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Volunteers create coordination platform for foreigners who want to help Ukraine

by Thaisa Semenova April 9, 2022 4:49 PM 3 min read
The team of the Ukraine Helpers volunteer initiative meets in Uzhhorod, Zakarpattia Oblast, on March 31, 2022. (Yurii Kifor)
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After Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, businessman Vasyl Yabryk, rushed to help temporarily displaced Ukrainians with housing and humanitarian aid.

But soon he learned that it takes more than a desire to help to be an effective volunteer.

Yabryk says that the more experienced volunteers, who have been helping displaced people from the occupied Donbas since 2014, were providing the much-needed aid faster than him.

At the same time, he kept receiving multiple messages from foreigners asking how they could help Ukrainians affected by war.

So he decided to create a one-stop shop for beginning volunteers and everyone who wants to support Ukraine as it defends itself from the Russian aggression.

That’s when Yabryk, the owner of a group of companies in Uzhhorod, a regional capital in western Ukraine, teamed up with two other businessmen and created a coordination platform Ukraine Helpers.

Vasyl Yabryk speaking during a strategic session at Ukraine Helpers volunteer initiative headquaters in Uzhhorod, Zakarpattia Oblast, on March 31, 2022. (Yurii Kifor)

The website lists organizations that needs donations, shows how people from abroad can offer shelter to Ukrainian refugees, and has information on how to join Ukraine's foreign legion.

It also features an interactive map with humanitarian warehouses abroad. People who want to donate medicine, goods for children, food, or other humanitarian aid can find suitable warehouses that are closest to them.

"Today the battle is ongoing not only at the front, but also in the rear. The front won't survive either if the rear loses," Yabryk told the Kyiv Independent.

Since Russia unleashed its all-out war against Ukraine, more than 4.2 million people have fled the country, while another 6.5 million have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations. As they were escaping Russian fire and bombardment, many refugees left in a rush with few essentials, if any, and now need support.

Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainians remain trapped in the hotspots of Russia’s war without food and medicine supplies. Their survival often relies on humanitarian aid delivered by the Ukrainian government and non-profit efforts.

According to Yabryk, all the organizations featured on the Ukraine Helpers website pass verification by both the volunteers and Ukraine's government. When foreign foundations apply to be featured, the team of Ukraine Helpers contacts the local Ukrainian Embassy to make sure they are trustworthy.

"That way foreigners can be confident Ukrainians will receive the help in the shortest time possible," he said.

According to Yabryk, the website has more than 1,000 daily visitors from 80 countries. Most of them come from the United States and Germany.

The platform also plans to add an option for people to support Ukrainian businesses. The idea is to introduce Ukrainian companies whose goods and services can be bought to support them amid crisis.

Ukraine Helpers volunteer iniviciative team discussing future plans during meeting in Uzhhorod, Zakarpattia Oblast, on March 31, 2022. (Yurii Kifor)

The business community has suffered greatly during the war.

According to the Ministry of Economy, over 1,400 Ukrainian companies have applied for relocation to safer regions as of April 5.

One of the most prominent Ukrainian e-commerce platforms Rozetka fired most of the team because the company's monthly turnover fell from Hr 4 billion ($137 million) to Hr 23 million ($786,000).

Large Ukrainian supermarket chain Silpo was forced to close 68 stores, of which 23 had been destroyed. About 9,000 people used to work at the Silpo stores that are now closed.

The co-founders of Ukraine Helpers have themselves felt the blow of Russia’s war on the businesses, as they all had to put their entreprises on hold.

Yabryk is one of them. His Yabryk Management Group includes a chain of pizza restaurants, a pub, fitness centers, an ice rink and other businesses. Many of them are now on pause.

By buying Ukrainian goods and services, people will actually not only support local business, but the whole of the Ukrainian economy.

Prime Minister Denys Shmygal repeatedly said that all businesses that are able to operate should do so to contribute to the Ukrainian economy amid the war.

Shmyhal estimates that Ukraine’s total losses from war will exceed $1 trillion, of which the destruction of infrastructure amounts to $120 billion. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development forecasted that Ukraine's economy could shrink by a fifth this year.

“The economy must work, as many jobs must be kept as possible, and as few people as possible should leave the country because all these factors affect the success of our resistance,” Yabryk said.

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