Aid organizations scrambling to move flood of donations to Ukraine

by Krystyna Shchedrina

The war in Ukraine has been going on for almost a month, forcing more than three million people to leave their homes, and leaving many injured or dead. As humanitarian needs increase day by day, organizations across Canada, the U.S. and Europe partner up with airlines and logistics companies to deliver aid faster.

Volunteers in Lviv station load relief supplies on to a train bound for Kyiv — MARCH 12 © UNHCR/Valerio Muscella

American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) is a U.S.-based charity working primarily on domestic ground activities. Kathy Fulton, ALAN’s executive director, said that even though they do not directly coordinate the routing, they make the connections for the non-profits who know where their supplies need to go and companies capable of providing those services.

Fulton said they receive numerous requests from non-profit organizations to assist with delivering aid to Ukraine and have heard from multiple logistics businesses who have offered their services. And among many others, ALAN often works with organizations like Greater Good Charities, World of Giving and International Medical Corps. Airlink, Global Medic, and International Medical Corps’ frequently collaborate with ALAN.

Unsolicited donations cause clogs

However, the difficulty of delivering these services intensifies as the amount of donations grows daily. Fulton said ALAN often hears from partners and colleagues that unsolicited donations are causing strain on the supply chain for humanitarian aid. The complete disruption of the logistics sector within Ukraine has made getting supplies to the areas where they are needed a challenge.

“While the dangerous conditions force companies, employees and volunteers to be cautious to ensure they are protected and not becoming casualties themselves, undesignated donations turn efforts into a waste challenge,” said Fulton.

She explained that it is important to spread the message that the food, packaged so that people can’t read the language and don’t know exactly what it is, or used clothing, are not what refugees and people who are internally displaced need. Fulton said it is key that people know what quantities are needed, where they’re needed, where things are going.

“Because of both physical and the digital impacts from Russia’s invasion, there’s reduced capacity with additional supply that’s trying to flow in. So, there’s a mismatch on both ends. There’s more that’s trying to move through less capable networks, not designed to carry that amount of goods. The primary challenge is mismatching.”

On Monday, Steve Smith, Airlink’s president and CEO, posted on his LinkedIn page, “Airlink is looking for a travel agency partner to support passenger bookings for our Ukraine response…and potentially others. If you know one or are one, please reach out directly.”

Smith further elaborated they need a partner to help book tickets for NGO responders going in to help Ukrainian civilians in Ukraine and bordering states, to surge capacity to manage bookings and changes.

UNHCR scaling up

UNHCR unloads emergency supplies in Lviv, on March 10, in western Ukraine, where thousands have fled to escape the conflict further east. (© UNHCR/Valerio Muscella )

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, operates through its offices in Poland and other neighbouring countries. Levon Sevunts, a communication officer at UNHCR Canada, said there are currently 117 staff on the ground in Ukraine. He added more teams would be on the way when the security situation allows. Meanwhile, more people are deployed to the neighbouring countries, and the 157 staff there are already supporting refugees.

Last week, UNHCR started moving trucks regularly across the Polish-Ukrainian border. The goods arrive by airlift to Rzeszow airport or by road, and go to Lviv, Western Ukraine, for distribution to internally displaced people, said Sevunts.

UNHCR is currently making its prepositioned stocks and incoming core relief items ready to be distributed. Although combat is making access to hard-hit areas like Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Sumy difficult and dangerous, core relief items and food for 1,200 people were delivered to Sumy. A first U.N. convoy carried aid from United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF), World Food Program (WFP) and other NGOs on March 18. The UNHCR is preparing to send another round of supplies to eastern Ukraine.

Sevunts said, “UNHCR has also opened new warehouses in Western and Сentral Ukrainian cities like Vinnytsia, Uzhhorod, and Chernivtsi and two in Lviv. Core relief items for over a million people mobilized from UNHCR global stockpiles are in the pipeline. This month, four trucks with three thousand mattresses and 8,600 thermal blankets reached Lviv from Poland.”

In collaboration with Ukrainian NGO Proliska, 1,400 square metres of tarpaulin and plastic film rolls were delivered to damaged households in eastern Ukraine, as well as baby food, hygiene items, two thousand cans and 700 kg of frozen meat. In Donbas, Sevunts added, “Thermal blankets, plastic sheets, mattresses and jerry cans have been loaded in Dnipro to depart to Luhansk as soon as it is safe to drive.”

European aid

A Dutch supply chain information platform, Validaide, launched a not-for-profit called earlier this month. It connects relief organizations and charities with transport and supply chain companies to ship humanitarian aid to Ukraine. A press release said the platform has over 900 subscribers specialized in healthcare logistics, and Validaide matches the NGOs with 20 transport providers.

Annabel van den Berg, Validaide’s business analyst, said even though it is easier to connect with Dutch NGOs, there have been a lot of shipments from other regions in Europe. She added the platform has already helped NGOs like GAIN and Project Hope to find transportation for food, medicine, and other essentials to Poland, that were later trucked into Ukraine.

Eelco de Jong, co-founder and managing director of Validaide, said: “In general developments have been very positive, with a positive response from NGOs, relief organizations and logistics suppliers. We have been able to really help organizations. So far, we have done manual matchmaking between both sides, so it is not automated yet.”

De Jong suggested that automated matchmaking would be the next step in the organization’s development.

Polish Żabka Group, owner of a chain of convenience stores, has already sent about 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, distributing it to different cities within the country, Lutsk, Dnipro, and Sumy included. The most recent shipment arrived in Kyiv from Warsaw, on March 13, on a cargo train, delivering 60 tonnes of long-shelf-life food and hygiene products.

CN rail donation

Canadian National Railway Company announced last week it would donate over $1M combined to Canada-Ukraine Foundation and to the Razom in the U.S. to support citizens of Ukraine.

Tracy Robinson, the president and chief executive officer of CN, said in a press release this donation would make it possible for both long-established organizations committed to bettering and assisting Ukraine to continue providing humanitarian relief by offering medical care, emergency shelter and food directly from Canada and US.