BATUMI, Georgia — More than a year has passed since Russia invaded Ukraine and the ongoing conflict has resulted in a minimum of 500,000 and as many as 1 million people fleeing the country. Shortly after the onset of the conflict, several organizations and volunteer centers developed to respond to the needs of Ukrainians. The country of Georgia saw 60,000 Ukrainian refugees seeking safety and refuge. Fortunately, volunteer centers in Georgia are providing assistance to Ukrainian refugees amid the war.
Emigration for Action
Russian activists and immigrants Katerina Kiltau and Evgeny Lyamin created Emigration for Action in April 2022. It started out as a means of gathering humanitarian aid and raising money to buy medical supplies and other necessities for the Ukrainian refugees in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Now, its main focus is supporting Ukrainians by providing medical and psychological assistance. Also, the organization arranges festivals to raise money and organizes charitable events to educate people on politics, Georgian history, culture, journalism and more.
Emigration for Action’s volunteers support Ukrainians who need specific medical treatment, assisting them with contacting a hospital, finding a doctor and purchasing medication. Some volunteers work with complicated cases, do surgeries and help with rehabilitation. The organization also covers the cost of medications and medical treatments. Emigration for Action has resolved 33 medical cases and helped 3,747 Ukrainians receive medical assistance.
Other Forms of Assistance
The organization had 69 volunteers complete a course on RAPID Psychological First Aid developed at Johns Hopkins University. In times of crisis, the skills attained through this course allow volunteers to provide prompt psychological care for those experiencing trauma, even without a formal psychology background. Crisis psychologist Yuri Zarubin changed and adapted the course for current circumstances. Volunteers who finish the 16-hour course are able to recognize a person’s psychological state and stabilize it. In more serious cases, volunteers direct refugees to professional psychologists.
Emigration for Action also helped Russians who were fleeing the country during mobilization. For example, a significant car traffic jam of people trying to flee occurred on the border of Russia and Georgia. Emigration for Action put together a point for humanitarian help near the Georgian checkpoint. From September 28, 2022, to October 2, 2022, 65 volunteers ensured that people received enough food, water and hygiene products. Also, the organization created an information center and guide where immigrants could find information on how to adapt to life in Georgia. And, during that time, it established a crisis shelter that provided 42 people with a place to sleep for 10 days.
Maria Belkina established Volunteers Tbilisi about a year ago on March 4, 2022, to help Ukrainian refugees secure medication, medical treatment, temporary shelter, food and essential information. The organization started out as a group of 10 enthusiasts and now operates with the help of 120 permanent workers in the core team, 300 active volunteers and 5,000 people in the volunteer community.
The volunteers are from around the world: Russians, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, French, Spanish, Americans and Georgians. More than 15,000 people have already received aid in the form of medical supplies, legal counseling, food and emergency shelter. On a monthly basis, the organization evacuates about 20 people and more than 5,000 people continue to receive medical care and humanitarian aid from the organization. Also, each month, Volunteers Tbilisi distributes about 15 tons of food. On average, Volunteers Tbilisi requires more than $1,000 per day to meet the needs of refugees.
Other Means of Support
Alongside supplying food and other necessities, as one of the volunteer centers in Georgia, Volunteers Tbilisi also offers temporary accommodation. The organization pays for refugees’ temporary housing in Tbilisi, such as short stays in a hotel or cohabitation with other immigrants.
Currently, Volunteers Tbilisi rents five houses for refugees. Each month around 200 people in need receive shelter at these houses. Another important aspect of Volunteers Tbilisi’s work is its hotline, which operates 24/7. Through the hotline, 15 volunteers provide Ukrainians with information on “evacuation from Ukraine and Russia, medical care in Georgia, entry and exit from Georgia, legal issues and all issues related to supporting Ukrainian citizens in Tbilisi,” its website says. The organization receives around 2,000 requests for information/assistance per month. In the future, Volunteers Tbilisi aims to work with grants, but as of now, it collects letters of support from large organizations like Action Against Hunger.
The Borgen Project spoke to the development director of Volunteers Tbilisi, Anatoly Sobolev, who talked about the organization’s work: “We didn’t have a day when we ran out of food or any other necessities. Everyone got what they needed. Later, we moved to another point that is bigger… I’m proud of the amount of work that we keep doing every day no matter what.” During the year, the organization worked all but two days.
Choose to Help
Choose to Help is another one of the volunteer centers in Georgia. It connects volunteers from all spheres of life in a public movement to help Ukrainian refugees. The center was officially launched on March 2, 2022. It made a point of gathering and delivering humanitarian aid to Ukraine during the early stages of the war. But, its work shifted at the beginning of April 2022 when Tbilisi experienced a tremendous influx of refugees. Choose to Help focused on assisting those refugees.
Choose to Help continues delivering clothes, food and medicine to those in need. The organization runs only on donations that enable volunteers to give the refugees daily access to food, medicine and other necessities. For people within Tbilisi and beyond who want to assist, donate and volunteer, Choose to Help has put together a weekly list detailing the needs of Ukrainian refugees. Bed linen and related items continue to stand as a need. With help from the Activatica fund, Choose to Help secured 40 double blankets and 48 twin blankets for refugees.
An individual can also become a patron by choosing a monthly subscription of donations to support the organization. On average, Choose to Help assists 100 people daily and about 500 to 600 people a week. The center has two refrigerators that store food and medicine. Volunteers from the organization also arranged a laundry union that allows Ukrainian refugees to wash their clothes free of charge around Tbilisi.
Volunteer teachers launched classes for Ukrainian children, including creative and educational classes, like English, art, music and a course in animation. By the end of November 2022, Choose to Help registered 12,000 refugees for assistance.
These volunteer centers in Georgia prove that everyone can make a difference, even in a small way. This statement is supported by Anatoly Sobolev of Volunteers Tbilisi who says, “We were told that one person cannot make a difference… [But], take me or Maria [Belkina], for example. We are not geniuses but we still can make a difference. Bit by bit and we’ll win.”
– Elizaveta Medvedkina