A relative holds photo of a soldier killed defending Donetsk airport in 2014-15 in an armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists during a commemorating ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 20, 2019. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

A relative holds photo of a soldier killed defending Donetsk airport in 2014-15 in an armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists during a commemorating ceremony in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 20, 2019. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Editorial: Our part in helping Ukraine and Ukrainians

Its citizens are determined to fight for their freedom; we can assist by aiding refugees and others.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Now a week into Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine, the sovereign nation of some 44 million people and its leaders have shown remarkable resilience and defiance, but at great cost to lives and property and with mounting uncertainty over how Russian President Vladimir Putin might escalate a man-made disaster in the face of Ukraine’s determination to remain independent.

The United Nations has recorded the deaths of at least 130 Ukrainians, including 13 children, from shelling and rocket attacks, but warns that the toll is almost certainly far higher. As well, as Ukrainian military and civilian efforts — and Russian logistical errors — have reportedly bogged down a 40-mile convoy of Russian tanks and military units lined up to enter the capital of Kyiv from the north, Russian forces may be shifting their tactics to wage lengthy sieges against Ukrainian cities, increasing the likelihood of civilian deaths and deprivation of food and medical supplies. Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border, is reportedly surrounded and has endured nights of airstrikes and firefights from Russian paratroopers.

The worldwide response has been and will be key to hopes to convince Putin to seek an exit to this atrocity. Military assistance, short of armed troops, has been pledged and delivered from the U.S. and across Europe. And financial sanctions against Russia — some of them aimed at Putin himself and his oligarch cronies — are hoped to add nonlethal pressure, as are the decisions by international corporations and individuals — from oil and energy giants to the cancellation of Russian tourism packages by Rick Steves’ Edmonds-based travel company — to break ties with Russia and add to the economic pain.

That leaves the rest of us to do what?

Many will have noticed friends on social media posting photos of sunflowers, Ukraine’s national flower. As well, lapel pins of Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag — evoking its sky and agricultural fields — and yellow and blue outfits were common among members of Congress during President Biden’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. And, local governments in Snohomish County and across the country have signed proclamations to show support for Ukrainians, here and in Europe.

Such acts of solidarity have an impact, even from half-a-world away. But they also can be backed by our financial support, especially as a refugee crisis grows in Europe and a humanitarian catastrophe builds in Ukraine itself.

As many as 800,000 civilians have fled Ukraine, the United Nations estimates, with Poland accepting more than half of that wave; others have left for Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, other nations, and even Russia. As well, the need is as great for the vast majority of those who have remained in Ukraine, many who have stayed to fight or support those who are standing up to the invasion force.

The problem, in an era of crowd-sourced internet fundraising, is knowing which organizations to trust and which will efficiently use donations, to provide the highest level of assistance to those most in need. Too often, in emergencies and disaster such as this, the immediacy of need is used to hide less-than-honorable motives.

As we have in the aftermath of past disasters and crises, we recommend reviewing charitable organizations through groups that examine and provide scrutiny of relief agencies, among them Charity Navigator, a nonprofit itself, which rates such organizations on their financial health, their overhead and how much aid goes to the intended beneficiaries, as well as the group’s accountability, ethics and transparency.

Charity Navigator has listed more than 20 relief agencies with Ukrainian-focused efforts that it has graded with three- and four-star confidence ratings, among them Save the Children, Samaritan’s Purse, Heart to Heart International, UNICEF USA and Americares.

At the same time, there has been consideration that our empathy toward Ukraine and Ukrainians has been easier to come by, when compared to concern following crises elsewhere in the world, particularly in the southern hemisphere and for nonwhite countries and cultures, noting comments that the scenes from Ukraine and images of Ukrainians closely resemble our cities and ourselves.

That observation, fair or not for us individually, doesn’t negate the legitimate need in Ukraine and for its refugees, but it can serve as a reminder than war, civil strife and violence are not unique to Ukraine right now; conflicts are ongoing across the globe in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and elsewhere.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when asked by U.S. officials early during Russia’s attack if he wished to be evacuated from Ukraine, famously replied in his own language, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

We can allow governments to fill that particular need, but there is plenty more we can offer to Ukraine’s citizens.

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