Humanitarian aid is brought only by volunteers: a refugee about self-organization in occupied Kherson


In this region of southern Ukraine, people are dying more from medicament shortages than from bombs. This was told by Stefan, the coordinator of grassroots volunteer movement of Nova Kakhovka, managed to go to Georgia. Title photo is from his town. Our publication about radical popular resistance in the totalitarian hell you can read here.

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Submitted by Thunderbird on May 30, 2022

Two weeks ago, 16th of May, a sniper shot dead Anton Kushnir, who was delivering the necessary goods to inhabitants of Kherson under the Russian military occupation. This is not the first time that volunteers and carriers have died. In fact, there are many such cases. There were stories about people driving through fields, trails that were not mined yesterday, and today someone exploded there. And for some reason no one talks about it. Kherson region is now probably one of the most mined locations in the world. The occupiers are mining everything and thus preparing for a possible Ukraine offensive.

The humanitarian catastrophe in these places began almost immediately with the occupation in the first days of the invasion. The Russians blocked the roads to Nova Kakhovka and did not allow any humanitarian loads. A truck was coming from Italy - it was turned around at the entrance to Kherson. Products of small business, ATB supermarkets network - nothing came, everyone lived from some stocks in the city. It is difficult to think what was done in the surrounding villages.

It is possible that this humanitarian crisis was not created just like that. Invaders may have hoped that when they imported their humanitarian food from the Crimea, people would be happy, because they simply will not have nothing to eat. That is why they did not allow Ukrainian products and still do not. As for the Russian humanitarian goods, it's one can of some shit in one hand, plus maybe some pasta or sugar. When volunteers hand out their humanitarian aid, they expect a person to survive on it for a week or two. And despite the hopes of the occupiers, at first their humanitarian was greeted with stones.

Activists cannot help everyone with food, so they choose the one who has the hardest conditions. There is a big problem with the delivery of products. The occupiers are looking for and taking away food at checkpoints. In general, anything can happen at checkpoints. There were cases when the occupiers found tattoos in the form of Ukrainian trident and gave them a stone so that they could tear off these tattoos along with the skin. And until you tear it off, you won't go any further.

Now it is impossible to enter or leave the Kherson region. That is, all the transfers that Stefan's group has been collecting for a week are now pending. And how much longer to wait - it is unclear.

The bigger problem is in the villages. Some products are imported to the cities, some of them are transported from the Crimea. But even Crimean goods are not enough, and the villages have nothing. Especially on the occupied right bank of the Dnipro. They do not have access to any wholesale bases and are not allowed on the left bank through hydroelectric dam. People write that someone died in the, houses were destroyed. Volunteers tried to bring there by boat, but it is very expensive, in fact a separate special operation. That is why they are now more focused on own Nova Kakhovka. But there is another problem - people do not have money. Basically nothing to buy...

Medicines are easier to import. Stefan's group import some specific medicines that the occupiers do not need at checkpoints. Of course, if they have a turnstile, soldiers will take it away. They collect medicines from all over the world, Twitter and other volunteers help a lot. Something comes from Berlin, something from Lviv or Poland. They buy some of it themselves with the funds from donations, when need some address purchase for a specific case.

Russian immigrant and Volvo dealership manager Anton Kushnir was purposefully killed with a bullet to the head. He was the first to drive, at about 1 pm, with two women and children in the car, and a minibus full of people was driving behind. During the 80 days of the war, Anton took out tens of people and on the way back delivered tons of the humanitarian aid to Kherson from volunteer storage in Nikolaev. This time he was going to return to Kherson again. Four of his children are currently safe abroad.

Stefan's team does not have a regular carrier - they will find out who left or came to deliver the medicine. And they can never say for sure whether they will arrive or not. The road is now very difficult and dangerous. Managed to transport some medicines across Dnipro, transported them by boats. And even in the occupied territories some drugs disappeared. So in one hospital there was a transfer point. And they never got some medicine from there. Maybe the hospital itself needed medicine and they decided to take some. This is war. Stefan says:

"If we receive lists of inquiries from medical institutions in Nova Kakhovka - everything is very sad there. Hospitals do not even have syringes and bandages. Of course, there is no insulin either. Moreover, as I was told, Russians also came to the hospitals and took some medicine for their wounded, because they had nothing. In total, three pharmacies with Russian medicines have been opened in the town at a price three to three times higher than before the occupation, and not everything is there. In the villages, the situation with medicines is catastrophic at all. And this is when there are many elderly people left in the occupied territories who need various medicines, including heart and blood pressure. We have provided some medical care to more than 500 people, but there are far more requests than we can meet. We are not under bombing, shells do not fly, but many people die only from lack of medicine.

Many people are now trying to escape, but there are those who cannot leave. These are retirees, vulnerable segments of the population. It is a pity that during all this time we have not been joined by any official Ukrainian state organization or structure that would take care of humanitarian policy. I am often asked on Twitter where these billions of dollars of aid from Ukraine, when, for example, for Nova Kakhovka, help is raised by donations on Twitter. And I honestly don't know what to say. I received the following answers - you are under occupation, nothing will come to you, we will not even try. That's why now everything is based only on volunteers.

But there is not only some centralized assistance to the occupied territories. There is no normal program to help people who have left the occupied territories. Even in Georgia, where I am now, there is a website, for example, with offers to take in Ukrainian refugees. You are going to Georgia and you already have an agreement with the person where you live here. There is nothing like that in Ukraine. People just go into the unknown. Only some volunteer initiatives work.

I came to Georgia from the occupied Kherson region through the Crimea. On the way, of course, I was constantly checked. I had two hours of interrogation in the Crimea. I cleaned the phone, very well, but not to the end, somewhere they saw the word "volunteer" in it. I was lucky, they didn't have the Internet, because if they saw my Twitter, I would, of course, be overwhelmed. And so the traditional questions: "What do you think about the war", "Your attitude to the Nazis" and so on. They wanted me to say something extra.

I don't think that our activities pose a real threat to the occupiers. But we are constantly under their attention. One day, Russians came to our humanitarian HQ with armed men and allegedly some kind of journalist. They wanted to film us so that we would not be touched and that we would be fine thanks to them. We refused, they left, and in a few hours we moved to a new place - away from sin. In fact, if they wanted to interfere with our activities, they would. The Russians have already staged a humanitarian catastrophe in the region, and the fact that people are trying to survive inside the city does not stop them. Moreover, they are not up to it now - they have daily hits on their positions from the Armed Forces of Ukraine".

According to Stefan, now all active residents have mostly left. Some were put, as he calls it, in "pits". They transfer products to one of these "pits". He doesn't know for sure how many people are in this particular "pit", because those who bring food there are not allowed to abducted ones.

But people are obviously not only taken to the "pits". In the middle of May, his group lost contact with the Joy children's center, in which orphans were brought up. Volunteers received information that more than 50 children have disappeared, they have not been seen for a whole week, they are not at the playground. Activists don't know where they are. Called the director, but she did not explain anything about it. It is possible that the children were taken to Russia or moved to another place, because the center is located near the hospital, where many occpiers are now injured. No information about the fate of these kids.

Thanks to Andrei Harasym for possibility to make this material

Meanwhile, in Kharkiv has already started a horizontal participatory volunteer campaign for re-planning of the city toward decentralization to make it more ecological and less commercially oriented.

And see also this photo report how people survive on the ruins of Makhno's homeland directly on the Russian-Ukrainian southern frontline.

Glory to the heroes of community mutual aid! Build popular strength from below!