Santa Barbara-based ShelterBox USA assists nation as it deals with Russian attacks on its infrastructure
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series about two major local nonprofits helping Ukraine.
As Ukrainians prepare to mark their first Christmas since Russia’s unprovoked invasion, Santa Barbara-based ShelterBox USA is undertaking a rapid response program to help the civilian population weather the harsh winter.
The new program comes on the heels of a ShelterBox response team returning from the country earlier this month with reports of a dire situation brought on by Russia’s deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, which has reduced Ukraine’s capacity to house and provide heat, water and electricity to its population.
“These people are making the absolute best of the situation that they’re in, despite having no power or water, and despite it being horribly cold,” Kerri Murray, the president of ShelterBox USA, told the News-Press. “They would rather stay put than live under Russian occupation. They are incredibly resilient, and we believe that this intervention will be lifesaving this winter for these families.”
The invasion, which began on Feb. 24, has so far displaced nearly 14 million people when accounting for those who have fled Ukraine and those who were driven from their homes but remain in the country.
ShelterBox USA is helping Ukrainians by providing an array of winterized aid, which will include high thermal blankets and sleeping bags, wood-burning stoves, plastic sheeting to help seal broken windows, and hardening foam that can be used to close gaps in damaged homes.
The need to better shore-up damaged homes as winter approaches was one of the main findings of the ShelterBox response team found on their mission to Ukraine which included visiting Bucha, a city that was occupied by Russian invaders early in the conflict during which a litany of alleged war crimes occurred.
“(The response team) saw the horrible effects of warfare, and many people with nowhere else to go so they’re in these (damaged) homes,” Ms. Murray said. “And they also saw not a lot of other groups on the ground, and it’s likely because the scale of the problem is just so big … The repairs on these homes are not taking place in a meaningful way.”
This newest rapid response program for Ukraine is the fourth undertaken by ShelterBox in the country, with programs still in effect today supporting things such as Ukrainian shelters and neighboring countries’ efforts to assist refugees.
In addition to Ukraine, ShelterBox USA is also carrying out active programs addressing displacement caused by historic flooding in Pakistan, drought and conflict in the Horn of Africa, as well as ongoing operations in several countries including Syria and the Philippines.
However, open war on the European continent wasn’t something that global humanitarian nonprofits such as ShelterBox USA could anticipate at the beginning of this year, which has impacted their abilities to respond to a number of crises around the globe.
“We didn’t budget for it; we didn’t plan for it; we didn’t forecast for this,” Ms. Murray said of the Russian invasion. “We’re serving tens of thousands of people that we didn’t plan for this January — it’s definitely put a significant amount of pressure on lots of organizations.”
Despite the challenges — and with no clear sign of a diplomatic breakthrough to end the war — ShelterBox USA is preparing to continue assisting the Ukrainian people both through the conflict and after its conclusion.
“We are not just planning for winter right now in Ukraine. We’re also looking across 2023,” Ms. Murray said. “People are going to need a lot of support through this crisis, and so we believe that we will be there for the foreseeable future.”