In January, a group of Polish MPs intend to go on a humanitarian mission near the eastern front in Ukraine. They are going visit Kharkiv region and Donbas. The aim of this mission is to deliver aid to liberated territories, donate drones to the Ukrainian army and encourage Poles to engage into a second wave of aid. Such aid, as the Ukrainians themselves argue, is and will be much needed. Yet, they have some fears: not so much for their own safety, but for the overall public perception of the project. They are afraid that this kind of engagement might be perceived as political self-promotion. “The less media involvement, the better. I have been helping since the outbreak of the war and I don’t need applause,” argues Piotr Borys of the Civic Coalition. “This must be handled with extreme sensitivity, so that it is not exploited by certain politicians,” adds Magdalena Sroka from the Agreement.
- The idea to involve MPs has come from Marcin Mycielski, vice-president of the Open Dialogue Foundation, who hopes that once the party leaders see the situation on the ground with their own eyes, they will be more willing to organise aid
- I asked the originator of the idea of taking MPs to the frontline whether he was afraid that parliamentarians might use the mission for their private political goals. “Sure, I am afraid. That’s why our rules are pretty clear: no glamour, no selfies”.
- “Today we need to promote the second wave of aid. People have already given the best they could. We perceive the initiative of the Open Dialogue Foundation as a gesture, we and can encourage others in the same way too,” says Piotr Borys from the Civic Coalition.
The initiative is led by the Open Dialogue Foundation, which has been involved in helping Ukraine since the very beginning. They organised a total of 67 transports to Ukraine, providing helmets, bulletproof vests, breathing machines, field beds, ambulances and drones. The list of donations is very long. Now the main purpose is to sponsor UAVs for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but also some direct assistance is needed: humanitarian aid, power generators or several tonnes of sleeping bags and mattresses. The plan also includes donating two cars.
The idea to involve MPs has been originated by Marcin Mycielski, vice-president of the Open Dialogue Foundation, who hopes that once the party leaders see the situation on the ground with their own eyes, they will be more willing to organise aid. But the direct support is also very important: it is necessary to deliver as much humanitarian aid and defence equipment as possible. The planned convoy will be composed of nine cars, and involve several partner organisations and volunteers.
In early October, the Foundation carried out a humanitarian mission near the southern front, in the Mykolaiv region. Apart from humanitarian aid and defence equipment, the Foundation’s staff donated 2 UAVs to the “Hornet” reconnaissance group, part of the A7375 unit of the AFU. Prior to the ODF’s first visit to the Kherson region, the drone operators separated from the ‘Hornet’ group and nicknamed themselves as “Madiar’s Birds”. After the withdrawal of Russian forces from Kherson, they were redeployed to the Donbas region, the most turbulent area of Bakhmut. This is how the idea of providing ongoing support to this unit appeared.
“The rest goes without saying”
Svyatoslav Boyko is a drone operator in the unit. Until 24 February, he had been in the music business. He used to play in a rock band, giving lots of charity concerts. When the war broke out, he immediately joined the territorial defence forces in Kyiv. At first, his battalion was stationed near Bucha and Irpin, but after a few weeks it was redeployed to the south. “On 24 February I just felt that I had to do something more and take up arms. Otherwise I would not forgive myself,” he says. It turned out pretty fast that in Svyatoslav’s hands, a drone proved to be a more effective weapon than a machine gun. As he himself says: drones help to protect the lives of Ukrainian soldiers.
In theory, the operating pattern is simple. The drones “scout” the area, looking for the enemy, thus trying to anticipate its movement. When the enemy is targeted, operators give coordinates to artillery units. The rest goes without saying. It is these guys who are to receive the drones from Poland, so that each member of the unit had at least one.
“People have already given their best”
I asked the man who came up with the idea of taking MPs to the frontline whether he was afraid that parliamentarians might use such mission for their private purposes. “Of course I am afraid. That’s why our rules are very clear: no glamour, no selfies. Plus covering the cost of fuel and raising funds to buy the drones. In addition, they are to mobilise their contacts to collect as much humanitarian aid as possible. We will be supervising all this. Those who do not provide real help will not join us.”
Many Polish parliamentarians have already become personally involved in helping Ukraine. Magdalena Sroka from the Agreement has been advocating for aid to Ukrainians since the outbreak of war. She is collecting humanitarian aid at her MP’s bureau. As she says, she supports the ODF’s campaign wholeheartedly, and she donates everything she has managed to collect to the Foundation. Thanks to the MP’s commitment, the following will be delivered to Ukraine in January: medical aid, bandages, first aid kits, clothes and accessories for soldiers at the frontline.
Piotr Borys of the Civic Coalition, together with a group of volunteers, has opened a help desk for refugees in his bureau based in Lublin. Ukrainians could get food, clothing and support there. During peak times, up to several hundred people a day passed through the MP’s office. Mr Borys also helped organise 11 transports of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Since the war broke out, he has personally visited Ukraine four times to deliver humanitarian aid.
“Today we need to promote the second wave of aid. People have already given their best. We see the initiative of the Open Dialogue Foundation as a gesture, we and can encourage others in this way too. Everyone helped, we should not forget that. Now that there is a difficult situation in the liberated areas, and winter has come, a second wave of aid is needed,” said Piotr Borys.
“We will judge politicians by the fruit of their efforts”
Hanna Gill-Piątek learnt about the initiative from Piotr Borys. Already on the third day of the war, the MP representing Poland 2050 delivered donations to Ukraine, which she handed over together with other volunteers near the border crossing in Medyka. “Then I witnessed how positively the presence of politicians was perceived. People needed hope and support. I am not proclaiming here and there that this is some big expedition of parliamentarians, but I think it is needed. We stand with Ukraine all the time. I hope we will be of some use,” says the MP. I ask her whether she is afraid of travelling to the most dangerous region on the war map.
“I was a scout for a very long time and now we are taking the situation seriously and it will all be organised safely. The idea of doing something for Ukraine, boosting these people’s spirits there, on the spot, and delivering aid seems to outweigh any risks that may be involved,” responds Hanna Gill-Piątek.
Natalia Melnychenko, representative of the Open Dialogue Foundation, admits that she did not expect that the idea of taking politicians on a mission would appear. In her opinion, this is a major organisational challenge and the key priority is to ensure the safety of all mission participants. Natalia believes that the more high-profile people know about the fundraiser and its purpose, the better.
“I have concerns that politicians might use the war to promote themselves. We want to avoid this because, after all, what matters is help. But I think that the end justifies the means. If, thanks to someone’s self-promotion, the guys in the reconnaissance group get drones and save someone else’s life, it was worth it. But we will judge the politicians by their fruit anyway,” she explains.