Belarus: Someone will be there to answer

Fleeing the fighting in Ukraine, people left behind their homes and belongings and sought refuge where they could. Many went to Belarus. Official estimates put the number of refugees from Ukraine registered in the country at 110,000. And almost all of them need help.

The Red Cross Society of Belarus has set up a hotline to do just that. The number is 201, and it operates every day from 7 to 9 p.m.

Volunteers take the calls. Idael comes running into the centre a few minutes after 7, fretting about having been delayed at his day job. He's a translator. The "Belarusian Cuban," as his colleagues call him, owes his unusual name to his father, who came to Belarus to study and ended up staying.

Idael immediately turns the computer on, checks the latest information on assistance programmes and dons his headset. He's ready to answer calls. On average, each volunteer receives about five calls per shift. Today people are mostly asking about employment opportunities. Back in the autumn, there were more calls about what the new arrivals in the country were supposed to do, where they could find shelter and how the Red Cross could help them. One man lived at Minsk railway station until they finally found him a home.

Local people readily step forward to help refugees from Ukraine, even calling to offer accommodation in their homes. Failing that, volunteers try to find the newcomers a place in a hostel or health resort.

At the moment, the Red Cross Society of Belarus is distributing vouchers to the refugees, which allow them to buy food, hygiene items, clothes and footwear. The ICRC is contributing to the programme. The volunteers spread the word about this assistance to everyone who has fled the war in neighbouring Ukraine.

Idael says that at first it was difficult, he didn't know what to say, how to advise people. But as time went on, he learnt about all the Red Cross programmes, and now he feels more confident.

The telephone rings. "Red Cross hotline. Volunteer Idael. How can I help you? Hello? Hello?"

The line has gone dead, but Idael isn't too concerned. They'll call back. And someone will be there to answer.