In March, just weeks into the invasion of Ukraine, farmer Oleksandr Kryvosheia faced a dilemma. His land, 40km (25 miles) north of Kyiv, had been occupied by Russian troops, many of whom were hiding from Ukraine’s defense forces in his barn.
He could wait, and hope they wouldn’t damage the farm too badly, allowing him to continue to grow crops and keep sheep once the war was over, or take action to help expel the invaders from his land, and so risk everything he had worked for.
It was a straightforward decision to make. “At that time none of us thought about the consequences, the main thing was to chase away the enemy,” Kryvosheia told the keep going (https://www.keepgoing.com.ua/en) website. He got a message through to the Ukrainian armed forces to redirect their fire, and his farm buildings, including machinery and seeds, were destroyed.
His sacrifice was shared online and, once the Russians retreated, 600,000 hryvnias ($16,000) were raised in just four days so he could put a new roof on the barn in time to store this year’s harvest, which itself was grown using donated seed and borrowed machinery. Donations came in from more than 2,000 people, some giving as little as 10 hyrvinias ($0.25).
Kryvosheia’s experience is just one example of a boom in charitable activity in Ukraine since February’s full-scale invasion. According to research by VKURSI and the Zagoriy Foundation, the process reached its peak in April, when 12 times more charitable organizations were registered than in the same month last year. Currently, more than 15,000 charities work in Ukraine, 8% of which were registered in April alone.
Both large Ukrainian businesses and ordinary people are involved in the explosion in activity. For example, Svitlana Gliebova and her family ran successful dance studios in New York for 14 years before returning to Lviv in October last year.
In December, they founded the Remigranty Foundation as a platform where Ukrainians, in particular young people, could receive help from successful compatriots who had moved abroad. That changed with the invasion. Now the fund focuses on equipping hospitals.
Some 900 healthcare facilities have already been damaged by the Russian military, and 127 hospitals have been completely destroyed. The doctors near the front line who risk their lives and save those of others know how vital charitable donations, and crowdfunded drugs and equipment, are to their work.
Oleksiy Pavlov, an orthopedic traumatologist and assistant at the department of traumatology, anesthesiology, and military surgery at Kharkiv Medical Academy, said his hospital was overrun almost as soon as the invasion started.
“On the first day, at 8:15, the first wounded arrived,” he said. “People from the surrounding villages fled from the Russians, who shot them in the back and in the limbs. Ambulances were bringing in the wounded, the hospital was overcrowded because it was closest to the epicenter of events.”
On the first day, most of the medicines ran out, but after four or five days, doctors were provided with basic necessities, Pavlov said. Although the existing health care system could not cope, the active assistance of charities and the West in the first days of the war helped save thousands of lives. Infrastructure development, initiated by the World Health Organization, made it possible to organize effective supplies of medicines.
The Ukrainian government, whose bureaucracy has its roots in the Soviet era, has a limited ability to react quickly, and suffers inertia in processes like the creation of supply chains and communications. Running such processes through the government, with its centralization, also increases opportunities for corruption, further affecting those in need of aid.
In contrast, volunteers and charity funds are oriented towards fast and effective solutions. For obvious reasons, the government’s efforts have mostly been focused on supporting the military, while voluntary activity and philanthropy have supported a wide range of fields. These include education, food production, and providing shelter — as well as raising money for drones and other equipment for the armed forces.
There is a pressing need to coordinate the work of charities and volunteers to avoid duplication and confusion. Sometimes hospitals have faced problems as a result of miscommunication between charities, but there’s no doubt they have played a vital role in Ukraine’s response to the Russian invasion.
The role of funds is simply huge, Gliebova said, adding that it’s important to remember that individuals are behind the work. “We are ordinary Ukrainian people who want to help other Ukrainian people to survive,” she said.
Kateryna Panasiuk is an author and journalist studying politics at the Ukrainian Catholic University. When war came to her home, Ukraine, she chose to do what she knew best and started a volunteer project to collect and share stories of Ukrainians affected by the war.
Mykyta Vorobiov is a freelance journalist studying politics at the Ukrainian Catholic University. Forced to leave Kyiv when war broke out, he has since combined work at Lviv City Council with coordinating a journalism project and editing articles.