind to hear how willing people have been to help. I was curious to know if it was mainly British expats or locals and other nationalities alike, and whether they were receiving any type of funding or help from an official body:
“I would say the majority are British purely because both myself and Tracy are Brits, however, we now get phone calls and messages from Spanish, Germans, Polish, Swedish, etc – basically the whole community has come together to help the victims of this tragic crisis. With regard to official funding, we haven’t been able to receive anything yet as we need to set up a formal Association which we will be calling UR Mallorca because it has become far bigger than we anticipated. In order to collect monetary donations from the yachting companies and wider community we need to be able to produce invoices/receipts and the whole process can take between 3-18 months. We are investigating whether there is a fast-track service for this particular cause.
There is also the Ukrainian Association who operate from the bomberos in Son Castello and send aid to people in Ukraine. They have said they will help us where they can but their charity’s mandate states that they can only help people in Ukraine, and not here in Mallorca. This means that once a lot of the Ukrainians arrive here independently there is no immediate assistance for them and they find themselves very lost. There is a hotel that has been designated by the Red Cross who provide support to Ukrainians as well. There is also the Mayor of Es Capdella who has set up a crisis centre for Ukrainians who have been displaced. As the whole situation is fluid and not showing signs of ending anytime soon, I think it’s only a matter of time before the Balearic government announces that they will provide financial support for the victims. My understanding is that the Spanish government are currently giving a tax deduction incentive to the hosts, but whilst this is a start I feel that really it’s the Ukrainians themselves that need and want to be able to start working and earning their own money as soon as possible so that they can regain their independence and start paying for their own homes, food, etc. It can feel very demeaning and uncomfortable to have literally no money in your pocket and to have to ask for money if you need things. Fortunately, our generous hosts have been providing meals and toiletries but of course this cannot be a permanent solution. TIB buses have agreed to issue 1-year free bus passes for Ukrainian victims and they are also being given free state medical care for a period of one year. This is a really good start but there is still a long way to go.
We had been promised the use of a property in Palma to use as a central community hub for all Ukrainians dotted over the island, not just the ones we have helped, so they can enjoy a place where they are able to gather and associate with other Ukrainians, enjoy free food and have access to other essential items such as clothing, shoes, etc. Unfortunately, I just found out that this is no longer available and so we are seeking help with locating something similar that could be donated on a temporary basis. We would also like to use this as a job centre so we can provide the stepping stone these people need to find work and get back on their feet again. In my experience I have found Ukrainians to be really hard-working people and the local business owners who have so far employed them have found it a pleasant eye-opener! “
I was intrigued to know how Paul was managing to dedicate so much time to this cause given that he is a Captain and he explained that his boss had said he could take time off until June to do what he needs to do, which is pretty amazing. Where this venture has really gathered momentum and grown so big in such a short space of time, Paul and Tracy have realised they need to slow down a little as it has been incredibly demanding on their time and has pretty much taken over their lives for the past couple of months. They don’t want to fail as a result of getting too big and really do need the support of the community behind them as this isn’t just going to be for one week or one month. I asked Paul about any personal stories from the victims he could quote:
“Just this morning I picked up four ladies and a child, 72, 71, 53, 35 and 13 years old. The convent has kindly donated a beautiful apartment for the three older ladies. All of them have just spent 13 days travelling from Donbass and these people have nothing. It really is heart-breaking to hear their stories and witness their exhaustion and trauma having lived with bombs flying overhead. Some people we flew here with our own personal funds and others with help form a Charity that we found who deal just with the travel and nothing else. They helped transport a mother and family of 3 as well as their dog. Others came by train for free but a lot of them lost their luggage as quite often when they were loaded on, their luggage was unloaded so they could fit more people on the train and so they arrived with nothing. We then have to pay for the ferry across as they do not offer any concessions for the Ukrainians. Some people have driven all the way in their cars – we’ve seen pretty much every mode of transport used to get here.
We managed to get one Ukrainian man, his daughter AND cat here. He was allowed over the border because he is the only parent as the mother had died. We then found him a job within 24 hours of touching down with a company where the lady is Ukrainian and she desperately needed a delivery driver. This guy was a very proud man who had just lost everything and like me, finds it very hard to accept something for free and just wanted to be able to work. So the Ukrainian lady said she would explain the job to him in Ukrainian, give him a car and give him a salary. It’s this kind of success story that is so inspiring and heart-warming. We have similarly now managed to place 4 people in jobs and the whole idea of the community/job centre is to give these people access to employment as there are so many jobs available here because of the British not being able to work here now.
There are some other wonderful stories starting to emerge like the little boy who was placed in a school here and clapped into the classroom on his first day. On the second day he ran all the way to school as he was so excited. I also received a message from a woman we placed in Es Capdella with an English family – “Our Mum Lena, and son Yaroslav are just heading off to bed. They have been travelling for 21 days via four countries by bus, train and plane, been turned away from everywhere. Thank you Tracy & Paul for helping them find a place here on the island.”
I have found the Ukrainians’ English abilities to be generally quite good on a basic level but the older they are the less English they tend to speak. The young lady of 22 years old I have living with me has enough English to get by and although a bit rusty, I would say it is enough for her to work. She is able to go to a restaurant and knows what a lot of the foods are and can have a basic conversation. I took her out to dinner with a group of friends and we bought presents for her to give them all as a thank you for the clothes and shoes they had donated because she had arrived with just a small rucksack and the shoes she was wearing. So she gave Easter eggs to everybody and they all cried when she said “thank you.”
Although we can’t offer the victims what they had in Ukraine as there are cultural differences with lifestyle, food, etc, we can offer them a roof over their heads, safety and a chance for them to find jobs, forge new bonds with fellow Ukrainians at the community centre and get the best lives they can from us. It has also been really lovely to see how a lot of the hosts, mostly previously unknown to each other, have become friends for life.
It was truly touching to hear Paul’s story of how he and Tracy have made this all possible with the help of many others, not least Radio 1 Mallorca for raising the initial awareness campaign. I also feel it important to say that whilst there are contentious issues surrounding any war and some people may have strong views and doubts, we should never allow politics to neutralise our sensitivity to the plight of these poor innocent victims, whose lives have been turned upside down through no fault of their own. One really has to just stop for a moment and imagine how it would feel to suffer the same fate and lose everything we hold dear. Respect, humility and empathy are never more important than now.
If you would like to donate to this deserving cause in any way that you can, please see the links below.
Written by Lisa Thompson