As difficult as it has been to comprehend the indiscriminate, senseless devastation taking place in Ukraine this past month, I’m holding on to the belief that it somehow is serving as a rallying cry for our global community to come together as a unified coalition, not only in the name of democracy, but more importantly, in the survival of humanity itself. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic about this.
Some might say that we Americans failed quite miserably in this regard throughout the pandemic, so the odds are not necessarily in our favor this time around, but only time will tell.
Where I do see some hope comes from ordinary citizens trying to provide comfort and aid to those in desperate need. In this digital age of instantaneous uploads to the internet, what we are able to witness is first-hand, rapid mobilization of not only established NGOs and humanitarian aid efforts, but also volunteerism carried out by selfless individuals and small teams of like-minded souls who’ve risen to the enormity of the situation at hand. I’m consciously choosing to focus my attention on those images and stories currently being disseminated throughout this most disturbing period in our collective history.
One particular thread appearing in my feed several times a week has been the efforts of world-renowned activist, humanitarian, and celebrity chef José Andrés. His not-for-profit organization, called World Central Kitchen, has created mobile installations serving up thousands of hot meals each day, in multiple transit hubs that ferry refugees, in addition to locations along the Ukrainian border with Poland, Romania and other surrounding countries. In a recent interview with NBC, WCK’s Executive Director Nate Mook put it rather simply when he said: “This is exactly why we exist.”
I am also impressed with how folks living in over 150 countries from around the world are using the AirBnb platform to intentionally book rooms throughout the conflict region, in order for refugees to take shelter, and for struggling homeowners to receive much-needed financial assistance.
Columnist Thomas Friedman from the New York Times referenced this action in a recent piece: “Many of the Ukrainian hosts who have received these booking-donations have written back to the donors, forging new friendships and enabling foreigners to understand the impact of this war much more deeply.”
“There is nothing like personally communicating with someone in Ukraine who is hiding in the basement, while you are explaining why you are happy to rent that basement, but never use it. It creates a community of kindness,” he adds.
Ed Caesar, a reporter for The New Yorker magazine has been collecting and sharing with readers some amazing stories of individuals he has connected with from various European countries who’ve begun to think outside the box, rather than feeling helpless and going about their normal routines.
These include a couple from Germany, loading their car with tactical hunting gear and driving it to the Ukraine border with Poland and a product manager from the Czech Republic gathering hundreds of computers to ship to the Ukrainian Army, all the while coordinating ride-share transportation for refugees fleeing to Central Europe.
Of course these selfless acts can’t compare to the heroism on display throughout the cities and streets of Ukraine happening on a daily basis — countless people, risking their lives in order to provide comfort and aid to fellow citizens. Foreign aid services have been finding it particularly difficult attending to, let alone extracting, wounded soldiers and innocent civilians, due to the incessant bombing.
In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Jason Straziuso, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, was quoted as saying: “International aid groups are well-versed at operating in conflict zones, but some have assessed that the dangers in Mariupol and other front line cities are too great for staff to deliver aid. Teams from the Red Cross had a close call on Sunday, when they were exposed ‘at close range’ to fighting as they tried to help facilitate safe passage out of the city.”
Similar observations were also relayed to the press in a recent New York Times piece: “Doctors Without Borders, the medical charity that works in conflict zones, said it had received ‘harrowing reports’ from staff members trapped in Mariupol.”
Clearly, it’s not enough just be thankful this isn’t happening on our own doorstep. There is so much we are capable of doing in order to assist those who are in great need. Financial donations to reputable organizations that provide aid in these moments of severe crisis are a great place to start. Or, if you prefer to be more “hands on” by actively participating, do as a team of volunteers from Montauk recently did, and collect medical supplies requested through the website of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead. Stories like these are what give me at least a modicum of hope.