In Paris, “Pragmatic and Active Mothers” help Ukrainian refugees

Since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, France has taken in about 100,000 refugees on its soil. The country can count on an outpouring of solidarity from communities, businesses and individuals as well. He reported together with the Mamans de Paris pour l’Ukraine, a collective on the bridge for about four months.

The appointment is now known. It’s one o’clock in the corridors of the Palais des Congrès shopping center in Paris, on the very elegant 17th avenue.e the town. In the midst of high-end brands, a store stands out in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Long queue too.

In the crowd, young, old, and, above all, many mothers and children. All of them fled from Ukraine, a country ravaged by war, and found refuge in Paris or on the outskirts of Paris. Every Wednesday, the Paris Moms for Ukraine group gives them an appointment at this vintage clothing store. A goldmine of a few square meters for these refugees, who are struggling to make ends meet and provide needed comfort for their children.

Nadia, a tall blonde with sleek hair, has a smile on her face as she pulls out a stuffed handbag. “I’m coming for my son. Here, I can pick up diapers, shoes or even clothes for him. I can’t find any for free in Chaville [sa ville de résidence] So I really came here for that. I have to because I don’t have a job in France,” explains the 27-year-old mother, who was a psychiatrist in Ukraine.

Margo Lemoine, co-founder of Mamans de Paris for Ukraine (left), Nadia, a Ukrainian refugee from Kyiv, and her son, during a solidarity distribution in Paris, June 22, 2022. © Tiffany Villon, France 24

Vegetables, cans, powdered milk, toys and even jewelry: you can find everything here. Anyone can take what he wants and in the quantities he wants. Donations are many and come from everywhere. “Yesterday we presented our collective at the headquarters of Procter & Gamble [la multinationale qui possède notamment la marque Pampers] And they agreed to give us more than 40,000 nappies,” says Barbara Levy-Fribault, head of distribution operations.

Making associations without training, a challenge

Individuals make their donations for “mothers’ relay” in their neighborhoods or, at the end of shopping, to volunteers in supermarkets.

For its part, the group is digging its treasury – 60 thousand euros obtained from companies and individuals thanks to the work of a volunteer responsible for raising funds – to buy products at cost. This is the principle of one of their partnerships, with the town’s Intermarché department store. Behind this collaboration, there is a pillar: the director of the foundation, who is none other than the father of Carolina Bloch, the co-founder of the group. Since March, this French-Polish mother of three has also been responsible for organizing seven caravans of basic necessities to Ukraine.

>> To read also: “Resources and Order D, The New Daily Life of the Host Families of Ukrainians in France”

“We are not respected in the association but to find funds and partnerships, we rely on our skills and on our network, those of each volunteer. And we have a real diversity of profiles,” emphasizes Barbara Levy-Fribault, one of our most active volunteers, who is also Director of Innovation in a technology group.

A few meters from her, Sergey, sweating, pushes a cart of tin cans he had just unloaded from his truck. This tall, chubby, dark-haired man has the physique for the job: he works in construction. In front of him, Jean-Etienne, the bookseller, gives instructions in Russian to the Ukrainians waiting in line, while Veronique, an engineer at Enedis, is busy in reserve to put in new boxes.

“I discovered the group on Instagram,” this big blue-eyed young woman explains. “At first, I called the volunteers to give them clothes I no longer wanted. The next day, I saw my boxes of clothes pictured on Instagram. At least, they’re concrete!” , rejoice.

The power of social networks

Social networks are the starting point for this human adventure. “At first, I was like everyone else, amazed at what was happening in Ukraine with a terrible sense of helplessness and above all a desire to help. I answered a call from Carolina Bloch on a group of moms on Facebook from my neighborhood. I don’t know each other. She was looking for a drug to send to Ukraine. And I had some. When we contacted each other, we thought we could collect more widely and more efficiently by creating a network of mothers responsible for organizing collection points in Île- de-France,” explains Margaux. Lemoîne, who co-founded the group.

On the same day, March 4, the two women launched a Facebook group. “In a few days, we had 40 ‘follow-up mums’ and the core team was set up,” this journalist sums up on the professional retraining. Today, the group, which organizes all its work on WhatsApp groups, has 4,600 members on Facebook, about 1,300 subscribers on Instagram, and has counted up to 250 active volunteers. About 450 Ukrainian adults and many children attend each distribution. “Social networks have allowed for exponential growth. I didn’t think it was possible,” Barbara Levy-Fribault was surprised.

For Margaux Lemoîne, the name of the group also contributed to the development of the community. “It’s effective, straight to the point, even if it means partitioning. The goal was to unify a unified network very quickly. Even if it was clear that our group was open to everyone from the start,” she says.

A winning bet, while the majority of Ukrainian refugees are women and children, men remain in the country to take part in the war effort. “Our name is reassuring for these Ukrainian families, with this global concept of protective mothers,” adds this mother of three who is responsible for structuring and developing the group. Ironically, the mental burden the mothers had to bear was the strength of the team. “Mothers are used to juggling their jobs, children, logistics at home and managing a thousand problems at once. So they are often very practical and efficient,” says Margaux Lemoîne.

Towards a new beginning

Since the group is not an association, everyone invests on their own. “Some have had to put off their career and family lives. We have been very prepared since the beginning of March. For the task managers and close team, it was very engaging and intense, with no breaks in the evenings and weekends,” admits Margaux Lemoîne, who notes “Low donations” and a decrease in the number of active volunteers.

>> To read also: “Ukrainian refugees’ reception in Poland, or How to heal the wounds of history”

Another hitch: the room where the distributions are taking place has been approved by the city council and will have to be returned at the end of June. All this is more reason to look into the future of the group. “We are thinking of another way to help, less time consuming, with more autonomy for volunteers who want to continue investing,” continues Margaux Lemoîne.

The Les Mamans de Paris collective for Ukraine wants to create a sponsorship system, which would allow refugees accompanied by volunteers, for example, to find a job. Actions that are more in line with the current context: Ukrainians are now returning to their country and the next is less important today than it was in the spring. “We are no longer in an emergency situation,” Margaux Lemoîne notes. Even if the page is turned, the young woman remains optimistic. After four months of existence, our slogan has been validated: “Together, we can truly move mountains! “

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