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‘I couldn’t stand by’: Turks rush aid to Ukraine

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The cramped hallway to Ukraine’s embassy in Ankara buzzes with volunteers charging back and forth with emergency supplies donated by Turks for Ukrainians under the bombs.

Pictures of families fleeing the Russian onslaught have profoundly moved many Turkish people, even though most have no ties with the country on the far side of the Black Sea.

Emre Canbulat’s only experience of Ukraine is a visit to the western city of Lviv.

“But I just felt I had to do something now,” he explains.

Turkey has been conducting a delicate balancing act since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last Thursday.

Ankara is a member of NATO and an ally of Kyiv’s. But while it views Moscow’s stance as “unacceptable,” it also wants to keep on the powerful Kremlin’s good side.

Canbulat, an elegant legal adviser in his 40s, acknowledges he is “deeply upset” by the news coming out of Ukraine.

Since the start of the Russian assault, he has been closely following social media messages from Ukrainian-Turkish charities seeking essential supplies for Ukrainian civilians and the nation’s soldiers.

“They needed medical supplies, like drips,” he recalls. “I contacted some friends who work with the medical sector and when I told them it was for Ukraine, I managed to buy stocks for well below the market price.”

Selahattin Ayaltın, by contrast, knows Ukraine well.

He worked as a mechanic in Kyiv a decade ago and admits news of the conflict has brought him to tears.

Currently unemployed, the 34-year-old isn’t in a position to donate but he has pitched in to sort and pack aid parcels.

“I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. I really like the Ukrainians,” he explains, visibly moved.

“They gave me a lot of help and support when I worked there.”

 Free calls and texts to Ukraine

On Monday, three trucks left the embassy for Ukraine, loaded with pasta, tinned food, sunflower oil, toilet paper, medicine, blankets and toys.

In the space of a few days, the campaign has raised donations worth more than two million Turkish lira ($144,000, 128,000 euros).

For its part, the main mobile phone operator, Turkcell, is offering calls and texts to Ukraine free of charge.

Some 35,000 Ukrainians live in Turkey, many of them married to Turks. Each year, more than 2.5 million Ukrainian tourists visit the country.

Can Kalaycıoğlu, who has a restaurant in Ankara and a Ukrainian wife, sees Ukraine as a “second home.”

“Many Turks want to offer help. I don’t actually work at the embassy but they come here and I try to point them in the right direction,” he says.

Some are quietly shown towards a small room at the back. These are volunteers who want to join the international brigades Kyiv is hoping to set up.

A tall dark-haired man in his 40s has made his way discreetly through the bustle and the boxes to the little office.

He works at a telecoms firm in Ankara and his wife is from Ukraine. With his Turkish family unaware, he intends to sign up, he declines to give his name.

“We’ve only been married six months. We were still deciding which country to settle in when the war broke out. My wife’s there,” he says.

His wife has also volunteered to defend her village near Kiev.

“I don’t know what I’m letting myself in for over there. But I can’t leave my wife in this war alone.”


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