A Scottish football chief who has made four trips to help families flee war-torn Ukraine is focusing his work on Jewish communities – because no one else is.
Ricardo Cerdan, business director of Dundee United Football Club, travelled to the Poland-Ukraine border in March to help refugee women and children, on his birthday weekend – but has been back three times since.
The 45-year-old has been ferrying fuel, adult nappies and medical aid to Kharkiv and Donetsk synagogues, as well as finding blankets, clothes and toys for kids and trying to source generators to provide heat and warm food.
Members of the Kharkiv synagogue have told him he is the only non-Jewish person bringing aid.
Each time he has travelled further into the beseiged country, eventually arriving in capital Kyiv and helping two elderly residents flee, paying for their accommodation until they were afforded a ticket to their final destination by an Israeli agency.
He started on the Poland-Ukraine border with over £2,000 of United-branded outerwear and blankets to hand out to those escaping the violence.
Then, with other volunteers, he drove to the western Ukraine city of Lviv to help refugees get away from Russian bombs and tanks.
He has since gone much deeper into the country to ferry orphans out of artillery-struck areas to safety – with a bus named after Deacon Blue hit Dignity. Frontman Ricky Ross – an honorary club patron – has given him the band’s blessing.
He said: “I have found many Jews in the eastern part of Ukraine were not getting the assistance they needed because of the degree of danger in these areas.”
Initially, he and two Jewish volunteers from Lviv rescued some elderly people who were trapped in besieged Kyiv at the time.
He said: “During this time, I made contact with a synagogue which was sheltering a good number of people. Fuel was difficult to come by as the government had passed a directive that stated civilians were only allowed 15 litres at a time, and the rest was to be left for the army.”
There is currently nowhere available in Kharkiv or the surrounding areas to get diesel – all businesses are shut or bombed. Kyiv, the nearest hub, is seven hours’ drive away.
So he supplied the synagogue with two pallets of food and water using a 20 tonne lorry he drove all the way from Scotland.
On another trip he took 300 litres of diesel to the synagogue. Members have since asked for fuel – to transport food to elderly residents – and adult nappies.
Ricardo – originally from Barcelona – said he wanted to protect children from potential exploitation by criminal gangs who are using the Russian invasion to engage in human trafficking.
Cerdan helped to shepherd two children, seven-year-old Vlad and four-year-old Irina, across the border on his first trip.
He said: “I wanted to give back to those less fortunate. At the time, there was only a handful of people at the border offering assistance, among them, like always, several Jewish organizations.
“There was no sight of the UN, Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children or any other large organisation that one would expect to see at a crisis location.
“If you are afraid of what you are going to do, then best you don’t do it. Don’t climb a mountain if you are scared of falling off.
“People said to me, ‘are you crazy? Do you have a Plan A, B or C?’
“I said, ‘I have no plan’. I just wanted to do some good.
“You see those little kids crossing the border and you start to think about your own family — nephews and nieces — and say, ‘what if it was one of them?’
“I heard horrible stories of little kids going hungry, with nothing warm to eat at really low temperatures. Some went deaf because of the explosions, and worse, sadly.
“I was simply hoping to be able to assist the Jewish people in these areas more by raising awareness of their plight and raising funds to be able to assist them more effectively.
“Oxfam, Save The Children and so on don’t provide any help to the synagogues.”
He will next venture into the dangerous Donbas area in two weeks’ time, to offer direct assistance to the Jewish families still there.
“I’m currently looking at setting up a fundraising campaign so on my next trip I’m able to buy hundreds of litres of fuel, adult nappies and medical aid so I can transport it personally to Kharkiv and Donetsk synagogues,” he said. “These people are suffering, getting bombed in Mariupol, Kyiv, Lviv, with no way to get out. We’ve got to go.”
Ricardo has been paying for much of the aid out of his own pocket – but his Dundee United colleagues have been helping with a fundraising campaign, United With Ukraine, to support his efforts.
The fundraiser has a target of £100,000 – the current total is more than £32,000.
Premiership Dundee United, who came fourth in the table last season, have donated £5,000 towards the fundraising campaign – and club chairman Mark Ogren has personally pledged £10,000 of his own cash.
In a statement of support for Ricardo, Dundee United FC said: “His actions have touched the heart of everyone at Tannadice and as he looks to raise funds for the rescue plan, he has set up a GoFundMe page where people can assist with the fundraising.
“The Club, as well as offering yet more clothing provisions, have donated £5,000 to the cause.”
Ricardo’s appeal: https://www.gofundme.com/f/football-united-with-ukraine?utm_source=widget&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet
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