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Want To Help Ukrainians? Here's What Two SoCal Organizations Are Doing

A man wearing an orange vest stands in the back of a truck in a loading bay. He's surrounded by large metal boxes labeled "Emergency Medical Supplies,", each with a Ukrainian yellow and blue flag sticker.
Emergency backpacks left Direct Relief's Santa Barbara warehouse on March 1, bound for Ukraine.
(Lara Cooper
Courtesy Direct Relief)
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Some of you have been asking: How can Southern Californians support people in Ukraine?

LISTEN: How SoCal Organizations Are Helping People In Ukraine

To find out what was happening, I called two locally-based humanitarian aid organizations. First up: Direct Relief in Santa Barbara.

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“These people are living through hell, and it’s heartbreaking, so I think this expression of support ... does mean something,” president and CEO Thomas Tighe said.

His organization just sent hundreds of first aid field packs, which he said was at the request of the Ukrainian Ministry of Health. They contain personal protective equipment and wound care, among other triage supplies.

A stock photo shows an orange and black Direct Relief Emergency Medical Response backpack and its contents. There are five separate transparent pouches taken out. The first is labeled WOUND CARE and has bandages and gauze. The second is labeled PERSONAL SAFETY GEAR and has zip ties. The next is NON MEDICAL SUPPLIES, then OTC DRUGS AND CONSUMABLES which has packets of medicines, and the last is WOUND AND EYE CARE, which seems to contain a heat pad among other supplies. There are also a stethoscope, duct tape, gloves, and a blood pressure cuff sitting outside of the pack.
This file photo provided by Direct Relief shows the contents of the Emergency Medical Response backpack. The organization says it has sent hundreds to Ukraine at the request of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.
(Erin Feinblatt
Courtesy Direct Relief)

But that’s just the start.

“Mass evacuations in and of themselves create medical emergencies as people who may be managing a chronic condition flee,” Tighe explained. “If you have asthma or diabetes or hypertension, and you have to leave … previously managed chronic conditions become acute crises relatively rapidly if you don’t have access to the medications that keep you stable.”

So Tighe said Direct Relief will keep in contact with partners, to see which specific medical supplies will be needed.

“The challenge becomes connecting the supplies with the demand through logistics that also are in flux right now, and obviously can be severely compromised in a war,” Tighe said.

I also spoke with Todd Bernhardt from International Medical Corps, which is headquartered in Los Angeles.

“What we find when people cross borders is that they’re cold. And they’re hungry. And they might’ve left very quickly and don’t have a lot of the supplies that people normally take for granted,” Bernhardt said.

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The photo shows at least a dozen people standing under a red tent outside. They're all wearing jackets and hats. Some are huddled together. One stands by what appears to be a large coffee carafe with disposable cups of coffee next to them, as well as other food. There is a white board with writing that says "FRUITS, WATER, TEA, COFFEE – FOR FREE" and then under that "FOR FREE" is written again, underlined.
The International Medical Corps says this photo shows a Polish reception center welcoming Ukrainian refugees with food and hot drinks.
Courtesy International Medical Corps)

So the organization is working with the governments of Poland and Romania to provide hygiene items, medical care, and mental health services — or, as Bernhardt put it, “psychological first aid” — for Ukrainian refugees, while also trying to keep staff and people still in Ukraine safe. The governments themselves have set up sites that provide other services like COVID-19 testing and food.

Bernhardt said they already had 30 staff members based in Ukraine before the invasion, with more soon on the way.

The organization is also trying to set up logistics in Ukraine — such as moving goods around safely, as well as setting up water and sanitation for hygiene purposes — and are prepared to send an entire field hospital if needed.

A clinician wearing a blue surgical mask and gloves uses a stethoscope while checking up on an individual wearing a pink knit cap and a purple sweater. They are inside.
Mobile healthcare teams, like this one, are providing primary healthcare services to people who have lost access because of the conflict, according to International Medical Corps.
Courtesy International Medical Corps)

These, of course, are far from the only organizations and individuals supporting refugees and people in Ukraine. NPR put together this list of organizations that are helping those affected by the crisis. And reporters at Cap Radio in Sacramento and at the Los Angeles Times also made lists of California-based organizations.

Most of them are requesting financial contributions.

“Rather than people trying to send goods overseas, which is costly and takes time and — given the difficulty of getting across the border during times of conflict — doesn’t always work well, financial support is the most efficient way of helping out people,” Bernhardt explained.

If you decide to support an organization financially, he recommends making sure they post reports on how the funds are being used, have an existing presence in the country, and have experience working responsibly in dangerous environments, such as the current conflict.

Corrected March 3, 2022 at 5:34 PM PST
This story has been updated to clarify what services and items the Polish government is providing to refugees, and what support International Medical Corps itself will provide.