Now More Than Ever

The conflict in Ukraine is commonly described from a battlefield perspective, the breaking of ceasefires, the use of Russian troops, a strategic siege of a railroad hub or airport. But the humanitarian, economic and social impact of this grinding war has thrown the entire nation into a tailspin.

The collapse of the Ukrainian currency, the Hrivna, affects every senior citizen trying to survive on a fixed income. Commonly pegged at 15.50 to the dollar, it has skyrocketed to 40.00. Everything costs more for everyone, and wages have failed to keep pace.

People across the country spend hours in long lines just to get common household necessities, if they are available at all. The black market, charging exorbitant rates, provides a dismal testimony to the power of supply and demand.

Russia has expanded its battlefield activities to encompass economic warfare. Gazprom, the Russian state-supported energy company, is threatening to cut off its supply to Ukraine, raising the specter of an entire nation shivering in the cold.

Refugees have spread from the east to town and cities in the entire nation, straining local resources and spreading the plight of widespread disease and crime based on the need to survive.
And Ukraine is fighting a losing battle to keep up as the number of refugees grows every day; the count only falls when the old and the weak die off in a heartrending illustration of “survival of the fittest.”

Save Ukraine Now contends for the homeless and the voiceless. When you conduct a collection drive in your congregation or community, you give the people of Ukraine a chance to survive.

Breaking through the Media Clutter

Ukraine is experiencing two simultaneous tragedies: a political challenge to its governing authority and a humanitarian crisis as artillery shells rain down on innocent civilians.

The international press tells us about the first tragedy, Putin’s violation of Ukraine’s borders and his determination to redraw the map of Eastern Europe by force. The brazen land grab of Crimea – which no one mentions anymore – and the installation of thugs who have seized the levers of power in eastern Ukraine comes at the cost of the global system established since World War II. It weakens the United Nations and slaps our European allies in the face as they repeatedly try to negotiate a ceasefire.

The invasion has created a chill in international relations if not a resumption of the Cold War. No reasonable person wants to go back to the days of MAD (mutual assured destruction) with a sword of Damocles hanging over the entire world and the “hard rain” (nuclear fallout) predicted in a Bob Dylan song.

But as this vicious conflict grinds on with no end in sight, the press has largely failed to cover the humanitarian disaster it is leaving in its wake.

Up to five million people in eastern Ukraine desperately need humanitarian assistance including 1.7 million children according to UNICEF. More than 1,000,000 refugees struggle for survival in Ukraine’s bitter winter, and relief agencies are stretched to the breaking point as the situation worsens every week. The more than 5,000 dead do not affect the calculus of relief but leave behind grieving family members who are losing the will to live.

Russia sends convoys of “humanitarian aid,” one would think through a guilty conscience, but the trucks carry weapons and only token supplies of food. The citizens of eastern Ukraine cry out in distress while the press provides blanket coverage of the latest ceasefire.

SUN knows the generosity of the American people will meet the challenge of this humanitarian disaster. But it hasn’t happened yet because the people don’t know about it. Unless the voices of suffering and the tales of woe break through the media clutter, Ukrainians will get sick, and many of them will die. Meanwhile, we will only learn about the latest city under siege instead of the latest children to lose their parents.

Time to Save a Nation

A few weeks ago, I was thinking about how we could meet the challenge of Ukraine’s skyrocketing humanitarian crisis — 1.5 million displaced persons, almost one million of whom are completely destitute. Our SUN team has been making steady progress toward our goal of filling 300 trucks with food, clothes, blankets and personal hygiene items. But with 10,000 to 20,000 new refugees every week, it will take 10 years to help everyone.

That won’t do. People are hungry now, cold now, sick now and dying now.

And then it hit me. Why not enlist thousands of civic organizations, churches, synagogues and schools in a national campaign to fill shipping containers with the items needed to save the victims of Putin’s aggression?

Sound impossible?

The “Greatest Generation” faced a much more daunting challenge in the days after the Second World War. When starvation threatened the lives of millions of Europeans in the wake of one of the worst winters in the last 100 years, the U.S. responded with the Marshall Plan—a project designed to save everyone and reconstruct Europe as well. A year later, when Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin blocked the highways and railroads into Berlin, the U.S. and our allies airlifted supplies to the beleaguered city for nearly a year. Air crews flew over 200,000 flights, providing up to 8,893 tons of supplies daily. Compassion and determination saved millions of people from starvation and dictatorship.

Whether responding to communist aggression in our parents’ generation or devastating tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes in our own, the American people have a better track record of responding to tragedy than anyone else.

Today, the people of Ukraine need friends, and they need them now.

Across America, in cities, small towns and suburbs, thanks to SUN, volunteers are now organizing their churches, synagogues, civic groups and schools to fill shipping containers with the clothing, blankets, medical supplies and personal hygiene items the people of eastern Ukraine need to survive.

All of us know people who will help … if we ask.

Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers will respond, if someone asks them to help.

If you will ask, Save Ukraine Now will provide everything needed for a successful campaign in your community, including promotional and informative videos, news releases, public service announcements, bulletin inserts, door hangers, and perhaps most important, staff support. The participating organization is only being asked to handle the freight, perhaps through a special offering or community fund drive.

The Greatest Generation saved millions from certain death. Now, it’s our turn.

Brochures about the container campaign are available for interested parties, and our national coordinator, David Brennan, may be reached at dbrennan@saveukrainenow.org.

Defensive Arms?

As Russian troops and tanks pour into eastern Ukraine and Russian rockets rain down on civilians in marketplaces and in their homes, our Western allies in Europe are pushing for another truce, even though Vladimir Putin hasn’t kept one yet. Meanwhile, in the United States, President Obama’s cabinet and staff deliberate on how best to stabilize the situation. One proposal is to provide “defensive arms” to Ukraine’s military.

What exactly are “defensive arms?”

Common definitions include items such as anti-tank missiles, battlefield radar and reconnaissance drones. But these weapons can easily be used for offense as well as defense. And the artificial barrier creates an additional impediment for Ukraine’s troops.

Why is the US government continuing to limit our support for Ukraine as if the Ukrainians had done something wrong?

The Ukrainians were attacked, and an internationally recognized border was overrun by invading Russian forces. As former Director of the National Security Council, Zbigniew Brzezinski, so eloquently said, “The Ukrainians can’t fight the Russians with pancakes.”

Some of those who argue against arming Ukraine maintain that the high technology of defensive weapons could be captured on the battlefield and reverse engineered by Russian troops. They believe that this represents the worst of all possible worlds.

It is not. Weapons are captured by enemies in every conflict. The worst outcome is that 43 million Ukrainians will lose their freedom and be absorbed into Vladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet empire. But there is an even worse outcome: the failure to resolutely stand up to Russian aggression will be interpreted by Putin and his supporters as an invitation to reprise the destruction of Ukraine in the Baltic States and Poland.

We believe the United States should provide the Ukrainian army with whatever will stop or roll back the Russian advance. That said, we should focus on shortages of basic battlefield weaponry first. Most Ukrainian soldiers do not have proper winter clothing, courtesy of Putin’s friends who ran Ukraine before the Euromaidan revolution.

The butcher’s bill of dead, wounded, maimed and displaced will only grow until something is done. Organizations like Save Ukraine Now will be needed more than ever as new areas of the country are coming under Russian fire, and the refugee crisis is exploding.

It is time to stop making artificial distinctions about defensive and offensive arms, and help the side that has done nothing wrong other than wanting a better future than the one a dictator envisions for them.