Relief groups rally to help those sheltering, fleeing in Ukraine

March 2022 Online


Catholic relief groups and other organizations providing humanitarian support to Ukrainians amid the invasion by Russian forces say the need for assistance is great.

A social worker provides art therapy for children in Boryslav, a city in Ukraine, as part of the effort by Caritas International and Catholic Relief Services to support residents amid the attack on and invasion of their nation by Russia.
Caritas Ukraine

The effort to meet that need is hampered by the closure of major highways as military forces position themselves and by street combat and by rocket and missile strikes. Relief organizations also face challenges accessing cash as other nations respond to Russia's aggression by closing off financial networks.

"The situation, as we all know, is very volatile," Moira Monacelli, director of the Vatican-based aid group Caritas International, said Friday. "It's changing day by day, hour by hour." Caritas is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide.

Monacelli was among representatives from several international humanitarian aid groups and U.S. Catholic health systems who discussed their efforts to bring in food, medical and other supplies and assist refugees during a networking Zoom call that was organized by CHA.

Bruce Compton, CHA's senior director of global health, moderated the call. He said it was prompted by queries from CHA members about how to help a population under siege. "I know this is an extremely emotional time for all of us as we consider what is happening in Ukraine," Compton said.

The organizations represented in the call shared links to websites giving details on their respective aid efforts in the region and where donations are accepted. The aid groups that took part in the call included:

Presenters discussed the importance of working thru established and trusted partners to meet the critical food, shelter, fuel and transportation needs of Ukrainians who are sheltering in place or attempting to flee to the relative safety of bordering nations.

Monacelli said the two member organizations within the Caritas confederation that are providing direct assistance in Ukraine have infrastructure in place in 65 locations in Ukraine and in neighboring countries, including Moldova, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, all of which are seeing inflows of refugees.

Monacelli said Caritas is providing shelter, transportation and psychosocial support to the traumatized refugees.

Kevin Kostic, director of donor relations for Catholic Relief Services, said his organization is partnering with Caritas and other groups in its relief efforts. He shared photos from Ukraine taken since the Russian invasion began last week. One image showed elderly men and women sheltering in the cold cellar of a cathedral about 90 miles west of the capital city of Kyiv as bombs exploded outside.

"What we're hearing from Caritas Ukraine in particular is that older and sick people are really overwhelmed and often completely on their own," Kostic said.

The work of Catholic Relief Services includes coordinating aid distribution with leaders in Ukraine, recruiting and mobilizing volunteers to help with humanitarian efforts and transporting children out of violent areas, he said.

Like representatives of other groups participating in the 90-minute CHA Zoom meeting, Kostic said the immediate need is for cash to fund efforts already under way.

Multiple CHA member health systems, including Providence St. Joseph Health and Bon Secours Mercy Health, indicated they are already providing cash support to ground aid efforts in Ukraine.

Susan Huber is president of Ascension Global Mission, which oversees international aid efforts by the Ascension health system. She said the system is encouraging its associates and its suppliers who want to do something to help Ukrainians to stick with cash donations to established aid groups for now.

"Doing is donating because the people on the ground are the people who know what's needed, what they can get and how to access it," Huber said.

In time, she said, Ascension will work with its partner MedSurplus Alliance to send specific medical supplies that are requested by the government or medical organizations in Ukraine. She said the health system bases its policies for aid donations on the best practices outlined by groups such as CHA and MedSurge Alliance. One of those practices, she noted, is not to send unrequested donations.

CHA has guidelines and resources for ethical disaster response on its website.

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