Tracking the Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine
with Yulia Zimmermann of Nova Ukraine
Since the Russia-Ukraine war began, millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and sought refuge in neighboring countries — creating a crisis of magnitude not seen in Europe since World War II.
Yulia Zimmermann, co-founding director of Nova Ukraine, joins host Tetiana Anderson for a conversation about this humanitarian crisis and relief efforts to help Ukrainians displaced during the conflict.
March 31, 2022
Anderson: In the three weeks that followed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, some 3 million Ukrainians fled the country. The majority sought refuge in nearby Poland, but hundreds of thousands went to other neighboring countries, creating a regional and global crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, an estimated 82 million people worldwide were displaced as of 2020, forced to leave their homes in order to escape persecution, violence, or conflict. 26 million were refugees who left countries including Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar in search of safety across international borders. Russia's recent invasion of Ukraine sparked a wave of refugees that has added to this global humanitarian crisis. And joining me to talk about efforts to help the Ukrainian people is Yulia Zimmermann, one of the founding directors of Nova Ukraine. And, Yulia, thank you so much for being here.
Zimmermann: Hello, Tetiana, and thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: So this is personal for all Ukrainians. It's personal for me. I'm half Ukrainian. It's personal for you and many of your colleagues. You're from Ukraine. Do you still have family living there, I'm wondering? And what have you heard from them and other people that you're working with?
Zimmermann: This war is so extremely personal to me. I was born in Ukraine, and I had not moved to California till 21. So I've been going to Ukraine almost every year since then. All of my family is in Ukraine. My mother is in Ukraine right now. She resisted evacuating from our hometown of Mykolaiv, which is at the front lines of battlefields and with active shelling every day. But finally, my nephew was able to get to her by foot and pack her bag, a tiny suitcase, prepare her her documents. And over the next two days, they were able to cross two bridges by foot until they were able to get to the place where refugees were picked up by volunteers' buses. My mom was able then to cross the country to Western Ukraine. However, my nephew, my niece, and my sister stayed behind. I have a friend who became a refugee while she was thirty seven weeks pregnant. She luckily safely made to Romania just in time. She had a beautiful baby girl. She's safe now. So this war is very personal to me every day. And as I go through my days, I wonder when and how I'm gonna see my mother. And I think no one should be in that position.
Anderson: And I'm wondering about the priorities in terms of the kind of aid that's needed. And did your organization really feel prepared to jump in at such a large scale?
Zimmermann: Absolutely. Those are excellent questions. Of course, we know that the war started February 24th and so many people around the world and the United States felt the urge and the need to help. But one thing I should say -- There is a lot of initiatives to collect clothes in the United States, and that's definitely not a priority. It takes too long and it's too expensive to ship clothes and material donations to Ukraine. So what Nova Ukraine is doing is, we are focusing on delivering humanitarian aid directly from Europe to Ukraine, and that is food, hygiene, medical supplies. Medical supplies is a huge focus for us here in the United States. We basically have a team in charge of medical supplies list. It's been validated by the Ministry of Health of Ukraine. So we're only working with medical supplies that absolutely are, "A," needed and, "B," that are absent or low in stock in Europe. Now, a lot of this is still in progress. So the priorities right now is obviously money and monetary donations because we are able to spend the money in Europe and Ukraine and shorten the amount of time it takes to deliver this humanitarian help to Ukrainians. It's medical supplies in Europe and U.S. And I should mention the third option of help and focus is, we really encourage companies around the world to hire Ukrainians remotely because many of them have lost everything, homes and jobs. So we really need to support them economically that way, as well.
Anderson: And you talked about amassing all of these supplies. How are you working to get them to where they need to go? Zimmerman: So since the beginning of the war, we have made a priority to build out a logistical team and start building out our logistical chain -- supply chain. A lot of this is still in progress. We're negotiating with many partners. We're opening a new office in Chicago. We have a warehouse here in San Jose. We have a warehouse in Pennsylvania. So we're able to get supplies through our warehouses on trucks and planes, through our partners, Maidan-Warsaw, in Poland. So we're getting supplies in Europe through Warsaw to Lviv. And then from Lviv, we have a trusted network of our Ukrainian partners that are delivering the aid where it's needed the most.
Anderson: And what about the refugees themselves? I mean, where are they primarily going? What are the issues that some of their host nations are going to be facing or are facing as they welcome what is a huge influx of people?
Zimmermann: We're now dealing with the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II, and there are 3 million-plus of refugees in three weeks. More than half of them are going to Poland. A lot of them are going to other neighboring countries. A lot of my friends are in Moldova and Romania. The housing is getting tight, and one of the problems that we have is, we don't know how long it's gonna last. So we have to continue ramping up our efforts to be prepared. But I know every Ukrainian would like to go home at some point.
Anderson: So you just mentioned that, you know, we don't know how long this is going to last. And that's very true. But that makes me wonder about what comes after that. I mean, what do you anticipate these people will need? What do you think will happen to either resettle these folks where they are or get them back to their homeland of Ukraine?
Zimmermann: This is my sincere belief. The war will be over, and Ukraine will win. However, this crisis is here to stay for many years to come. I'm pretty sure if you ask any Ukrainian, their dream is to go back home, not to stay anywhere else. To go back home, even if that means to build life from zero. And we, those in stronger positions -- We have to help them to do that. I know Nova Ukraine team is ready to help any Ukrainian in need for many years to come to go back home and build their lives and build Ukraine to be a prosperous European free nation, just as we all dream about, and that's what we strive for.
Anderson: And, Yulia, if people want to find out more about Nova Ukraine, what's the website? Where should they go?
Zimmermann: The website is novaukraine.org. You can also find Nova Ukraine on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We would love for you to visit our website and get involved.
Anderson: Yulia Zimmermann of Nova Ukraine, thank you so much for being here.
Zimmermann: Thank you, Tetiana, for having me and giving us a voice.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.