Words by Smiley Team
A 34-year-old Polish woman, who lives in London, has become a matchmaker for good – connecting people in need of support in Ukraine, with those willing to give it.
Agnieska Gwara, known as Agi, believes individual action is powerful, and that direct help can often reach those in need faster. She used to be a model, and therefore has a lot of friends in Ukraine and across Eastern Europe.
Her acts of kindness started when the Russians first invaded Ukraine. Miss J, a friend of hers, called to say her mother was stuck in Lviv – she didn’t know how to help her mother, or how to understand any of the information about ways she could leave. Initially, she tried to rent a car or taxi for her mum, but it proved impossible.
Agi wanted to help. “I can only imagine the stress my friend was under,” she says. “I started researching information for Miss J’s mother on a Polish website – and I couldn’t stop!
“I did a day and night of research and eventually found a website, Regio Jet CZ, which was putting on trains between Lviv and Przemsyl. I bought a ticket for Miss J’s mother.”
The train took 13 hours – but Miss J’s mother successfully reached Poland. Agi’s friend and husband picked her up from the border. After this happened, Agi was inspired to keep going – to connect more people who needed help, and try to directly support refugees in Ukraine.
“I had friends call me saying, ‘I hear you’ve been looking into this, let us know how we can help!” says Agi. “All of a sudden I had a lot of calls for help, and a lot of people in need.”
Agi was having daily Zooms with nonprofit community projects, and speaking to people to see if she could connect them with volunteers or donations. She was getting train tickets for people she didn’t know and working out how else she could support these people. She even worked with a veterinary organisation who was helping keep refugees with their pets.
One of the people Agi has helped support is a woman named Yuliya M, whose son and daughter-in-law were in Ukraine, nearby to the Russian occupancy. Yuliya, who is based in London, couldn’t sit back and do nothing – so she decided to cross the border and pick up her son from Kyiv. “He has some disabilities and needed help,” says Agi.
The mother picked her son up, but they struggled to cross the border and needed papers to get him dismissed from military duties. They needed accomodation and somewhere to stay.
“I connected Yuliya and her son with a friend of mine who wanted to donate money for those in need of accommodation,” says Agi. “I love helping people – and connecting those in need of support with people who want to help has been a successful way of doing this for the people of Ukraine.”
Agi has connected with a Ukrainian Humanitarian Fundraising group, too, which has volunteers across Ukraine. “They have an office in Wroclaw – this is where the donations are going – but they need money for petrol,” says Agi. “That’s another project I’m working on – finding people willing to pay for the petrol. They have donations, but they really need money for transport. It’s about finding help for where help is needed.”
She is also supporting a woman named Ana, who is helping those in the city of Kherson.
The city is under Russian occupation right now – people can’t buy anything as there’s no way to get cash out. They can’t get medicine, food, petrol. Nobody can enter the city or leave it, either, so outside help is near-on impossible.
Ana’s best friend and her family in Kherson own restaurants and are trying to feed people since this has happened; the restaurants can still buy food and pay with card, so Ana – alongside Agi’s help – is appealing for donations so the family can buy more food and essentials for people in the city.
Another route of support Agi providing is connecting Polish volunteers, Jasiek and Grzegorz, who are helping to transport medical aid to hospital wards within Ukraine. “The aid is really needed in Ukraine,” adds Agi.
The project Agi is working on right now, though, is one connecting Ibiza to Ukraine, alongside founders of CrossFit, Isla Blanca and a volunteer named Oscar. Agi has connected with them, who were driving from Ibiza to Poland, alongside others, to donate essential items.
“People who live in Ibiza decided to help, and have brought many goods needed in Ukraine,” says Agi. “There is a truck that leaves Ibiza and unites forces with other drivers who drive from Valencia.
“The goods are then taken by authorised vehicles, so they can cross the Polish-Ukrainian border. Lots of needed goods are being donated by donors as they can still buy those items in Ibiza, but we are gathering money for petrol for the trip.”
“Every communication teaches me something,” says Agi. “I believe every exchange I have with people who need help or want to give help is important right now.
“I have family who have opened the door to Ukrainian refugees. They have supported them, they are feeding them. I have helped raise donations to enable this to happen and make sure they’re comfortable.”
Now, Agi is continuing to place her support where it’s needed. “Military clothing in Ukraine is important right now, it can save a life,” she says. “This is really needed: gloves, eye masks, protection layers – I’m working on that.”
As a yoga teacher, she’s also working on a fundraising project to film a class and offer yoga to others for a donation in support of Ukraine.
“I’m very flexible, my friends and I are just responding to the needs at this very moment,” she adds. “I want to invest my energy, my funds, and my support into these projects that give direct support. Every day, I learn a lot.”
GIVE YOUR SUPPORT: Do you want to see how you can help Agi, or donate your time and money to help people in Ukraine? Email Agi on [email protected].
DONATE: If you want to donate to causes supporting those in Ukraine, read how to here.