Every humanitarian crisis is unique, shaped by the culture, the resiliency of the people and the ability of the government to respond effectively. Man-made crises differ markedly from those caused by an act of nature.
Yet certain similarities repeatedly manifest themselves: the breakdown of civil order at the disaster scene, death and destruction. The very real human face of suffering, of helplessness, touches our hearts. And those of use who live well feel compelled to do something, anything, for the victims.
The onslaught of the crisis may start slowly at first – unless it is a titanic force of nature like a hurricane, an earthquake or a tsunami. But at a certain point, every humanitarian crisis reaches a tipping point, a fulcrum, when things will either get better or get very, very worse. The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has reached just such a tipping point.
The statistics amplify the magnitude of the situation. Up to 1.2 million refugees have flooded into almost every city in the nation. Five million people require some form of humanitarian assistance, 1.7 million of them children. At least 6,090 people have been killed and 15,429 wounded from mid-April 2014 to April 2, 2015 (UNOCHA Situation Report).
To frame the situation, more than 10 percent of Ukrainians have been directly impacted by the conflict in the East. Their families, friends, churches and synagogues have responded heroically; but every day, they fall farther and farther behind. The people of Ukraine were going about their daily routines a year ago, working at their jobs, enjoying weekends with their families, celebrating birthdays and weddings.
To truly understand what has befallen them, consider the food delivery system in the United States. It relies on a complex set of interactions before we can go shopping at the supermarket. These interactions include growing, health inspections, trucking and price setting so everyone makes a healthy profit without overly burdening the end user, the consumers struggling to support their families.
What if the crises we experienced in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy became a regular fact of life? What if our fellow citizens could not find food and water? What if lifesaving medicines were unavailable?
That is what has happened in eastern Ukraine, where there are entire regions with no open supermarkets, where half the hospitals have been closed, where 70 percent of the medical personnel have fled, where children have lived in bomb shelters for months.
How long would our democracy survive in the face of such terrible realities?
That’s why Ukraine Survival, a program to ship emergency supplies to Ukraine must succeed. That’s why we must stand with a country that seems far removed from our daily lives. Because they’re not really that far away after all.