On March 19, 2022, I started a fundraiser to help Ukrainians in areas being attacked by Russians, specifically Sumy, Ukraine, where I have relatives. Rather than provide in-kind goods, the idea was to give needy people money to spend as they want (i.e., like GiveDirectly). My second cousin, who has lived in Sumy all her life (Elena), and her husband (Anatolii) identified such people through their networks to avoid fraud, which unfortunately is a threat wherever money is involved. The fundraiser and subsequent distribution of money has been a great success. We raised over $24,000.
When I started the page to let people know how the money is being distributed, I listed each recipient (anonymously, of course), providing just a bit of background on why they received a transfer. Then I realized that we would be able to help more than just a few dozen people and started grouping people getting transfers for similar reasons together (e.g., elderly living alone; people whose homes were damaged by the Russians). But as I took stock of the remaining funds and the people we have helped so far, I realized that even this kind of list would soon become unwieldy and a summary narrative would be much better. (I am keeping a detailed list and documentation of transfers on the back end, of course.)
As of May 14, 2022, we have made transfers to about 130 households. The typical transfer was about $90 – not a huge amount by US/European standards by any means but enough to make a nontrivial difference in the recipients’ lives, especially in times of war. A sizeable share of beneficiaries consisted of elderly living alone, quite a few of them with limited mobility or serious health problems. We made transfers to many families with children, targeting single mothers and families where one or both parents have lost their income because of the war. Elena and Anatolii also helped several households whose houses were damaged by Russia’s military and some households who lost their income as a result of the war, including teachers and lawyers, regardless of whether they had kids.
Some the transfers went to people who were not unemployed but who went above and beyond in helping others during the war. We helped several grocery store workers (whose salaries are miserly) who kept showing up for work even as Sumy was being targeted by bombs and rockets; a few doctors and nurses (whose salaries are also unfortunately low) who continued caring for the wounded and sick, sometimes walking for kilometers to get to work; a veterinarian who took in pets abandoned by fleeing owners; and a woman helping dozens of needy elderly. Finally, a few organizations also received some support, including a cafe that repurposed itself to provide free meals to volunteer fighters and the needy and a petting zoo that lost visitors because of the war and had trouble providing for the animals.
What these transfers have meant to the recipients is hard to describe. Because there were no strings attached, we don’t know how the money was spent, but given the typical financial situation of the recipients, it was almost surely on necessities such as food and medical care. My cousin said that some people (including men) were moved to tears when they received the transfers. It is not easy to stay hopeful when your city is being bombed daily, when civilians are being killed, when you are periodically left without electricity and water. For many of the recipients, the transfers were not just a means to buy what they need but a reminder that there is good in this world, that someone out there cares about them. The value of giving someone just a bit more faith in humanity during a brutal war cannot be overstated.
We still have a little less than half the money left and are taking a strategic pause to assess how to best target transfers going forward. The situation in Sumy has changed somewhat since the war has started. On one hand, there are no more Russian troops near the city, and while there are still rocket alerts and some artillery attacks from Russia, the military situation is a lot calmer. More and more things are reopening. My cousin is back to work (she is a court clerk). The petting zoo has started receiving visitors again. On the other hand, economic activity remains very much depressed, prices are rising, and there are severe gasoline shortages. Many people remain out of work and the military threat is far from gone. Some people who relied on their savings to weather the income shock are running out of money and will need external help. We will do our best to find and help as many of them as possible.
If you’re interested in a few more additional details, the previous update (April 4, 2022) with a list of recipients is below.
Update as of April 4, 2022
The response to the fundraiser for people of Sumy, Ukraine was inspiring. To let people know who is being helped by their money, we created this page. The donations were in US dollars, but they are being distributed in hryvnias, Ukraine’s currency. One US dollar is about 30 hryvnias. Elena and Anatoliy decided to distribute the money in batches of 2500 hryvnias (about $85), although some people/groups were given more, depending on need. To date, the largest transfers were 10,000 hryvnias (about $340). As of April 4, about 55% of the total raised has been distributed to over 80 people, but as you can guess from reading the list below, many more people will be helped indirectly as a result.
To give you an idea of how far the money can go in Sumy, Ukraine, Elena collected some price information in mid-March:
- A loaf of bread is 22 hryvnias (75 cents).
- Apples are being sold for 25 hryvnias per kilogram, as are potatoes (85 cents/kg or 39 cents/lb).
- Ten eggs cost 35 hryvnias (about $1.20).
- Turkey filet is 190 hryvnias per kilogram ($6.5/kg or $2.95/lb).
- Cabbage is 55 hryvnias per kilogram ($1.9/kg or $0.85/lb).
Elena also noted that prices are going up: before the war, cabbage was only 20 hryvnias per kilogram. But a dollar still goes a long way.
Here’s a list of people in Sumy* who have received money through this fundraiser (we have more detailed internal records, but are publishing general information here for privacy purposes):
- A veterinarian who has taken in many dogs left behind by their owners
- A chef who provides meals for volunteers in the terrestrial defense force and elderly/needy
- A child pulmonologist who continues working and walks several kilometers every day to get to work
- Two members of the terrestrial defense force
- The widow of a lecturer who died in a battle with Russians; they have three children
- An activist who helps needy elderly who live alone. (She provided a list of over 30 elderly individuals she is currently helping.)
- A paralyzed woman who is being cared for by her daughter
- Three editors of local newspapers who are now helping with a variety of humanitarian efforts
- A journalist-activist who, among other things, has been training other journalists
- A cafe whose owners have been providing free meals to needy people since the beginning of the way
- Two retired university lecturers and three retired teachers, one of whom had their home destroyed
- Two retired doctors/medics
- Four other retired individuals, some with health challenges or relatives with health challenges
- Four elderly preschool teachers
- Six teachers
- Two nurses, one of whom is one of the few medical workers still working in the children’s hospital
- A volunteer combat medic who had a concussion during the war, currently recovering, and is planning to return to the battlefield
- Four people whose homes were severely damaged by Russian attacks
- Four tennis coaches, one of whom recently suffered a stroke; another has struggled with illness. (Elena’s family plays tennis and know each of the coaches personally)
- Fourteen families with children, some headed by single mothers, some that suffered job losses as a result of the war
- The owner of a small petting zoo that has little or no revenue as a result of the war
- Nine lawyers, none of whom are not working but almost all of whom are helping in the war efforts in one way or another. (Elena and Anatoliy are lawyers themselves)
- Three people with illnesses/recent operations
*A few of these people are located outside of the city of Sumy, in neighboring towns/villages.
Some photos below (either publicly available on Facebook or shared with permission)