What do we do about Ukraine?

Photo of a post-Soviet street

If you’re like most of the people I know, you’re desperately worried and afraid. And you feel helpless. What the hell does any individual person do about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

I’ll start with what not to do.

Stay off the heart-wrenching content. Don’t watch air raid videos. Don’t scroll through picture after picture of Ukrainians who are suffering. You know they’re suffering. They know they’re suffering. Gazing at it helps no one and may actually erode your empathy. If your empathy is already activated, which I think it is, if you’re reading this post, then scrolling through human suffering people suffering isn’t adding anything.

If you feel like you don’t really understand. Or if you feel like you’re not sure why you should get worked up about it. That’s the time to look at photographs. If you’re already very upset, you looking at those pictures doesn’t help anyone. There is a very fine line between witness and voyeur.

What does help? Three things I can think of.

First, put your money where your heart is. There are organizations that are doing Ukraine relief. There are journalists reporting out of Ukraine. You should support them if you can.

Save the Children and Project HOPE are both big US-based international NGOs that have been working on health issues in Ukraine for years and years. They have relatively high overhead, but that overhead means their staff are paid well and they can account for every dollar spent. I’ve worked for both of them in the course of my career. In both cases, their people are skilled, competent and devoted to their work.

Razom for Ukraine was founded in 2014 after the last time Russia invaded Ukraine. They are a Ukraine-based group that is a registered non-profit in the US. I don’t know a lot about them but Ukrainian-Americans I trust support their work. As a local group, they’ll have a lower overhead but also they’re not going to communicate with you all that well. There is also a risk that they don’t have enough people and systems to spend your money right away. It’s not unique to Razom – that will be a risk with any local organization – they’re not set up to scale up quickly or handle large amounts of money.

The Ukrainian Red Cross is a local organization that does both development work and emergency response. It’s also part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It might be the best compromise between the speed and transparency of an international organization and the knowledge and insight of a local organization.

For more information on active relief groups in Ukraine, see ReliefWeb’s Ukraine resources.

Bellingcat is not a journalistic organization, but they do analysis of information in order to debunk misinformation. I am consistently impressed by their work. Misinformation is going to be a huge factor in a Russian conflict, and they are already doing excellent work on the Ukraine invasion.

The Kyiv Independent was launched by journalists laid-off when the Kyiv Post was shut down. It’s committed to independent journalism.

The organizations I listed are ones that seem to me to be credible and doing quality work, but I haven’t done in-depth vetting, just to be clear.

Second, lobby your own government to support Ukraine and support decisive action to defend Ukraine. I am not ready to offer opinions about what I think should be done. I’m still thinking. But you can find out what your government is considering as a response. You can decide which response you think is correct. And then you can contact your leaders and tell them what you believe is right. They need to know their voters support real action.

Third, support Ukrainian refugees. Right now Ukrainian refugees are crossing the border into Poland, which is keeping the border open and establishing reception centers. So you can look at groups in Poland that are helping Ukrainian refugees. Historically, Ukrainian refugees in Poland have struggled, so they’ll need support. I can’t find any aid groups for Ukrainian refugees in Poland but I will update if I do.

You can pressure your own government to allow Ukrainian refugees in. Ireland, Estonia, and Poland have already waived visa requirements for Ukrainians to enter. Push your country to get on the list. If there are already refugee Ukrainians in your country – or your neighborhood – reach out to support them. Make it clear they are welcome.

If you’re American, you should be calling for TPS for Ukrainians just as a start. I linked an article with more information on that, so that I don’t have to go into it here.

Finally, think long-term and big picture. It doesn’t make a change now, but maybe leads to change in the future. We all need to think about the global and systemic forces that got us to this place.

Yes, Russia is to blame. Yes, Vladimir Putin is to blame. But how did we get this Russia? How did Russia get this leader? How did this precise set of circumstances arise? And what do we change about our global system so that these conditions don’t arise again, or at least not as often?

Then think about your role in that system. (Here’s a place to start. We all consume the fossil fuels that Russia’s income depends on.)

How do we help shift the trajectory of the future?

tl;dr 1. Donate to Ukraine relief and reporting. Use my list if you like. 2. Push your own country to do right by Ukrainians, both those in Ukraine and those seeking refuge. 3. Think big picture about what needs to change so that this doesn’t just keep happening.