Charities struggle to deliver humanitarian aid to Ukraine
In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the fog of war is spreading to those trying to help beleaguered Ukrainians.
With ports blocked and roads made dangerous by shelling, charities cannot currently send humanitarian aid to Ukraine through normal channels, although the two countries agreed on Thursday create corridors to allow the delivery of these donations. The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed concern that Russian attacks in densely populated areas endanger children, the sick and the elderly.
Yet the complexity of the conflict has not prevented aid from reaching Ukrainians. The United Nations says much of the humanitarian effort is now based in neighboring countries to support around 1.2 million Ukrainians who fled the country, mainly to Poland, Hungary and Romania. But charities are also working to send aid to Ukraine itself.
The scale of the needs is enormous. On Tuesday, the United Nations appealed for $1.7 billion to help with relief efforts, estimating that 12 million people in Ukraine and 4 million refugees may need relief and protection in the coming months .
Filippo Grandi, head of the UN refugee agency, said his agency had already received more than $40 million in private donations from individuals and businesses.
Many companies have pledged to help. Amazon has pledged $5 million to the UN refugee agency and other humanitarian organizations and plans to match up to $5 million more in donations made by its employees. Snapchat announced $15 million for humanitarian support. Airbnb has offered free accommodation ‘to up to 100,000 refugees and is waiving its fee on the grassroots movement of people booking stays in Ukrainian homes, with no intention of using them, to get quick cash on host accounts, and Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, has pledged $10 million in help.
Cryptocurrency donations themselves have become a prominent form of aid. Samuel Bankman-Fried, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, said his company gave $25 to “every Ukrainian” on FTX.
“Do what you have to do,” he wrote.
Elliptic, a company that tracks cryptocurrency transactions, said on Friday $56.2 million in digital currency was donated to the Ukrainian government and Come Back Alive, a Ukrainian organization that says it trains and provides ammunition to the Ukrainian army.
Come Back Alive is expected to receive support from a crypto fundraising campaign, Ukraine DAO, which was organized in part by punk protest group Pussy Riot. The organizer tweeted on Wednesday that he had raised just over 2,258 ether, which equates to around $6.7 million.
“This is the first time we’ve seen any sort of concerted public effort to raise funds to fund an ongoing conflict through cryptocurrency,” said Chris DePow, regulatory and compliance expert at Elliptic.
Inevitably, scammers seem to be trying to take advantage of the crisis. Elliptic said in a blog post that it has identified crypto fundraising scams seeking help for Ukraine.
“If the funds are raised directly by the government through a publicly announced appeal, or if the funds are raised through a reputable third-party organization that is known to be active in this space, that’s probably a safer bet,” DePow said. .
As of Wednesday, Meta said, more than $20 million had been raised on its Facebook and Instagram platforms for nonprofits that support humanitarian relief.
Maria Genkin, a board member of the US-based non-profit organization Razom, set up to help Ukrainians after Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, said her group had generated donations through their Facebook and Instagram fundraisers to send supplies to Poland.
Regular delivery trucks and other methods of shipping, Genkin said, were either discontinued or made more dangerous by the war. Fans therefore build their own system.
“It’s basically a crowdsourced volunteer delivery system,” she said. “There will be a lot of private cars bringing supplies from Warsaw to Lviv.”
Razom says he would prefer people donate directly to the Ukrainian Armed Forces through an account opened by the National Bank of Ukraine. But Genkin said she recognizes that many nonprofits cannot donate directly to the military due to tax restrictions and that many donors may object to funding another country’s armed forces.
For this reason, Razom will continue to collect donations for humanitarian aid to Ukraine. He also plans to raise awareness of campaigns to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine and upcoming protests, including a Saturday in New York’s Times Square.
“We find a lot of little things we can do that add up to big things,” Genkin said.
This is also the plan of Nova Ukraine. The American nonprofit, which provides humanitarian aid and awareness of Ukrainian issues in the United States, originally planned to collect clothing and other aid and ship it to the country. However, with Ukrainian ports cut off by Russian forces, this is no longer an option. Igor Markov, one of Nova Ukraine’s directors, said the group will try to send what it has collected to Ukrainian refugee camps in neighboring countries, as well as prepare for continued support for refugees.
Elsewhere in the United States, the Jewish organization UJA-Federation of New York has spent the past month preparing for different scenarios with its Ukrainian partners, some of whom had stockpiled two to three months’ worth of food as a precaution. Once the invasion happened, said Deborah Joselow, the group’s chief planning officer, the federation was able to quickly deploy $3 million in emergency grants to provide humanitarian support and other aid to about 200,000 Jews living in Ukraine.
The initial grants are intended to help their partners – at least 15, along with many other affiliates – provide food and medicine to the elderly, Holocaust survivors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations. The organization said it received requests from community activists and others who took refuge in bunkers in Odessa and at metro stations across Ukraine.
“They’re scared,” Joselow said. “They’re really, really scared.”
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