By Clark Gillies…
On the 24th February 2022, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, all plans that the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal had for our Nations League qualifier against Ukraine later that year was turned fully upside down.
For the first few weeks of the war, all plans or the very idea of playing Ukraine suddenly went out the window, as for weeks all eyes were glued to television screens and press releases, as the Russian army gained more and more land, and inched closer to the capital Kyiv. As the summer approached, and Ukraine looked to have turned the war in their favour with Russia on the retreat, suddenly it was a welcome relief that we at the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal could turn our attention back to the game itself, and finally look towards doing our 92nd consecutive donation.
The actual game was never going to take place within Ukraine, but news finally reached us that the venue for the match would be the “Marshal Józef Piłsudski Stadium” in the Polish city of Krakow.
As Krakow was only a couple of hours by bus from the Ukrainian border, we started looking for a possible recipient, and one organisation that really grabbed our attention was Bebiko from the city of Ternopil in Western Ukraine, plus the home city of Victoria Gillies, the wife of Steering Group member Clark Gillies.
Bebiko (which translates as “baby”) is a non-profit organization set up in 2010 that offers assistance to Children aged 2 to 5 years old who are affected with Down-Syndrome.
The organization currently looks after 60 children and not only provides a program aimed at solving the problem of integration and socialization of children and youths with Down syndrome, giving them the opportunity to fully function as they reach adulthood, but also to do away with the stigma that people may have of people with Down-Syndrome.
They hold individual, group and integrated classes every day, and during their 11 years of operation, have organised more than one hundred events and activities, both in their small centre in central Ternopil, as well as field trips for mothers and children with disabilities.
Bebiko strive to implement the right of children with Down-syndrome to integrate into society and provide access to a quality education, and we at the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal are delighted to help out such a worthy cause, which during these dark times in their country, need that ray of sunshine more than ever.
Speaking to Olga, it was agreed that if she could make it to Krakow on match day she would be there, but with so much happening in Ukraine just now, and life changing from minute to minute, plans were put in place with local based Scot, David McGirr (Founder & Editor at Kraków Expats Directory & Kraków TV, as well as Multicultural Ambassador for the City of Kraków and Community Activist) that a hub would be set up, and we would have a screen to beam between Krakow and Ternopil for the presentation.
This was something that we had learned to adapt to during COVID times when we were unable to travel to a number of countries, and as the day of the donation approached, it was looking more and more likely that Olga would be unable to travel, so our back up plans were put in to action for a beam back donation done via the internet.
Another thing that became clear through speaking to Olga was just how small Bebiko were, and it was felt that with 2,000 Scotland fans attending the game in Krakow, an appeal was put for fans to bring their own personal donations of small everyday items that we may take for granted such as colouring books, colour pencils, sharpeners, erasers and pens.
What happened next really came as a big surprise, as we had 4 box loads ready to go before we had even left Scotland (including a box of 74 Scotland scarves donated by the Scottish FA), and thanks to Baby Box Scotland, and their Ukraine Humanitarian drive, these were sent to Ternopil beforehand.
When the day of the match approached, we had a further suitcase full of items, and countless bags of all the items that we had put out an appeal for, and thanks to the efforts of Kyiv-based Scot, Stuart MacKenzie, these items arrived in Ternopil before most the Tartan Army had arrived back in Scotland from the game in Krakow.
Thanks to the amazing efforts of both David and Stuart, the presentation could not have run any smoother, and in the days after the presentation we were getting videos and photos from Bebiko showing the joy on the children’s faces as they opened up the boxes of donations, and also the everyday items that they were able to afford to buy with the money that we had sent (each child was able to get a milk allowance that saw them able to buy milk and yogurt from a local supermarket).
It was a real shame that Bebiko could not come to Krakow, but a few hours after the donation, Victoria received a phone call from a Ukrainian telephone number that she did not recognise, and turned out that it was the vice president of the Ternopil branch of the regional office for the Ukrainian Football Federation, asking could we meet at the football stadium before the match.
We showed up at the stadium, and were greeted by members of the Ukrainian Football Federation, who had heard all about our donation, and a short presentation was done at the game where the Sunshine Appeal was presented with a signed match ball and a certificate from the president of the Ternopil Football Federation (who was unable to attend, as he was away fighting on the front line in Ukraine) marking the event and congratulating us on showing the true power of football and what football fans can do.
Having been involved with many donations over the years, this donation will stick with all of us on the steering group for many years to come.
Everywhere We Go!