Helping not to freeze: How Ukrainian, American, and Australian Christians joined efforts to help the needy

18 April, 12:00
Life style
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The winter cold and a year of full-scale war have passed. Ukrainian aid organizations continue to sum up this period and report on their activities. Among them are Christian charities, church and interfaith funds, communities, and private initiatives.

According to data from a nationwide sociological survey published in February, one-third of Ukrainians consider social service to be a priority activity of the Church. However, their activities are not always well-known to the general public. Sometimes, large and informative materials about their ministry do not contain the basic thesis of why they are doing this. Their activities are based on the commandment of love for one's neighbor, which is common to all Christians. Therefore, this commonality often unites Christians of different denominations in their service to their neighbor, as Jesus Christ himself taught.

RISU, as part of its information support and cooperation, continues to inform about such service.

Ukrainian Winter Crisis Fund Project

As of the end of November 2022, there was not a single critical energy infrastructure object in Ukraine that had not suffered from Russian missile attacks. We remember the panic at that time, that it would be very difficult to survive the winter cold in such conditions, especially for those living in occupied areas or those subjected to frequent shelling.

Ukrainian and American charitable organizations, the Ukrainian “Fond Myru ta Rozvytku” (FMR, the Peace and Development Foundation (Ukraine)) and the American Peace and Development Foundation (USA) (PDF), together with partners in November 2022 launched a winter aid crisis project for Ukrainians affected by Russian energy terror. The project included three types of assistance: portable stoves, generators, and warm footwear.

Peace and Development Foundation (Ukraine) in Kyiv was founded in 2016 by representatives of three main Christian denominations (Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants), inspired by the example of serving God and people through their profession and faith. In fact, the fund became the successor to the public movement "Alliance of Christian Professionals," which was active from 2011 to 2015. Later, a representation of the fund was created in the United States.

Until February 2022, FMR was engaged in projects in the field of education and innovation in key areas for society, including education and medicine, supporting domestic professionals through the involvement of the best international experience in these areas, experts, and resources in Ukraine. The fund also supported media projects in the fields of peacebuilding and interfaith dialogue. However, the challenges of the war brought the task of helping people in humanitarian crises to the fore.

During the first two months of the full-scale war, believers from different churches abroad donated over $100,000 to the American fund, which was immediately distributed among partner Ukrainian churches and para-church organizations. These funds were urgently used for the evacuation and purchase of critically needed humanitarian aid for refugees and internally displaced persons. The winter challenges also required urgent action.

To carry out the distribution of aid in the winter, the FMR once again invited church funds of various denominations to collaborate: Caritas Kyiv (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church), Eleos Ukraine (Orthodox Church of Ukraine), and We Are Together Foundation (Evangelical Baptist Church). The funds, in particular, compiled a list of recipients for the aid, guaranteed that it would reach the intended target group, and looked for widows, families of the deceased, children without parental care, and persons with disabilities, among others. Their experience and up-to-date information about needs were essential for cooperation.

"Our fund has experience working with church charitable organizations, and we are very pleased with the responsibility and meticulousness in cooperation. After all, all information about current needs flows to religious communities, and church funds are the most trusted by both people and our donors," says Natalia Vitiuk, head of the Peace and Development Foundation (Ukraine).

The fund decided to focus on the most pressing issues in the conditions of winter and the absence of electricity and central heating. Generators were delivered to places where they could be useful to the greatest number of people. Stoves were brought to regions without electricity and heating. Target groups were identified for warm footwear assistance, including families of those killed in the war (both military and civilian), adults and children with disabilities, low-income families with many children, low-income elderly people, and displaced persons with special needs.

"Warm, delicious, and convenient"

In the winter season, there is a special need for warmth and hot food. Therefore, it was decided to provide portable stoves to those in need. On such a stove, you can cook food and heat a room. At the same time, these stoves require a minimum of solid fuel and are, therefore, economical.

For production, an ergonomic and economical portable stove on solid fuel, developed by Ukrainian engineers, was selected. It is convenient, safe, and can be disassembled and assembled by oneself without outside help. The stove has a large area for cooking food or heating water and can also heat a room up to 16 sq.m. The costs of solid fuel for such a stove are minimal. The order was executed by the NGO "Dopomoha Poruch" from Rivne. The cost of purchasing metal, spare parts, production, and delivery of one stove was about 200 USD.

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Stoves in disassembled condition


The foundation immediately paid for the production of 50 such stoves, and since the demand was very high, they ordered an additional 130 on credit, and while they were being produced, the foundation actively raised funds for them. In total, with the funds received from the Peace and Development Foundation (USA), more than 180 stoves were purchased and delivered. For the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, where some of these stoves were sent, partners also financed the purchase of solid fuel, as there were problems with it there.

"Kherson received several dozen of these stoves. They are very easy to install. They can be safely used both indoors and outdoors," says Vyacheslav Nahirniak, head of the "We are" foundation, which donated the stoves to the residents of Kherson.

To ensure the smooth operation of auxiliary church facilities during blackouts, 7 power generators were purchased and donated. One generator can charge the phones of hundreds of people to maintain contact with their families. It can also be used to heat mixtures for babies and provide critical needs.

"Buying and delivering generators at the beginning of winter during the conditions of high demand was difficult, but we managed to do it," the FMR team shares. "We needed numerous contributions from donors to buy more generators. As of the end of November 2022, the average cost of a reliable 5 kW generator was around $2,000."

Keeping feet warm in winter when there is no heating in homes has become an important issue. At the initiative of the Peace and Development Foundation, it was decided to purchase Australian Ugg boots - high-quality warm footwear made from sheep's wool that retains warmth even at very low temperatures. It is intended to warm the feet of children and elderly people who live in cold homes. Additionally, this footwear was donated to families who have lost family members in the war.

The Peace and Development Foundation (USA) negotiated directly with manufacturers in Australia, and due to our special situation, we received a 50% discount on the purchase price. One pair of footwear for the project cost $38. In European stores, this footwear is priced at approximately 150-180 euros. The foundation also paid for the transportation of the footwear from Australia through Europe to Ukraine.

"Our church partner funds facilitated the distribution of the footwear to people in our target groups throughout Ukraine. In total, the Peace and Development Foundation (USA) raised funds and purchased 452 pairs of footwear. We also received 48 pairs of children's footwear for free from the manufacturer as their charitable contribution. In total, 500 vulnerable people in Ukraine are now keeping warm with high-quality Australian Ugg boots," said Natalia Vitiuk.

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Reliable partners account for over 50% success

It is very important not only to find funds for assistance but also to deliver it to the right with various Christian churches and charitable organizations. Now, church centers have become centers of charitable aid," says Natalia Vituk, the head of the foundation. "It is precisely the church charitable organizations with their network, Christian values and active volunteers that can identify target groups and deliver assistance to them. We have agreements, the experience of effective cooperation, and mutual trust with our partners."

As co-founder of the Peace and Development Foundation (USA), Rostyslav Semikov, says, the initiative with the Ugg boots belonged to his wife and co-founder of the foundation, Alla. "It started with Alla wanting to buy a dozen Ugg boots to help those in need. I suggested trying to negotiate with suppliers for a large discount on 1000 pairs. And Svitlana, Alla's friend in Australia, was able to negotiate with two companies. I’d like to mention them with great gratitude: UGG Since 1974 and Australian Ugg Boots. I shared this idea at a prayer meeting for Ukraine, and our friends from the US, Bruce Haughey and Randy Mayfield offered to collect money for generators and stoves as well and involved their churches in participation. Meanwhile, our other friend Ivan Mykhailchuk talked about a friend from their Rivne church, Andriy Holubenko, who makes nice stoves. That's how it all started. From the wife, friends, and prayers.

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By the way, the idea for the stoves also came unexpectedly to Mr. Andriy - from a friend at church who showed him a video of such stoves. Prior to this, they had traveled extensively to the east and south and understood the needs for the winter. The friend had experience working with metal, so they immediately decided to pursue the project: it would be necessary for people left without heat, and for soldiers who defend them. At the same time, they searched for materials for the stoves and the funds to purchase them. They wrote a project and connected with the FMR. They launched production not only in the Rivne region but also in Zaporizhzhia, where it was easier to find metal and where local Christians also supported them. The demand was very high, and they produced over 1,200 of such stoves.

According to Rostyslav Semikov, the success of the project was largely a miracle from God, and it was made possible by the trust and openness of people who were willing to help in any way they could. "We prayed and arranged for the production of stoves, purchase of generators and coal, and simultaneously looked for sponsors. We had to prepare several contracts in different languages and seek legal consultations to coordinate the transfer of funds and logistics of goods across three continents. Volunteer lawyers, Oleg Akhtyrsky, Roman Perchyts, Mark Hughes, and Ivan Mykhailchuk, helped us with this, and we are immensely grateful to them. Designer Nikolay Sherdis helped with complex web and graphic tasks on volunteer basis. The Lord sent people who embody faith and love for their neighbor, not as empty words. For me, the story of the boy who gave Jesus what he had – a few loaves of bread and two fish – and how the Lord fed thousands of people with it, has been a guiding light. He still works miracles in our lives today.

Overall, according to the foundation's calculations, the winter project managed to help over 3000 people.