Red Cross volunteer Sean Moran returns to Wollongong after four months in Ukraine

Red Cross volunteer Sean Moran returns to Wollongong after four months in Ukraine

When Sean Moran arrives in a country in need, it usually means the place has major water supply issues.

The Wollongong Red Cross volunteer has spent a year and a half in central Nigeria, as well as time in Namibia and Tanzania.

His most recent trip saw him spend four months in Kyiv in Ukraine.

“When I got there in May, there was a lot of damage to water pipelines,” Mr Moran said.

“A lot are made of cast iron or concrete and they’re brittle and got damaged with the vibrations and impacts of shelling.

“Some cities were completely without water.”

In the short term, that meant helping arrange trucks to cart fresh water and the distribution of bottled water to residents.

Once the emergency supply was secured, he worked with local utility companies to start rebuilding crucial pipelines in the city.

He also helped reconnect parts of the city’s sewerage network.

Water supply crucial for heating
Unlike Australia, Kyiv can get down to minus 20 degrees Celsius in the winter.

Mr Moran said water played a vital role in heating homes and municipal buildings.

“A lot of their heating comes from centralised heating boiler buildings that heat water, and that gets pumped around the city and heats homes that way,” he said.

“A lot of these boiler buildings were partially or completely destroyed, so it’s crucial to get that backup and running before winter.”

‘Reverse culture shock’ of coming home
After four months of daily air raid sirens and some time in a bomb bunker, returning to life in Wollongong has taken some readjustment.

“It’s a reverse culture shock to come back where it’s safe and everything works,” he said.

“I didn’t know what to expect going in there but it was 10 days of aeroplanes, charter flights and many days of driving just to get to Kyiv.

“I’d anticipated having to spend some time in a bunker and we were given chemical and nuclear exposure training, but I felt supported and as safe as one could be in those circumstances.”

He said he formed a strong connection to the country and the people there during his time, but any overseas deployment meant trading off aspects of his personal life.

“[When away] I look forward to getting back to my partner and seeing friends and family — with this work you miss significant life events like births, funerals and marriages.

“While I look forward to being back here, part of it stays with me and I wonder how my colleagues are going there.”

He said despite the emotionally-challenging nature of the work, he felt a strong sense of self-satisfaction.

“The Red Cross has very good resources and a lot of capacity and unique access.

“Witnessing some of the destruction and suffering that people are experiencing, there’s still a level of empowerment.

“Knowing I can make a tangible difference is what I think I helped achieve while I was there.”