With thousands of people fleeing Ukraine each day, Elizabeth Dunn is heading toward the crisis.
“All my work’s about humanitarian aid and refugees,” Dunn said. “I need to go.”
She’s the director of Indiana University’s Center for Refugee Studies, and she says she’s moved by how the war in Ukraine has propelled the world to help through innovative, grassroots actions.
In a social media-led movement, for example, thousands of people rented out Ukrainian Airbnbs recently, with no intention of visiting, to get money directly in the hands of people. In neighboring Poland, where Dunn has previously worked, she’s hearing stories of friends taking in Ukrainian refugees, not through organizations or aid agencies, but on their own.
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On Facebook, Dunn asked friends for donations ahead of her trip to the Ukraine-Poland border, thinking she’d get a few hundred dollars. She ended up with more than $16,000.
These efforts represent a larger trend, she said. With the ease of modern technology and the global impact of the crisis, the war in Ukraine is becoming one of the world’s “first crowdsourced humanitarian actions.” People are relying on Venmo and GoFundMe and Facebook, for instance, and as a result, receiving assistance even all the way from Indiana.
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Alex Morozov, of Carmel, and Lance Schwab, of Zionsville, have also joined the grassroots efforts.
“We have an obligation to help, and I think that the world is finding that moral compass,” Schwab said. “It’s gonna take a lot of people doing a little.”
Schwab owns a farming company based in Kherson, one of the first places taken over by Russian forces two weeks ago, so he’s familiar with the region and with the resiliency of the people. He’s donated money to organizations on the ground, he says, and is also distributing extra funds to his employees.
Morozov says he’s donated at least $15,000 through his software development company, Swan Software Solutions, which has offices in Carmel and across Ukraine. He immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in 1993 and has helped lead recent rallies for peace in downtown Indianapolis.
“I mean, I was impressed by how many people came after the rally and pledge(d) money. That was very nice,” Morozov said. “All this money will save lives. Help Ukraine to win. That’s what we’re praying for.”
Dunn hopes to pass her collected donations directly to Ukrainian people, by buying plane tickets or helping them rent apartments, or to other Europeans who are helping and temporarily housing refugees. She says she’s avoiding donating through organizations because of their overhead costs.
From an academic perspective, Dunn says the crisis illustrates a perplexing parallel: the individual-level successes of those helping — the hope and faith that people will do good on their own — and the systemic failings of organizations that are tasked with doing so.
“The system that should be taking care of people has failed,” Dunn said. “And it’s really clear that the international migration management system has failed. Completely. And it’s creating really unequal outcomes.”
She cites the failures of refugee camps, meant to be temporary, hosting refugees on average for 17 years. In this conflict, with more than 2.1 million Ukrainians who have fled the country so far — and no refugee camps — they are finding shelter in the homes of other European countries.
“Individuals can move faster than government can,” Schwab said. “People know what they should do.”
But other conflicts have not had the same outpouring of support for refugees, from Afghanistan and Syria, for example.
“For a long time, the international humanitarian system said that we just can’t provide help to all these people,” Dunn said. “And what we’ve shown with Ukrainians is that it’s not a question of finances and it’s not a question of having room or not having room. It’s a question of political will.”
Changing political will is of course much more difficult.
“One of the things we’ve been trained to think about is refugees as being somehow really different than us,” Dunn said. “I always say we’re one war, one storm, one earthquake, one fire away from being refugees. All of us.”
“I hope that what people are learning in this crisis is how much we rely on each other in these moments of emergency because today, I help you, but tomorrow, you might need to help me.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: How Indiana residents are helping with Ukraine’s refugee crisis