BEL MOONEY: The nightmare of the Ukrainian people is all too real and we have a ringside seat at a humanitarian catastrophe…But sorrow is not enough. We can and must help

What would you take? Imagine the moment – hearing the sound of sirens, the crump of weapons, the crash of bombs – when you know you must flee from your beloved home to any place of safety.

You grab a bag or two – you can’t carry much – your children are crying, your heart cold with terror. Do you take your little one’s beloved teddy bear?

Will you stuff that treasured framed photo of your late parents into the rucksack, as you hold back your tears for the sake of the kids?

Ukrainian civilians who came to Poland due to Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, are seen at the train station in the city of Medyka

Armed Military Police talk to gendarmes as they watch refugees that fled the conflict from neighbouring Ukraine at the Romanian-Ukrainian border, in Siret, Romania

Of course somebody must carry your cat, your dog, because they are family too.

The nightmare of the Ukrainian people is all too real and in this, the 21st century, we have a ringside seat at a humanitarian catastrophe.

Through the internet and the tireless efforts of news crews, reporters, and photographers, we are witnessing the grief and guts of a European nation attacked by a ruthless tyrant.

Seeing the dramatic images and reading the detail of how the terrible events are playing out, what else can we do but feel an impotent mixture of horror, sadness and rage on their behalf?

But of course, we can do more. At times like this it is not enough to shed a tear at the heart-rending picture of a toddler screaming in terror at a packed train window.

Such powerful images possess the power to cut through the ranting of a dictator and the rhetoric of international leaders and the mind-numbing detail of international finances, sanctions, and so on.

Cars lined up on the road to the Shehyni border crossing as people flee to Poland, after Russia’s invasion

They must be allowed to speak to our hearts.

Now is the time to allow those faces to appeal to us as fellow men, women and children as we reach out with the practical help they so urgently need.

Yes, of course it is significant for people in Western nations to take to the streets and protest against war.

But the harrowing images of lives turned upside down cry out to us for concrete support in terms of cash.

We may well be witnessing the worst refugee crisis on the European continent since the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

That is why the Daily Mail is joining with our sister paper the Mail on Sunday to launch an appeal for donations to help the innocent people of Ukraine.

Refugees that fled the conflict from neighbouring Ukraine walk in a refugee camp set up on a soccer field, in Siret, Romania

Oh, it’s easy to turn away from events in a foreign land. Too easy to say: ‘Not my problem.’

But when you see pictures of the streets of Kyiv – glimpsing the kind of coffee shop you pop in to on the way to work, a beauty salon where women like you get their nails done, a big supermarket for the weekly family shop, and so on – you are looking at a busy European city like ours, where people like us fall in love, feel sad, study, worry about Granny and want the best for their children, just as we do.

When I read about the hundreds of thousands of displaced women and children separated from husbands and fathers and stumbling long, cold, freezing miles to the Polish and Romanian borders of Ukraine, I couldn’t help thinking about my own family.

What if my own daughter had to flee in terror with her two children, leaving her soldier husband, my beloved son-in-law, behind to fight?

To make that emotional leap and imagine your own family torn apart is not to make their suffering all about you; on the contrary it is to invoke one of the most precious and uplifting aspects of humanity.

‘Empathy’ means understanding and feeling the situation of another person as if it were your own. This reaches far beyond mere ‘sympathy’ – or feeling sorry for somebody.

No, vital empathy is the vast imaginative energy that catapults you into their hearts.

What if the bombs were falling on Manchester? What if your 19-year-old son were lying on his stomach, weapon at the ready, to protect your city?

What if it was your sister giving birth to her baby in an Underground station packed with terrified people?

Would you be joining your friends and neighbours in a panicky production line of improvised weapons to keep the invaders out of your street?

Perhaps your home town is twinned with another town elsewhere. You may remember that the ‘twin town’ movement after the Second World War was seen as a way to bring European people into a closer understanding of each other and to promote cross-border projects and peace.

In other words, the universal dream of humanity that is usually destroyed by politicking and power.

But we must cling to the dream and never let it go. That’s why it pleases me to write that Kyiv is still twinned with Edinburgh, Donetsk with Sheffield, Luhansk with Cardiff, Lviv with Rochdale, Odessa with Liverpool…and I’m sure there must be more.

The idea of ‘twinning’ may be symbolic, but it does matter. To feel the plight of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine as if it were our own is to make a powerful statement about all that is best about the human spirit.

We are moved by the agony of those who have left their homes in fear because we know how we would feel were the circumstances the same.

And in that case, wouldn’t we be hoping and praying with all our hearts and souls that strangers somewhere would open their hearts and help us?

Nearly 15 years of writing my Saturday advice column for the Mail have brought me very close to readers – and that’s why I know what good hearts you have.

The generous people of Poland and Romania have already shown what it is to offer immediate practical help to their needy Ukrainian neighbours as they desperately cross the borders.

In Britain we are not so near, but we can still dig deep, in the certain knowledge that the crisis can only worsen.

Clothes, food, medical supplies and shelter are already in short supply and reputable charities are making concrete plans to help stricken families in the best ways possible.

But let us be realistic: this will need a lot of money. My cash and yours. Please help us to help them.

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