Humanitarian crisis in Novorossia – from a perspective of a Donbass volunteer


Delivering aid to Donetsk basements

January 19, 2015
By Kristina Rus

Kirill Tyutyunik is a businessman from Zaporozhye. As many volunteers from Ukraine and Russia he could not quietly watch the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Donbass. He wanted to do something to help, but having personally experienced Ukrainian bureaucracy, he had to see the situation for himself. He decided to leave his comfortable life and travel through the front line to the East in order to learn about the immediate needs and talk directly to people in charge of aid. He visited humanitarian aid distribution centers to see for himself what and how efficiently is being done on the ground.

What he learned is that the best way to ensure that the aid reaches the intended recipients is to travel physically to Donbass, purchase goods locally and deliver them to families in need in person. This is what numerous other volunteers are doing. And for much of the local population these volunteers are the only hope.

Most of the aid from Russia (which covers only about 10% of the need) goes to state organizations – such as schools, hospitals, orphanages and day cares. According to official data, there are 7,000 bed ridden patients in just Lugansk Republic hospitals, who need to be fed daily. Numerous soup kitchens receive their bulk goods from the white Kamazes feeding 30,000 people daily (according to Plotnitsky, the head of LPR). This leaves little for individual families and the elderly who are unable to make the daily trek to the soup kitchens. While the Russian aid settles in most populated areas, communities in every town and village in Novorossia organize their own soup kitchens to fill the void with help of volunteers and local restaurant owners.

Even though Novorossia started to trade coal, the problem in the cash-strapped republics is that they have to direct maximum resources towards defense, leaving the population to rely on volunteers such as Kirill for survival.

Kiril Tyutyunik with a thank you gift in a Donetsk basement

And that’s the vast majority of the population, since all well-to-do and middle class families left for Russia a long time ago. Therefore those who stayed are by default the most vulnerable sections of the population. Some of them have no relatives in Russia to visit. They are afraid to leave their home nests, which they worked hard for their entire lives. This is especially true for the elderly who are not eager to pick up and start their lives from scratch in another country. Some people who left as refugees, came back, because they couldn’t find jobs or adequate housing in Russia. The situation with refugees to Ukraine is even worse. They resort to renting housing under the names of their local family and friends, because if the authorities learn that they are from Donbass, the men are subject to mobilization to the front to fight their former friends and neighbors.

Unfortunately for some the aid is a blessing and a curse. If there is a steady supply of aid, people are also less likely to leave and are more likely to become victims of shelling. The time for safely evacuating is before the fighting erupts, but of course no one expects ahead of time that their own town, neighborhood and house will become the epicenter of hostilities until it’s too late.

Not only people have not received their pensions and child subsidies for about 6 months, but even
those whose factories and offices haven’t been bombed, often have to work for free, since their workplaces are strapped for cash. Since Lugansk and Donetsk Republics are not recognized by other states, local companies cannot officially trade with other countries, forcing them to turn to the black market, whenever possible.

The video below, recorded by Kirill, shows aid delivered to the dorms of the deaf, who used to work at the adjacent factory, which since closed due to the political situation.

The situation with economic blockade by Ukraine is so severe that there is are real talk about instituting a local currency, since Ukraine is trying to suck all the money out of Novorossia.

Kirill Tyutyunik at Donetsk aid distribution center

The humanitarian aid distribution center in Donetsk is struggling to maintain adequate supplies. Until the New Years the aid flowed from many volunteer businessmen in Russia, but since then the border regulations on humanitarian aid got tougher for a period of time. An official permission was required in order to bring aid to Donbass. Only the white Kamazes were getting the green light. Individual volunteers had to go through lengthy bureaucratic hurdles in order to be cleared by Russian officials or resort to seeking alternative ways. Just recently some trucks with volunteer aid were held up on the border for a few days, and the products simply froze and perished. Perhaps due to a rapidly worsening situation Russian border regulators just eased the flow of volunteer aid, but there is still a lot catching up to do.

Due to some recent cases of corruption many volunteers prefer to take matters in their own hands. They use the aid centers to obtain the lists with names and addresses of the needy, and then travel to the homes of these families with food packages, purchased and packed by themselves.

A typical package is supposed to feed a family for a week. It usually consists of different combinations of the essentials – potatoes, pasta, canned meat, grains, sugar, eggs, butter and costs about 450 UAH. The products are usually purchased at local wholesale distribution centers.

According to Kirill, just one donation received from a donor in Europe of 500 Euros fed 20 families for a week (10,000 UAH at 500 UAH per family).

In Lugansk Republic volunteers cook homemade meals, but have a shortage of thermoses to help distribute it in the cold winter weather. Currently Kirill is collecting money so that he can travel to Lugansk and purchase the thermoses locally.

Kirill noted that there was a substantial spike in aid during the holidays, which since has dissipated, but the need only gets greater by day.

Ukraine does not allow aid to pass through its territory to Donbass, explaining it by the possibility of it getting in the hands of Novorissia Armed Forces. Only the goods intended for supermarkets are allowed across the Ukrainian-Novorossian border, as well as Rinat Akhmetov’s aid, for which he likely had to make special arrangements. This is why everything has to be purchased locally. When crossing the border, Kirill was questioned about two bags of potatoes in his trunk, which he had to explain was intended for his relatives.

Ukrainian officials just announced about their plans to deliver 300 tons of humanitarian aid to Donbass, but Kirill thinks this is more of a PR move. Perhaps they finally realized that Europe might start asking some questions about the absence of official humanitarian aid from Ukraine to Donbass, especially in light of an economic blockade of Donbass unleashed by Kiev authorities.

UAF tanks crushed under Putilovsky bridge

According to Kirill, there were still 700 people remaining in the area near Donetsk airport, who are among those receiving volunteer aid. This is the area where Ukrainian tanks were trying to break through on Sunday in order to encirlce the airport but were crushed under the Putilovsky bridge. In between the bombings, some people stay in their apartments, and shelter in the basements during shelling. But several lonely grandmothers, who were bombed out of their homes found shelter in a basement of an abandoned hospital. They decided to stay there to keep a watch on their apartments nearby, even though there is no electricity and no lights, and they have to use candles in the dark.

Those who are lucky to fall under appropriate categories – kids under 14, single mothers, families of coal miners and militia fighters, and the elderly received a state subsidy of 500 UAH. For many this was the first money they had seen in 6 months.

One grandma, who is a diabetic needs at least 250 UAH per month just for drugs. Together with her husband they are owed 26,000 UAH by Ukraine. But so far they only saw this money coming back to them in the form of missiles.

Everyone knows that hunger is a real problem, but no one can really calculate or estimate how severe the problem really is.

Kirill’s interview of the officials of Donetsk Aid Distribution Center about the humanitarian crisis, translated for Fort Russ

One story is particularly touching. A local volunteer named Volodya, a real modern day hero, delivers food to 17,000 people in a stretch of several villages sandwiched a few kilometers between UAF and NAF positions. This include Veselaya Gora, Privetnoye, Shishkovo, Stukalova Balka, Fashevka, Komisarovka, Centralny, Zoriansk and Chernukhina. 700 volunteers cook the meals on the territory of Lugansk Republic, and Voldya trucks them to local residents. Kirill plans to get in touch with Volodya on his upcoming trip to Donbass, adding “if he is still alive”…

Kirill estimates junta’s support is waning even among the die hard patriots, as the economy goes south. Food prices went up 50-100%, utilities are through the roof, people can barely make the ends meet. However, Odessa massacre was a major victory for the junta, since it turned active opponents into quiet and passive observers. People are just holding their breath and waiting for this nightmare to be over. On the streets and in supermarkets one can hear even grandmas who don’t have Internet and get their news from Ukrainian TV, complaining about the junta, having lost trust in the official story line.

Donbass civilians huddling in basements day after day with no means to provide for themselves and their families are so exhausted from struggling to survive, that many no longer care if they end up in Russia, Ukraine or Novorossia – they have only one dream – for the bombing to stop.

Kirill is in the process of registering his new humanitarian aid fund “Helping Hand” (which unfortunately cannot be done overnight in Ukraine) and assembling a team of volunteers.

Fort Russ will stay in touch with Kirill and we will bring you more updates on the situation on the ground.

How you can help:

IBAN: UA383052990005168742023201183

Contact: Kirill Tyutyunik on Facebook

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