It is striking how much Ukrainians appreciate the help and how particularly delighted they are by the extent of British backing.
CHARLES MOORE 25 July 2023 •
As soon as Russia invaded Ukraine last year, voluntary donations from the West to relieve the suffering came thick and fast. It is not so widely known, however, that British people were quite exceptionally generous.
Almost from the first day, the Ukrainian embassy in London started to receive money, sometimes small sums of cash given by people who just knocked at the door. The donations, unsolicited, came with no strings attached.
This started a wider process, coordinated by the platform, With Ukraine, which the embassy set up. All the money it receives is distributed for humanitarian purposes connected with the war – food, medicine, electric generators and so on. The embassy bears all administrative costs, so 100 per cent of each donation reaches its target. The embassy said last week the amount raised in this way had now topped £30 million. This is a staggering sum, and has no parallel in any other country on Earth.
And this, of course, is quite separate from all the other charities, great and small, which try to help Ukraine. I emphasise the small ones because, in my experience, it is they who are making the running there. The larger charities and NGOs (I have found this in other war zones too) are much slower, more bureaucratic and self-protective. In one such case recently, the charity’s international contingent refused to do the dangerous work required and flew off, leaving it to the locals. Most small charities think differently. Their employees and volunteers are generally present because they want to get as close to the action, and thus the need, as possible.
In the early days of the war, the urgent need was to help millions of refugees. As that problem eased, many charities moved closer to the fighting. When I was in Ukraine in May, I travelled with two – Siobhan’s Trust, which hands out hot pizzas to the large crowds who gather in bombed-out towns to be fed; and Mission Ukraine, which drives out SUVs from Britain, repurposes them as field ambulances, and delivers them to the front. Both, therefore, operate in the east and the south, where most of the fighting is.
Last month, Siobhan’s Trust distributed its one millionth pizza. Sadly, but obviously, the start of the counter-offensive has increased the need for Mission Ukraine’s field ambulances.
The fighting naturally imposes severe strain – bereavement, PTSD, the grief of displacement. The Ukrainian government is concentrating on relieving physical need in these areas, so here the work of charities is central. I have had dealings with the excellent MedAid International, established by three Englishmen, Charles Harman, Gavin Rankin and Nick Mather, which has set up Moe Kolo, a mental health centre, in Lviv.
I have also come across Kharpp, which currently helps rebuild houses in the Kharkiv oblast, so many of which have been damaged. They have repaired the windows, doors and roofs of 400 homes in 16 villages. Another is Insulate Ukraine, the name of which explains its purpose.
This list could go on and on. That is my point. The number and range of small British charities in Ukraine are remarkable. Wherever possible, each should know about the other, because then – as Mission Ukraine and Insulate Ukraine already do – they can share logistics, knowledge, contacts, sometimes vehicles.
These charities should also be publicly celebrated – partly as an antidote to the compassion fatigue which inevitably sets in during long conflicts – but also because it is striking how much Ukrainians appreciate the help and how particularly delighted they are by the extent of British backing, from the King himself right down to the youngest volunteer.
Ukrainians quite often ask me why the British are so supportive. I cannot give a confident answer. The cliché about our love for the underdog might be true. Whatever the reason, let’s