January 6, 2017

Aid to Ukraine: the needs are enormous


Humanitarian aid for Ukraine has been implemented from both sides, internally by the citizens of Ukraine and externally by the Ukrainian diaspora.

Ukraine is a country in the midst of war, economic change and social upheaval. As a result, the old social safety net has been broken, but a new one has not been developed to address pressing social needs. Although, more reforms have been initiated in Ukraine in the last two years than in the previous 23 combined, the toxic mix of war and corruption, despite abating in some sectors, continues to create a dire need for humanitarian aid.

Unfortunately this reality for Ukraine has not changed since it achieved independence in 1991. Years of corrupt governments coupled with direct Russian military aggression in eastern Ukraine have left the people of Ukraine devoid of any accumulated economic resources. Predictably, the war and continuing perceived or actual corruption continue to present a very high level of country risk for investors. As a result the current level of foreign investment continues to be very low for a country the size of Ukraine. To give you some idea relative to other nearby countries, based on the 2014 World Bank data, net foreign direct investment (FDI) in Ukraine was $847 million or .6 percent of GDP, compared to $8.1 billion or 3.9 percent of GDP for the Czech Republic, and $17.3 billion or 3.2 percent of GDP for Poland. Direct foreign investments in Poland are more than 20 times of those in Ukraine. From conversations I had last summer with managers of foreign firms, it appears that only small and medium (short-term) investments are being made, generally in the area of $5 million to $10 million, although a major investment of about $280 million for a seaport facility by Bunge was started this year. Salaries continue to be abysmally low, and are exacerbated by the devastating exchange rate for the hryvnia along with an inflation rate of 49 percent. Based on an exchange rate of 26 hrv to the U.S. dollar, the average salary is $190 per month, and teachers and doctors make about $135 per month. This average salary is skewed upward due to salaries in Kyiv and government positions. The median salary would be a much better statistic, but it is unavailable. Workers in Ukraine continue to be underemployed or unemployed. United Nations data on physician density for 2012 show that the U.S. had 2.45 physicians per 1,000 and Ukraine had 3.53 physicians per 1,000. Ukraine has more than one extra physician relative to the U.S. per 1,000 population, while the U.S., considered the richest country, spends more on medical care than any other country in the world. Reforms in Ukraine have been glacially slow and labor market forces have been impeded, resulting in vast underemployment in fields that are financed by the government budget. We also need to consider that, according to Dmitry Gorenburg at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, in March 2014, Ukraine had 80,000 troops and fewer than 1,000 artillery pieces, but its combat-ready force was a mere 6,000. Today the situation is very different, with approximately 250,000 active frontline personnel and approximately 1 million reserve personnel.

Building up an army almost from scratch and providing it with aircraft, tanks, artillery and logistical support has taken a significant amount of the government’s budget and resources of the populace. In the early days, volunteers and soldiers were mostly dressed and equipped by their parents, friends and charitable organizations. While foreign governments have also provided humanitarian aid and military training, Ukraine has relied on its own military industrial complex to modernize existing weaponry and develop new weapons systems.

Since 2013, organizations and individuals both in Ukraine and the diaspora have been increasingly active in providing humanitarian aid.

The war in Ukraine has displaced 3 million people, 2.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are in Ukraine and about 800,000 emigrated, mostly to Russia. This is the largest number of displaced people in Europe. With the Western media’s attention on ISIS and refugees from the Middle East, there is very little mention of these refugees, who must be housed, fed, educated and employed. This further stretches an already tight government budget. As we can see, Ukraine’s need for humanitarian aid is enormous. Hoping to get some firm data on humanitarian aid to Ukraine, I looked up the Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) Council of Social Services annual reports for the last three years. The UWC is the international coordinating body for Ukrainian communities in the diaspora representing the interests of over 20 million Ukrainians. Unfortunately, many Ukrainian diaspora humanitarian organizations have not reported their activities. There was a significant jump in the value of humanitarian aid between 2012 and 2013, from $1.97 million in 2012 to $4.53 million in 2013, and to $5.4 million in 2014 (19 organizations reported). The data for 2015 are incomplete, with only eight organizations reporting. Based on the line items for 2013, most of the aid was for the participants of the Euro-Maidan. The information for 2014 includes both Maidan and humanitarian aid for the army. Some of the organizations in the West brought seriously wounded individuals from the Euro-Maidan and later soldiers of the ATO for treatment in the West. This was mostly to Poland, Germany and the United States.In late 2015, the UWC formed a coordinating body headed by Dr. Ulana Suprun, presently the acting minister of health in Ukraine, to try to synchronize humanitarian aid by assisting engaged organizations with the logistics of sending and distributing aid. An office has been established, and teleconferences are held every three months with representatives from Ukrainian diaspora organizations. But again, only a few organizations participate. I don’t think we have ever had more than seven representatives participate at any given juncture.Humanitarian aid for Ukraine has been implemented from both sides, internally by the citizens of Ukraine and externally by the Ukrainian diaspora. This is a very positive result of the events in Ukraine. First of all, the idea of volunteerism and charitable contributions, which had in reality never been practiced during Soviet times (because the attitude was that the state should provide), was awakened in the populace of Ukraine. Therefore, since 2013, organizations and individuals both in Ukraine and the diaspora have been increasingly active in providing humanitarian aid. Presently, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations and tens of thousands of volunteers in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government is checking the legality and activities of many of these organizations since, unfortunately, some do appear to have questionable motives. There is a newsletter put out by the Civic Sector of Euromaidan that in the past provided information about humanitarian aid, but has now tilted more towards general information about the war in Ukraine. It was never totally comprehensive, with many groups missing, including most from the diaspora. Social networks also are used to report activities. The following report is based on the information I have gleaned as president of the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee and what my husband calls my and UUARC representatives’ “in the field experience” in Ukraine. Initially, humanitarian aid was sent to keep the students warm and fed on the barricades of the Maidan. After the events of February 2015, some wounded were provided medical care in several countries. The UUARC carried out a program of giving $1,000 from the U.S. diaspora to each family of the Heavenly Brigade. These families were also to receive the equivalent of $10,000 from funds organized in Ukraine. Starting in April 2014, the dire army situation resulted in millions of dollars of humanitarian aid for the troops. This included clothing, medicines, flak jackets, helmets, walkie-talkies and boots. Some organizations sent thousands of packets of Celox, others sent QuickClots and tourniquets.The UUARC works directly through our two representatives and several volunteers in Ukraine. For example, two board members and the UUARC representative in Kyiv visited the training base for Kyivska Rus’ in Cherkasy Oblast and asked the military personnel for a priority list. Obviously we were not able to totally satisfy it, but we did the best given our financial ability. The UUARC is only one of the numerous diaspora organizations providing aid to Ukraine. To give you an idea of how aid to Ukraine has escalated, based on its audited financial statements, the UUARC has provided $4,899,000 in aid to Ukraine from 2010 to 2015. Specifically in 2010 – $660,000, 2011 – $419,000, 2012 – $386,000, 2013 – $1,215,000, 2014 – $1,162,000 and in 2015 – $1,057,000. Since 2013, 16 40-foot containers have been shipped with medical equipment, including two full morgue complexes, ambulances, Oleas bandages, QuikClots, tourniquets, ambulatory equipment, army boots, warm underclothes, warmers for hands and feet, army sleeping bags, supplies for refugees and various other items in smaller quantities. For expediency and efficiency, the UUARC tries to purchase what it can in Ukraine or provide money to centers we have worked with through the years to purchase the necessary items either in Ukraine or geographically proximate countries. A program we found to be very valuable is “Adopt a Wounded Ukrainian Soldier,” which finds sponsors for wounded soldiers and connects the two if the sponsor wishes. The soldier is given $300 from the sponsor through the UUARC and often the sponsor helps the wounded soldier on an individual basis or again through the UUARC. The program was started in November 2014 and has served over 480 soldiers. Recently, one of our board members, along with our representative in Kyiv, was able to visit some of the recipients in the Kyiv Military Hospital. Her experience was very moving and at the same time educational for us. She met a soldier who had lost one arm and the fingers of the other hand. His parents, standing next to him, were crying. All three spoke Russian. She gave the parents a sponsor’s monetary assistance and, in Ukrainian, thanked the soldier.  In response he spoke in Russian “I have to fight, I have to defend my country.” A second program, a newer one, is “Rodyna Rodyni,” which helps families of deceased soldiers awaiting to officially receive their compensation payment from the Ukrainian government or who find themselves in difficult situations . In several cases, these are young widows with children who immediately upon receiving the compensation bought an unfinished apartment and are subsequently desperate for help since they cannot move in and really have nowhere else to live. Through “Rodyna Rodyni” aid is provided not only to families of deceased servicemen, but also to refugee families and families of wounded soldiers. In most cases these are the more needy. Please be aware that the Ukrainian government provides 609,000 hrv to the families of deceased soldiers, and the oblast governments on the average provide additionally about 120,000 hrv. The total is equivalent to $28,000. This is in a country where the average monthly salary is about $190 and most pensioners receive the equivalent of about $80 per month. Each amputee soldier has the right to receive the prostheses that best meet his needs. The cost is born by the government. As of the fall of 2015, there are four Western manufacturers of prosthesis registered in Ukraine. The psychological toll that this war has taken is enormous, and several post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) projects by various groups have been undertaken, including one at Yale University in the summer of 2014 where the UUARC was a co-sponsor. Centers have been established in Ukraine to help not only returning soldiers, but also their families – especially the children. As in most times of crisis, children are the most vulnerable. For years, the UUARC conducted summer camps by the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov or the Carpathian Mountains for about 50 to 60 children, usually from orphanages. At the request of the Ukrainian Embassy to the U.S., the UUARC shifted its approach and in the summers of 2015 conducted camps in the Carpathian Mountains of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast for 200 refugee children and children whose fathers had been killed or wounded in action. In 2016 the children selected to participate were from the “grey zone” in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. For 18 days they did not hear, see or fear the shelling that falls all around their towns and villages. Initially they had a full day in Kyiv (from 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.), which left a very exciting impression on them. In a thank-you note, one of the young boys wrote that he hopes his mother wasn’t killed during the time he was away. An additional 36 children from Kherson whose fathers are in the ATO attended another camp, and a camp for soldiers’ families with very young children from western Ukraine was co-sponsored with the Ternopil Logistic Center. The requests for humanitarian aid are never-ending. Our Aid Committee has seen monthly requests for aid increase from an average of 30 to 60 per month. And they are all over the place. About 70-75 percent are for help with medical conditions, too often cancer, especially requests from parents with very, very sick children. But they also come from military hospitals and various organizations, that request medicines and supplies for soldiers. Looking into the future, besides the war and addressing serious corruption, the Ukrainian government must seriously address the medical issue in Ukraine. Although de juris medical services are supposed to be free, de facto they are extremely expensive and in serious cases prohibitively expensive. Although there are actually too many doctors, many procedures are not performed in Ukraine. In its September 16 issue, the Kyiv Post wrote that 90 percent of the income of physicians comes from bribes. Medicines that are procured by the state are not those that address the needs of the patients, but those that are manufactured or imported by relatives and friends of ministers and deputies. Way too many children have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This is a tragedy for the families and a catastrophe for the Ukrainian nation. Something is extremely wrong and a national health system or medical insurance system must be developed, parallel with fighting the war and eliminating corruption.

Larissa Kyj, Ph.D., is president of the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee. She was recently re-elected to that position.

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