One year into the Russia-Ukraine war, the humanitarian consequences continue to magnify. More than 8 million refugees from Ukraine are scattered across Europe as of February 28, 2023, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reports. Ukrainian Minister of Health Viktor Liashko said in January 2023 that Russian forces have damaged or destroyed at least 1,000 health facilities in Ukraine. Humanitarian organizations play crucial roles during these times of crisis. During a recent trip to Poland, marking the one-year anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the President of The Borgen Project, Clint Borgen, met with the organization Polish Humanitarian Action. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Polish Humanitarian Action provides insight into its efforts to provide critical assistance to Ukrainians as the war rages on.
When was your organization founded and what does it aim to achieve?
Polish Humanitarian Action is a non-governmental humanitarian organization founded in 1992 with the aim of providing assistance to civilians suffering from the impacts of armed conflicts and natural disasters. PAH’s mission is to make the world a better place by alleviating human suffering and promoting humanitarian values. So far, we have helped more than 14.5 million people in more than 50 countries around the world.
When did your organization begin helping refugees and displaced Ukrainians?
PAH has been present in Ukraine since 2014, with an immediate response to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and a permanent active country office established in 2015. Since February 24, 2022, the date of the sudden escalation of this conflict, the efforts of PAH’s office in Ukraine have multiplied and the team has almost tripled in size, continuing to grow as the needs of Ukrainians intensify.
What programs did PAH primarily focus on at the onset of the war?
PAH’s ongoing humanitarian response in Ukraine covers the areas of protection; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); food security and livelihood strengthening; cash-based assistance; shelter and distribution of non-food items (NFI) in Dnipro, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kherson, among other efforts.
How have humanitarian needs changed one year on and what resources are needed in order for PAH to continue its work?
One year into the war, the needs of the people in Ukraine changed naturally. In the initial months after the escalation, Ukraine noted staggering numbers of internally displaced people. Ukrainians needed basic resources: food, hygiene items, legal consultations and psychological support. At the peak of winter’s most frigid temperatures, the PAH and other organizations focused on winterization items, which include thermal blankets, stoves, fuel and coal. This conflict is rather complex and unpredictable and calls for flexible and ongoing strategy reviews. Critical civilian infrastructure has been targeted, which exacerbates the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Shelter, food, livelihood assistance and protection remain the most significant needs of the war-affected population in Ukraine.
What is the best example you’ve seen of your organization’s work making a difference?
Polish Humanitarian Action is implementing integrated protection, shelter, food security and livelihoods (FSL) and non-food item (NFI) activities while keeping cash assistance as a cross-cutting sector approach. The Mental Health and Psychosocial Support activities aim to address the underlying causes of trauma that millions of Ukrainians are experiencing right now. Many have lost their livelihoods, loved ones, homes and more. PAH opens static field centers and dispatches mobile teams to provide outreach to the most vulnerable. The people who come to these sessions are usually a mix of locals and internally displaced people, so it helps the latter to integrate better into the new environment.
What message would you like to send to advocates in the U.S. and U.K. who are passionate about supporting humanitarian work like yours in Ukraine and Poland?
Humanitarian needs in Ukraine are significant as millions remain displaced and in need of relief assistance. Many businesses have had no choice but to close and many people are now without reliable livelihood sources. As the conflict and violence continue, millions live in fear of facing displacement again and even losing their lives. The key message is to shift funding toward early recovery activities and sustainable solutions that will allow Ukrainian people to build resilience and establish independence. Donors (both private and business) can donate directly to support PAH’s activities through our website and also obtain tax deductions under 501 (c)(3) through CAF America or CAF U.K.
– Saiesha Singh
Photos: Courtesy of Roman Baluk/PAH