Irishman with terminal cancer travels to Ukraine to provide aid
An Irishman with terminal cancer has left Co Cork at the Ukrainian border with an aid truck.
A 64-year-old man, Don O’Leary, a well-known figure in Cork City, is suffering from terminal cancer.
But that didn’t stop him from making the 2,500 kilometer journey to Shegyni on the Polish-Ukrainian border to deliver emergency aid to those fleeing war, after raising 24,000 euros from the local community.
Mr O’Leary is the director of the Cork Life Centre, which educates the city’s marginalized young people, and says he never doubted making the trip, despite his diagnosis.
He said: “I can’t control cancer, but I can control what I do, where I go and who I want to be with.
When a doctor told him he had terminal lung cancer in February 2021, he was initially given eight to 12 months to live.
Despite this, he made it his mission to help Ukrainian refugees.
He revealed: “Everybody said, ‘Are you crazy? The answer is probably yes.
“I like being able to do something that is relevant, important and supports the community. This kind of thing does all of that.
It is clear that the Russian President Vladimir Poutine is a “fascist”.
Mr O’Leary traveled by van on March 22 with four other volunteers.
He said: “I was quite comfortable, as they made a bed and I was able to get some sleep along the way.”
During this period, he was in regular contact with the young people with whom the Cork Life Center works.
I like being able to do something that is relevant, important and supports the community. This kind of thing does it all
He answered their questions on the road and tried to communicate what he was witnessing.
One question, he says, arose: “What was the difference between us Ukraine and people coming out of Ukraine? It hit hard.
“They left their home behind. They may never come back,” he says.
“It hits you. It’s your life – three suitcases.
“Women and children. In every war, they fare the worst.
His young grandson had asked him the same question about why he felt the need to go.
“I wanted to support little boys and little girls,” he told her.
Back in Cork for the past few days, he says he has a much better idea of what Ukrainians need.
He says essential items like sheets and the generator are crucial.
The Irish Red Cross has played a key role in helping Ukrainians and Mr O’Leary says he understands some people might wonder why the money raised could not be given to charity.
“There’s something about communities giving to communities,” he says, stressing the importance of connecting Cork to the contacts he made on the Ukrainian border.
He was also forced to consider the difference in reception of Ukrainian refugees compared to other people fleeing other conflicts.
He said, “I wish they’d seen the same thing done for SyriansAfghans.
“What is the difference between Syrians and Ukrainians?