Czechs donate like never before to help war-affected Ukrainians

“It’s a unique situation for us. This is an absolute record. We have never had anything like it, nor during [last year’s] tornado [in the east of the Czech Republic] nor during the war in Syria.

“This is the first time we have been able to raise such an amount of money and we are truly grateful to everyone who has contributed.”

The last time we spoke was at the beginning of March. At the time, you said that People in Need worked on the borders of the EU 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 queues. How have things evolved since then?

Milan Votypka |  Photo: Uprchlíci vítejte archives

“Yes, the situation has changed. At the moment, we are mainly focusing 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 still distribute some materials, especially in the west [of Ukraine]for the collective centers there and we are still providing humanitarian aid.

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

“Yes, right now it’s mostly money. It is 75 USD per month.

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

Is this a consequence of the front which is stabilizing more than it was at the beginning of 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 focusing more on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

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

“At the same time, we try to bring humanitarian aid to places where there is less availability of products, like Kharkiv for example.”

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

“Thanks to our local partners, as well as some of our employees who are currently there, we have been able to reach places in the east of the country that are usually difficult to reach.

“Thanks to these partner organizations, we were even able to provide aid to Mariupol, even if it was very little.

“Places like Kharkiv receive our aid both through deliveries from partners as well as through convoys organized by the United Nations.”

No one knows how long this conflict will last. There was talk of putting in place some form of longer-term assistance. Are People in Need considering this possibility and, if so, what form would it take?

“It is extremely difficult to predict anything in this kind of situation. That said, we expect our assistance to Ukraine to be long-term. That means we’ll be staying there for years, at least.

Is there anything related to the forms of aid you currently provide to Ukraine that you would particularly like to highlight?

“We provide different types of aid. The one I would highlight is the provision 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 Ukrainians right now.”

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

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

“I don’t have any statistics to quote at this time, but the most common callers are desperate people in bunkers, people suffering from panic attacks, or people looking for loved ones. That sort of thing .

Apart from humanitarian aid, the Czechs have also donated more than 1,045 billion Czech crowns to the official account of the Ukrainian Embassy, ​​which uses this money to purchase military equipment for the country’s army. Embassy press officer Tetiana Okopna said that of this amount, 952 million crowns have already been spent on defense purchases.

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

Berta D. Wells