Many Poles contribute financially to organisations that help refugees from Ukraine, or support those left behind in the invaded country. What happens to the money you give? How is it used?
Almost 2 million people from Ukraine, which was attacked and massacred by Russia, have already arrived in Poland. People have been fleeing death and suffering, usually with their belongings squeezed in a single bag. They often lack the basics. Adults sometimes do not even have underwear, and children do not have school supplies with which they could start classes at school. Many Poles donate specific items that are needed, but we also participate in fundraisers hosted by organisations that provide aid. They also organise support for millions of Ukrainians who have stayed in their country.
There are many such actions, and we have collected examples of activities carried out by aid organisations, foundations and associations.
Fundraisers for refugee and assistance to those fighting in Ukraine
The Poles generously support fundraising for Ukraine and Ukrainians. How is our money used?
The fundraisers, many of which have been announced in recent weeks, can be roughly divided into two categories. The first includes those intended to help refugees in Poland. The money collected in this way is spent on food and basic items needed for survival, as well as the costs of transport from the border and, if necessary, accommodation (although this is usually offered free of charge by Poles) and for the operating costs of organisations coordinating this assistance.
“The second category of fundraisers, which requires much larger funds, are collections for humanitarian aid for Ukrainians who have stayed in their country to defend its freedom as well as our safety as EU citizens,” explains Marcin Mycielski from the Open Dialogue Foundation. The fundraiser organised by this foundation is one of the largest in the second category.
Most of the money raised to help those who are fighting is spent on basic necessities – medical supplies, food, clothes, sleeping bags, blankets. The Open Dialogue Foundation, thanks to its experience from 2014-16, was able to focus on articles that were more difficult to obtain, i.e. defence and military equipment. “In addition to typical humanitarian aid, we provide Ukrainian citizens with bulletproof vests, ballistic helmets, night and thermal imaging devices, walkie-talkies and drones. This equipment either directly protects their lives or allows them to detect the upcoming threat in advance and warn their colleagues. The collected funds already allowed us to purchase over 2,000 bulletproof vests, over 1,400 helmets and hundreds of pieces of other equipment,” says Marcin Mycielski.
The Polish Red Cross, which also organises assistance for people staying in Ukraine, buys items that are needed on the site. “We are cooperating with our sister organisation, the Ukrainian Red Cross. We receive information about specific needs and with the money raised from people we buy what we do not have and what is needed in Ukraine,” explains Michał Mikołajczyk from the Polish Red Cross. He adds that these are, for example, specialised, very well-equipped first aid kits with dressings, which are very necessary in a country engulfed in cruel war. After purchasing the necessary items and goods, transports go to Ukraine to reach the previously indicated places, if, of course, it is possible to get there in a given situation.
Where does the money from fundraisers for Ukraine go?
The HumanDoc Foundation explains that contributions are used for specific purposes indicated in a each fundraiser and depending on its type (i.e. whether it is aimed to assist Ukraine or refugees in Poland) and spent in Poland or Ukraine. “In general, the cost of transport is very high, especially at current gasoline prices. Aid organisations spend money on fuel, rental vehicles, and drivers. It is worth noting that when, for example, we transport cargo to eastern Ukraine, this distance from Poland is 1000-1500 km one way, which generates very high costs of fuel, vehicles and drivers who must agree to travel through a country affected by war,” explains Dominika Springer from the HumanDoc Foundation.
The collected money is used for the purchase of what cannot be collected as part of in-kind donations, e.g. specialised medical equipment (for field hospitals, ambulances), medicines, power generators. These are usually quite expensive items.
Organisations also spend money to pay humanitarian workers from Ukraine working on the spot and risking their lives every day to help others. These organisations are also obliged to insure their volunteers, pay for offices to coordinate assistance activities for Ukraine, provide protective clothing for volunteers, lease warehouses, pay charges for telephones or Internet connections or medicines for refugees arriving in Poland.
They also cover the costs of their transport within Poland, buy them basic items that cannot be obtained from in-kind donations at a given moment (e.g. specialised formula for infants with allergies), pay for translations of documents needed by refugees and some specialised services (e.g. legal services in the case of children without parental custody). “This are just examples — specific expenses depend on the profile of each collection and organisation,” Dominika Springer emphasises.
Local and nationwide fundraisers
UNICEF wants to raise a total of $349 million to help Ukraine ($276 million for children in Ukraine and $73 million to support refugee children in neighbouring countries). UNICEF Poland collects funds primarily to provide life-saving assistance: clean water, hygiene and sanitary products, personal protective equipment for medical workers, medicines, first aid kits, maternity kits, surgical equipment and educational materials for the affected community. So far, the organisation has managed to reach various places in Ukraine with 70 tons of supplies.
The second way is to donate the collected funds to UNICEF activists in Ukraine, who will be able to, for example, provide psychological assistance.
In the case of Caritas Poland, the proceeds from the fundraisers are allocated to several types of support. “Firstly, we transfer funds to the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic Caritas branches in Ukraine, who provide the most urgent assistance on the spot. In the first days of the crisis, we donated half a million zlotys for these activities. Secondly, the collected funds help in the activities of the diocesan Caritas for refugees from Ukraine. In dioceses near the border, we provide support on site or in places they reach on the Polish side, such as the station in Przemyśl – at the aid points, our volunteers give them food, hygiene products, blankets, thermoses, etc., they conduct classes for children to relieve mothers who need to rest,” says Marta Bednarz from Caritas Poland.
Tents that provide the necessary support are currently located, among others, in Zosin, Krościenko, and Dołhobyczów. Caritas volunteers operate a point in Korczowa and meals are served daily at the railway station in Przemyśl. A mother-and-child room was also opened there. Institutions located in the interior of the country accept refugees, including sick and disabled children evacuated from Ukraine. “This is a humanitarian crisis that is evolving, aid will be needed for a long time and expenditure will be spread over time as the number of refugees is still growing,” explains Bednarz.
The collections are also run by entities operating more locally, such as the Gdańsk Foundation. The money collected as part of the “Gdańsk helps Ukraine” campaign will be donated to the assistance activities by NGOs that are already running humanitarian activities in Ukraine, as well as for the aid provided to the Ukrainian community in Gdańsk. The money that has been donated to the fundraiser so far, was used towards emergency purchases, which made it possible to feed and accommodate refugees from Ukraine. They also enabled the ad-hoc purchase of medicines or essential goods for the arriving persons. “In the long term, depending on the amount collected, we intend to create systemic solutions that will enable the Ukrainians fleeing the war to continue their stay in Gdańsk,” emphasises Dobrawa Morzyńska, Managing Director of the Foundation.
Which organisation to choose?
There are many fundraisers all throughout Poland. How can you be sure that the organisations you donate to have helped Ukraine or refugees?
People professionally involved in charity suggest that you focus on larger and experienced entities who know how to help.
However, this does not mean that everyone else will do it wrong or misappropriate the money. The best way is to support through those organisations that we have already met or that have been recommended to us by someone worthy of trust, who, for example, is more into charity than we are.
Kalina Czwarnóg, a member of the board of the Ocalenie (‘Rescue’) foundation, advises to read the description of the fundraiser and see if it clearly shows what the money will be used for. It is also worth searching for the organisation on the Internet, browsing its website and previous activity and deciding whether we consider it trustworthy. Public benefit organisations are obliged to publish financial and substantive reports on their activities online every year. These allow you to find out, for example, what percentage of the budget is spent on so-called administrative costs, and how much is spent on substantive costs – i.e. direct aid, Polish courses, food delivery to the needy, etc.
“In the case of fundraisers run by individuals, unfortunately, we have little means of verifying whether the money will actually be used to help others. We are also not sure whether such a person has experience in helping – and therefore whether they are able to collect the necessary information and respond to the needs in an appropriate way. If you want to help on a smaller scale, it is best to support fundraisers run by people you know and trust.
Every year, non-governmental organisations prepare publicly available financial statements that allow you to check how the collected funds have been used in recent years, and on this basis assess whether you can trust them and transfer your money. In this way, you will also find out whether a given foundation has experience in what it declares today. If the organisation has so far run a shelter for animals, and now announces that it will start reconstructing schools in Ukraine, then probably the chances of success are small. However, if the organisation has been dealing with humanitarian aid for years in countries affected by war, we can assume that it has people and skills that allow it to operate effectively,” emphasises Dorota Zadroga from the Polish Medical Mission.
It is also worth keeping track of information published on the official website and social media profiles, which allow you to quickly check what is happening and what the organisation is working on. It is also a good idea to check the media presence – whether the fundraising was publicised, whether persons from the organisation who can be contacted about this matter are indicated, and whether an action plan has been prepared and presented. You should check what needs the organisation is reporting – whether it is talking about its commitment and asking for help and to what extent.
Transparency is key. Before you donate, it is worth checking how the organisation documents the aid provided and how it accounts for it.
“The Open Dialogue Foundation is documenting all its purchases and deliveries on an ongoing basis and publishing them on our social media as well as in updates to our fundraiser. When recipients agree to do so – unfortunately, it is risky – we even publish their photos with the equipment received from us. In addition, we require everyone to complete and sign the receipt of the support – thanks to this we are able to track which territorial or civil defence unit received the assistance,” emphasizes Marcin Mycielski.
According to people who have experience in providing aid, we should primarily avoid collections whose authors either remain anonymous or do not document what the funds are spent on and to whom the help goes.
It is a good idea to support above all those collections in the case of which we can track who is their final beneficiary and that they actually help our brave neighbours from Ukraine.
Of course, you can also support private individuals if you know them and know that they are really doing something good. For example, Mr. Tomasz from Warsaw has a large bus and has already travelled to Ukraine or to the border, delivering gifts and bringing refugees on the way back. He only asks for support in the purchase of gasoline and therefore runs a fundraiser. People who know him, as well as their friends, know that this way of helping is also worth engaging in.
Fundraising for Ukraine and refugees from Ukraine
There are many fundraisers, but you have to make the final decision yourself. Links to the fundraisers are available, among others, on the government website pomagamukrainie.gov.pl.
Organisations currently conducting fundraising for Ukraine in Poland include:
* HumanDoc Foundation,
* Polish Red Cross,
* Polish Humanitarian Action,
* Open Dialogue Foundation,
* Polish Medical Mission,
* Polish Centre for International Aid Foundation,
* Gdańsk Foundation,
* Foundation of Good Initiatives,
* Foundation of Ukraine,
* Siepomaga Foundation,
* Aid to Poles in the East Foundation,
* National Bank of Ukraine is also collecting funds for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The link can be found on the government website pomagamukrainie.gov.pl,
* Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego has opened a special account on behalf of the National Bank of Ukraine, which you can use to donate money to help Ukraine. The funds will go directly to the National Bank of Ukraine, which will allocate them to the necessary activities. Payments to the account should be made in PLN.
* It is also worth looking for local organisations in your area, in the case of which you know that, for example, they are currently helping refugees. Information on this can be found at the offices of cities or municipalities.