Ukraine-Russia war: Response to refugee crisis should change the way all those fleeing war are seen – Ewan Aitken

My granny was born before the Wright brothers were the first humans to fly a plane.

A girl holds her sibling in a temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees at a school in Przemysl, near the Ukrainian-Polish border (Picture: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images)
A girl holds her sibling in a temporary shelter for Ukrainian refugees at a school in Przemysl, near the Ukrainian-Polish border (Picture: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP via Getty Images)

By the time she died aged 82, we had been to the moon and back. I can remember a time when there were only three TV channels. Now it feels like there are more than I could watch in a lifetime.

My children have grown up in a digital world where information about everything is at their fingertips but that information has also become a victim of that same digital power.

Change has always been part of human life, but the speed and the consequences of change are much more difficult to make sense of and understand in this digital age.

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The pandemic changed us forever but what’s happening in Ukraine, however it pans out, will change nations and how they relate to each other in ways we cannot yet understand.

So what do we do? How do we make sense of this constancy of change, not all of which is for the better? I think doing nothing would be a good place to start.

Being still, really still and listening in the silence to our breath, our bodies and to the world around us, creating a space for nothing to be happening, even just for a few moments each day will allow our minds and our souls to recover a little. Each day, the recovery will be a little deeper and little longer as we learn to let go and see beyond what is right in front of us.

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Ewan Aitken is the CEO Cyrenians Scotland. PIC: Contributed.

Then, when ready, reach out and do some small thing for someone else. It does not need to be life-changing or transformative, but each small act of kindness will build our sense of hopefulness which is the heartbeat of resilience that will get us through these strange, difficult days.

It's been heart-warming to see so many people willing to offer beds for those seeking refuge from the war in Ukraine. It’s also been very good to see colleagues in Edinburgh Council and other public services, despite their weariness from this last two years, planning with my Cyrenians’ colleagues and other third-sector organisations on how to co-ordinate support for those refugees.

Ironically, the strong relationships across sectors created by the pandemic mean planning for this new crisis is in some respects easier. Thanks to the pandemic, we understand better how to work together. We know collaboration gets better results because we have seen it in real life. I wish it hadn’t taken a pandemic to get us to this place, but it’s too valuable to lose those learnings and practises now; it’s a strength we need as this new crisis looms.

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We can’t individually influence what’s happening in Ukraine, but we can stand with the victims. We will stand with them, so that the help they receive means their crisis will not get worse, as is the case for so many refugees who are destitute because of wholly immoral government policy.

As the pandemic improved the way we collaborate, I hope our response to the current crisis changes the way all refugees are seen. If it does, then some good will have come from this crisis and help make a little sense of these otherwise difficult days.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of homelessness charity Cyrenians

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