Humanitarian Aid Profiteering

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June 6, 2015

Humanitarian Aid Profiteering

By Yevdokia Sheremetyeva (little_hirosima)

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

I’ve discovered that fraud and parasitism off Donbass volunteerism are flourishing.
There are many “foundations” and people who are making a profit off the misery of others. What am I talking about?
I, as well as Galya Sozanchuk and other volunteers who assemble their own aid supplies are constantly traveling to the Donbass. They don’t simply spend their time, efforts, nerves. Now I’ll try to provide an approximate description what it means to go to the Donbass with aid.
At some point you realize that some dirtbag has put up a site, complete with account information, on which they use YOUR reports from aid trips. And people send them money. They have hundreds of likes and reposts. And all of that goes into their pockets, bypassing the Donbass.

It’s difficult to describe a humanitarian aid trip. I don’t mention much, in fact I leave most of it out. Do you know what it’s like to cross a border with 3.5 tons of food, medicine, and other goods?
Sometimes we may be stuck for a day and a half–we are sitting on the border. In a bitter, silent expectation that they won’t let you through. But you’ve collected money from all over Russia, even the world. People are waiting to see your reports, people have trusted you. And how many people are waiting for this aid.
You run around with documents, thank you letters, you shake baby food and diapers customs people in the face. You are chasing down shift leaders, begging them. You tell them about bomb shelters, basements, and they reply: “we’re not authorized.” You cry, you are covered in tears, when some of them tell you are going to sell all that–in other words, that you are stealing humanitarian aid. And you haven’t slept for two nights. Not for a minute. You hands are shaking. Because you’ve already spent a whole week in preparation for the trip–reserving a vehicle, food, coordination, assembling the aid, loading. Every day something new arrives–medicine, other things. You assemble it. You talk to everyone, explaining the route. The logistics are insane. On the last day you realize that you have to get a refrigerator to deliver 20 thousand rubles of medicine so that a newborn’s lungs would open.

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Many volunteers hand-carry tons of cargoes across the border. They unload multi-ton trucks and put it in pick-ups and take across the border. Back and forth, back and forth. You pressure them with charisma, tears, whatever else might work. Nerves, hysterics, pleas, negotiations, hand-wringing, threats, raised voices.
Lines, endless lines at the border. You have to explain to everyone that you are carrying humanitarian aid. The trip takes two-three days. You sleep along the way. It’s a truck, the seats don’t fold back. You look like a zombie in that position. Coffee and energy drinks. And after the trip your head is ready to roll off your shoulders. I’ve survived to major accidents. I’ll keep the details to myself.

And the trucks break down along the way, usually at night and far away from human habitation. But you can’t turn off the engine, otherwise the refrigerator will turn itself off and the medicine will go bad, so the kid won’t get help.
But those are mere details.
Now it’s quiet, but also made trips when grad rockets were coming down in the fields. And you can’t tell what they are shooting at during night time. It’s a war zone, after all.
We drove at night, during curfew, without permits, with Moscow plates. The roads have holes from artillery shells so deep that when you drive into one at night when you can’t see it, sparks fly as the truck’s bottom scrapes the asphalt. And you also hear the distant shells.
But even that’s not the hardest and scariest part.
The hardest is the distribution. Home to home. They always write you ahead of time–please help this family! They are starving! You make contact, you travel with a 20kg package of food and household goods. Then the door is opened by some unpleasant woman and in an authoritative tone tells you–leave it here. You tell her–“we need a photograph of you, us, and the aid, for confirmation purposes, let us come in the house,” and she says “no, leave it here.” And she won’t let you in the door. You feel like someone just threw excrement at you. You turn around and want to leave, and you hear obscenities and promises that she’ll lodge a complaint.

They don’t seem to think much of me. A girl who’s getting paid to bring food. Too young and too funny-looking. I’m not into the ego thing, but when after a couple of days without sleep, when you are told: “I’ll complain about you to the authorities/the fundation/the government, and you’ll hae problems,” you want to spit someone in the face. But you just answer: “I collected all of it, so you can complain to me.” But some don’t believe you.

There aren’t many of them, but they exist. And they really get to you. They eat you alive.
You go home to home like a psycho, sometimes you don’t find anyone home, you take photos, videos, write down stories. Keep track.
We find people in other places. You find out who needs what, you write it down, compile a schedule.
When you are done, you drop dead asleep. Because the last drop has been squeezed out of you. You are dead. But the next morning you must go to the hospital to visit Sergey Kutsenko, fix his problem at he hospital, deliver needles and test strips to the diabetes center. Place everything into bags for delivery. Drop in on Vika and spend two hours explaining to her mother that if she’s not hospitalized, she’ll die.
And then you lie down to sleep and you hear artillery shells. Zhenya says from the adjacent room:
–It’s far away, no need to go to the basement.
So you sleep without worries. Because it’s far away.
Far away–in other words about 10 kilometers.
You’ve been squeezed out like a lemon, because in addition to the physical strain you are coping with dozens of stories. Many people are very grateful. But some put you on edge.
Coming back home to Moscow. Home is empty. You start to write. You write reports, attach photographs. You write and write. You relive the stories of the people whom you’ve met, only now they hit home because back there you had other things on your mind. Hurry, hurry. And then you get idiot commentators who try to teach you how to live. Say that you are a fool.
You drive like a maniac from Moscow to Lugansk because the next day there’s a party at the kindergarten. Can’t be late.
–Mommy, are you coming? Please…
And you also have your own mom at home who never wants to let you go anywhere, and every time demands:
–Promise it’s the last time.
But she knows I’ll go again. Yet every time she asks with hope. She’s so unnerved that she doesn’t sleep.
A week’s break from this terrible pace.
Then there are the parallel pairs, or students’ exams.
I had to give lectures right after returning. We were late, so some exams had to be cancelled. There were cases of me giving lectures after 4 hours of sleep in the truck.
And then more reports, accounting, emotions. Replying to letters. Convincing people that you are not lying to them, it’s not a fake foundation.
Believe me, it’s only a small portion of what I can tell.
I’m not complaining. It’s my choice, my decision. Just as it is the decision of my fellow volunteers.
But then you see how some scum steal your reports and photographs. They post them, and take money off them. I’ve seen my and my colleagues’ photos on the internet many times.
I can’t even express what I feel. Emptiness.
So from now on all Donbass reports are accompanied by watermarks, something I didn’t understand the need for before. I know, it’s no guarantee.
One thing makes me happier–your letters of support and desire to help.
Your non-indifference. It helps me keep in mind that not all people are scum.

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