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Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, one of the first solidarity actions on the part of European citizens has been to collect basic necessities to be sent to the borders where hundreds of thousands of refugees are arriving. In Italy, numerous collection points managed by associations, parishes and groups of volunteers have been created and especially in the first days the participation of people was enormous. At the same time, many have contributed with donations of money and large non-profit organizations working in the field have raised millions of dolars.
After this initial impulse of solidarity dictated by the sudden emergency situation, the associations have had time to organize their work in a more structured way and many citizens have begun to ask themselves what makes the most sense to donate to make an effective and long-term contribution. To answer these questions it may be useful to know how the world of humanitarian aid works and some peculiarities of this emergency.
Giovanni Fontana is the founder of the non-profit organization Second Tree, which has been in charge of welcoming refugees in Greece since 2016 and who in recent days has heard from dozens of people from Ukrainian associations or on the borders to get an idea of the possible interventions to be organized. He confirmed that, as in all humanitarian emergencies, especially the closest ones, the collection of goods is the first thing to do, because it is the easiest way to bring aid. But he added: «It is very important to know where these things are going and what are the needs of those who are there on the pitch. From the experience of my association I know that the collection, travel and bureaucracy of these expeditions are slow and struggle to keep up with the real needs of those who are there, in some cases proving to be ineffective “.
For example, there are some collections made with the best intentions that if destined for the wrong places can be counterproductive: for example food to be cooked (such as pasta or rice) in fields that do not have an equipped kitchen, or large quantities of clothes in areas of passage where refugees do not want to load more baggage and there is no space to keep them.
The main activity we are seeing in Italy is sending goods to border countries such as Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary, where it is easy to get there from other European countries. Here the shipment of goods from Italy does not always make sense: the prices of the products sold in these areas are on average lower than those of the same products sold in Italy and transport has a cost.
Rosario Valastro, vice president of the Italian Red Cross, which is part of a network that operates in many European countries and is very active in bringing relief both inside and outside Ukraine, says they have avoided from the very beginning. organize collections of material goods – with the exception of some drugs – and asked citizens to contribute to their work only through cash donations.
“We are aware that most people prefer to donate things and not money”, said Rosario Valastro, “but in the border areas there is no shortage of food and expenses are a relevant item when working in the humanitarian field: a packet of pasta purchased in Italy – to which travel expenses must be added – costs much more than in border countries, where we can shop with the funds raised ». If you have to choose between shopping for a collection in Italy and an equivalent cash donation, then it is very likely that the latter will have a greater impact.
Of course there are exceptions: for example when specific requests for materials arrive from Italy. A few days ago the Romanian Red Cross asked for a donation of blankets and the Italian Red Cross mobilized and managed to receive a donation from a company and bring them to them in two days. Even in these cases, however, if there are no companies willing to donate, it is much easier for the associations to buy the products all together, perhaps obtaining a discount, rather than waiting to receive them from many private donors, especially for logistical and savings reasons. of time.
Furthermore, donations from citizens are often vitiated by the imagination that one has of what is happening, creating very disproportionate collections towards certain goods: it is more immediate to think of blankets, clothes for children and medicines than to other things of which maybe there is much more need such as electric generators, mattresses or infusions. For example, a very useful thing in border areas that you don’t think about are disposable glasses, plates and cutlery: “these are things that no one gives: it will not be ecological, but at the border crossing points there are thousands of people lined up for a plate of soup and there is no time to wash the dishes, ”said Fontana.
There is also great demand for interpreters who facilitate communication between the various countries and for means of transport. Many associations that transport people or materials from one country to another have used the funds raised to rent buses or trucks and for the petrol needed for the trip, but there are also transport companies that have made their vehicles available for free. “My advice”, continued Fontana, “is to join collections that you know very well where they go and that respond to specific requests: for example, there are places in Romania and Moldavia that are far from the large sorting centers and to which sense to get basic necessities, if you know someone who can do it “.
This is generally true in all cases in which a small reality in Ukraine is known that might need help: according to Fontana “it is clear that donating 10 dolars to a large NGO has less impact than donating it to an association of a small town. in eastern or northern Ukraine, where money and aid do not arrive ». In these areas of Ukraine there are associations that have been operating on the ground since the 2014 war and need donations, such as Voices of Children And Vostok SOS, just to name two. «With this I don’t mean that if you don’t know small local realities you shouldn’t donate to big associations, on the contrary: the world of humanitarian aid is very controlled and my perception is that in this situation there is no risk of scams or subterfuges. I have no doubts that the money donated will be used to improve things in this emergency »continued Fontana.
As for the possibility of sending goods into Ukrainian territory, the situation is quite complicated. According to the Italian Red Cross “there has never been a real opening of safe corridors in Ukraine and this makes it difficult to transport materials within the borders”. In the Ukrainian territory at the moment there is a base camp of the Danish Red Cross, to which the convoys of the Red Cross from other countries, including the Italian one, have managed to arrive to respond above all to the request for medicines and tools for setting up the field itself. But in general the associations that manage to enter and leave to bring aid are not many.
It is the same thing that also told Caritas Ambrosiana, which is part of the Caritas network and is in contact with the Ukrainian Caritas and other associations that have always operated in those territories: “we said from the beginning that we do not recommend the collection of material aid and we have only collected economic aid. In turn, we support the realities with which we are in contact and who work in the field only in economic form: then of course if in the future they need goods and it will be possible we will send those too ».
Some collections to which it may make sense to join are those of associations that leave Italy to fetch people fleeing Ukraine and that take advantage of the trip to bring aid to the organizations with which they are in contact at the borders.
For example, this is what Refugees Welcome, which deals with hospitality, and I Bambini dell’Est, which for years has been dealing with temporary fostering of Ukrainian children in Italy, are doing: with the funds raised they have rented buses to go and pick up people. escape from Ukraine and headed for Italy. “Before departure, we load the buses with basic necessities: above all diapers, food and medicines, according to the requests of the people we are in contact with and who have set up a camp on the border with Poland: they tell us the things they need they need and on the basis of this we organize the collection », explained Malvina Monti, of the Children of the East.
The association has for years been in contact with entities working in Ukraine, but explains that it is not certain that they are still reachable and that bringing aid to the country is very difficult. “The help we are trying to give to those who are still in Ukraine mainly concerns information: we are in contact with some people from Kharkiv and we have had news of free trains going to Lviv, or the numbers of people who were available in the situations of need to bring food. As far as possible we try to participate in the circulation of information among our contacts, also thanks to the internal resources we have who speak Italian and Ukrainian: we use Telegram, WhatsApp and Twitter channels, always trying to verify that the information is reliable and then putting it into circulation. “.
Refugees Welcome, Children of the East and many other associations including Progetto Arca and Caritas are organizing another type of aid, which has been the least urgent up to now but which will become more important as the days go by, namely that of hospitality. . A thousand refugees from Ukraine are arriving in Italy every day and this number is likely to increase rapidly. Thousands of people in Italy are giving their availability of rooms or houses and the work of the associations is to verify the conditions of hospitality and match them with the needs of the refugees who arrive. But not only: “we try every day to make what you need to work”, concluded Malvina Monti of I Bambini dell’Est: “today, for example, I’m trying to figure out where to get a bus of 50 people to go to swabs for coronavirus before they are hosted in families: I have not yet found a solution but I will succeed ».