Tipping Point

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.

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.

Hostages to the News Cycle

The American people are held hostage to the 24/7 news cycle.

Stories explode into our consciousness based on their intensity and the knack of our media to run with them over and over again in an endless loop. When ISIS first beheaded an American, the YouTube video transformed public opinion even after a profound weariness based on a decade of war.

For generations, news editors have told their reporters, “If it bleeds, it leads.” That still holds for television, social media, talk radio and the multitude of outlets in today’s media.

Slowly developing stories such as the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine get short shrift. A couple of deaths a day, a handful of refugees, do not get covered. Unfortunately, after several months, the situation becomes qualitatively different. Ten refugees is not a story, ten refugees a day since April 2014 is a catastrophe. But that story has yet to break through the “white noise” of the news cycle.

We have watched the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine morph into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe. Over the last year, the number of displaced people has skyrocketed from a few thousand to more than 1.2 million. More than five million people have been affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine—1.7 million of them children. Villages have been leveled by barrages of Grad rockets and field artillery.

The people of Ukraine desperately need our help.

And those of us who understand the reality of this terrible conflict must find ways to break through the white noise to let the American people know. Because when they are awakened to injustice, the American people always take action. That is at the heart of the Ukraine Survival Campaign — a national campaign to fill shipping containers with clothes, personal hygiene items, medical supplies and other necessities of life.

In a few weeks, we will formally launch the campaign in Chicago and Detroit with a series of high-profile events. Our delegation, led by former NATO Commander, General (ret.) Wesley Clark, will include the leaders of Ukraine’s major faith communities who will participate in prayer breakfasts, press events and fundraising dinners.

By taking our case directly to the people in cities across America, we will arouse their compassion and break through the white noise. When that happens, thousands of people who might otherwise become grim statistics will have the opportunity for happy, healthy lives.