Momodu Mansaray/Deadline via Getty
This holiday season, Carey Mulligan's focus is on the children of Ukraine.
The She Said actress made a trip to the region in October, where she met with displaced families and witnessed the work Children in Conflict — a humanitarian organization she's been an ambassador of since 2014 — is doing on the ground.
In a city in Eastern Ukraine, the 37-year-old British actress found a safe haven built by the nonprofit inside a converted restaurant with a focus on "supplemental education, psychosocial support for the children," she says. "They do art therapy. They're just trying to create an environment in this old restaurant that's been converted into a big communal home for a hundred people that feels like something akin to some sort of home for the kids."
On Monday night, hosted by Mulligan and husband Marcus Mumford, Children in Conflict held its 4th annual Winter Wassail in New York City, raising $1.9 million with support from master of ceremonies John Oliver and stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Brandi Carlile, Oscar Isaac and Jon Batiste.
Mulligan, who recently portrayed a New York Times journalist in the Harvey Weinstein investigative drama She Said, helped assemble the roster of A-talent by cold-emailing stars like Lawrence, who "immediately wrote back and said, 'I'd love to do anything to help,' " she says.
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The Oscar nominee's trip to war-torn Ukraine (with a stop in Budapest where many displaced families have crossed the border) was sobering for Mulligan, who previously traveled with Children in Conflict (and its sister organization War Child UK) to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the organization helped children who had been involved in armed groups reintegrate back into their communities.
During her Ukraine visit, "an air raid siren went off when we were playing outside with the children, and you just see a shadow pass over all of them and they sort of shudder," Mulligan says. "And all the adults and the teachers try and distract them and playfully encourage them to go inside."
The mom of two continues, "I just think of my children being in a playground and hearing that noise and knowing what it means, or could mean, for them. It's so important that we put ourselves in the shoes of people who are going through this situation and think, 'How on earth would I cope with this and what kind of support would I need?' "
The biggest focus for Children in Conflict is assisting children in processing what they've been through and addressing their mental state.
The organization funds programs for displaced youths in areas of conflict around the world who "have had no part in this war, and have asked for none of it, don't understand it and have lived lives almost exactly like the majority of people in England and America," says Mulligan. "And they've been completely blindsided by tragedy. I always come away with thinking, 'But they shouldn't have to be strong or stoic or brave. They're children. They should just be kids and be able to run around and not worry about things.' And of course they're full of worry all the time."
Inside Monday night's fundraiser at Webster Hall, stars continued the event's tradition of putting various talents on display. Carlile and Mumford performed "You and Me on the Rock," Batiste was a surprise guest performing two piano numbers, and Lawrence staged a reading of Joan Didion. Isaac even joined Mumford and Chris Thile onstage for a performance of "Fare Thee Well" from Inside Llewyn Davis.
Mulligan hopes sharing her experience on the ground in areas like Ukraine helps illuminate how far the nonprofit's work goes.
"We read the news and, I think in a way, become kind of inured to the real stories that are happening, because there's just so much terrible news," she says. "But it's impossible to not go there and just completely see your own family in these families, and see your own children."
"That's really why we go on the trips," she continues. "To be able to say, 'Look, we've seen exactly where the money goes and this is why it's so efficient.' Nothing's being wasted. These are the results. That's what Children in Conflict's main goal is: supporting children who, through no fault of their own, have had everything taken away."
You can donate to Children in Conflict here.