29 November 2023

By Nabeelah Shaikh

South African humanitarian organization, Gift of the Givers, is making great strides in their Ukraine relief efforts.

The Ukraine initiative came to life at short notice through various messages which were received by the organisation within a few days of the invasion.

The first desperate plea to Gift of the Givers came from a South African man whose wife is Ukrainian: they managed to escape from Kyiv when the bombing intensified.

“On 5 March, we asked them to arrange themselves in their new place of safety and source supplies including food, baby food, diapers, sanitary pads, hygiene packs, warm clothes and essential medicines. From purchasing at small shops, the team expanded to bigger shops and then wholesalers to ensure availability and to save costs as prices were skyrocketing,” said founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.

The intervention on the ground is in two parts: to provide emergency medical and non-medical assistance to front line facilities and internally displaced civilians inside Ukraine, and fund the repatriation of South African students wanting to return home.

For this, Sooliman recently met with Suzanne Ackerman-Berman from the Ackerman Family Foundation which contributed R1.5m towards the repatriation of SA and African students.

Russia invaded Ukraine last month, and to date, more than three million Ukrainians have sought refuge outside its borders, while more than 6.5 million Ukrainian’s have been internally displaced.

Sooliman says it has been an extremely interesting process providing assistance training in disaster interventions from a distance to people who have zero experience in such matters. However, he said they have been beyond incredible in applying the theory practically.

“We are expanding the teams and are organising them inside the “hot spots” where there is no entry point for supplies and are replicating the process, finding shops, supplying the funds, identifying specific needs and supplying. When you can’t get items from outside, be resourceful and find everything inside,” he said.

Orphans, the elderly and ordinary people are all being assisted.

“We are funding the intervention by paying for fuel and everything associated with the purchase and delivery of essential and very basic necessities. We are setting up multiple storage areas. The teams are held by the hand and guided on the approach to disasters on a daily basis,” said Sooliman. The Ukraine Association of South Africa has partnered with the Gift of the Givers.

“They are connected to medical personnel inside Ukraine. Medical supplies are being sourced inside the country and together with their own financial contributions, we will commence purchases of these life-saving materials for health facilities ‘trapped’ in the hot spots,” Sooliman said.

Discussions have been held with medical aid societies, pharmaceutical companies and health facilities in South Africa to supply essential medicines which will be sent by commercial flight to support all other medical requirements inside Ukraine.

Over the weekend, team members met with the mayor of one of the cities in the Ivano-Frankivsk region to source companies that will provide discounted supplies. The organisation says the teams on their ground are doing their best under very difficult conditions.

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