Czechs donating like never before to help war-stricken Ukrainians

Mariupol, Ukraine

Czechs have provided around CZK 3.4 billion in donations since the beginning of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The largest amount overall (1.67 billion) has been collected by the humanitarian NGO People in Need. The organisation’s media coordinator for Ukraine, Milan Votypka, says that the amount of aid coming in is unprecedented. 

“It is a unique situation for us. This is an absolute record. We never had anything like this, neither during [last year’s] tornado [in the east of the Czech Republic] nor during the war in Syria.

“This is the first time that we were actually able to collect such a large amount of money and we are truly grateful to each and every one who has contributed.”

The last time we spoke was at the beginning of March. Back then you said that People in Need is working at the EU borders with Ukraine, namely Slovakia, Romania and Moldova. You also said that the situation was very bad, especially on the Ukrainian side where people fleeing the country were waiting in very long lines. How have things developed since then?

Milan Votypka | Photo: archive of Uprchlíci vítejte

“Yes, the situation has changed. At the moment we are mainly focused on cash distribution, because the market is quite developed [in Ukraine], so we can actually give people money and they can buy what they need for themselves.

“We do still distribute some materials, especially in the west [of Ukraine], for the collective centres that are located there and we are still bringing in humanitarian aid.”

So, if I understood you correctly, the main form of aid that is being distributed now is money for people to buy the things that they need?

“Yes, right now it’s mainly cash. It is USD 75 per month.

“It is a good thing, because, with the market working in the country, people can decide for themselves what they are most in need of and don’t just have to accept whatever we give them.”

Is this a consequence of the front stabilising more than it was in early March?

“As you probably know, the situation is now more stable in the north of the country [following the Battle for Kyiv]. Russia is now more focused on the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Kharkiv,  Ukraine | Photo: Felipe Dana,  ČTK/AP

“At the same time, we are trying to bring humanitarian aid to places where there is a lower availability of products, such as Kharkiv for example.”

Is People in Need itself also active in Ukraine? And, if so, is it mainly in the west, or also in areas that are closer to the fighting?

“Through our local partners, as well as some of our employees who are currently situated there, we were able to reach places in the east of the country that are generally difficult to access.

“Through these partner organisations, we were even able to bring some aid to Mariupol, although it was very little.

“Places such as Kharkiv get our aid both through partner deliveries as well as through convoys organised by the United Nations.”

No one knows how long this conflict will go on for. There has been talk of establishing a more long-term form of aid. Is People in Need considering this possibility and, if so, what sort of form would that take?

“It is extremely difficult to predict anything in this kind of situation. That said, we expect that our help to Ukraine will be long term. That means that we will be staying there for years, at least.”

Is there something related to the forms of aid you are currently providing in Ukraine which you would especially like to highlight?

“We are providing various types of aid. The one that I would highlight is the providing of psychological help to people [affected by the war].

“We have a helpline where people can talk to a psychologist and get this kind of help which is extremely important for people in Ukraine at the moment.”

Do you know what the most common reasons are for people calling your psychological helpline?

Mariupol,  Ukraine | Photo: Alexei Alexandrov,  ČTK/AP

“I don’t have a statistic to cite at the moment, but the most common callers are desperate people in bunkers, people with panic attacks, or those searching for their relatives. These kinds of things.”

Aside from humanitarian support, Czechs have also donated over CZK 1,045 billion to the official account of the Ukrainian Embassy, which uses the money to purchase military equipment for the country’s army. The embassy’s press secretary Tetiana Okopna says that, of this amount, CZK 952 million has already been spent on defence purchases.

The largest amount of donations came in during the first week of the war, she says, followed by the immediate period after the revelations of alleged Russian war crimes in Bucha and Irpin.

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