People considering traveling to Ukraine to offer help could inadvertently do more harm than good if they miss out on the support of an established organization, warns a University of Manitoba professor.
Horrifying images of Ukraine after Russia’s invasion naturally spur Canadians to action, says Paul Larson, who studies humanitarian logistics and is a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba.
“Don’t get me wrong, more help is better than less help, but disorganized help and uninformed help – help that doesn’t really know what’s going on or what to do – it could end up being kind of disaster within a disaster,” he said.
Images of bodies on the ground, including city of Bucha on the outskirts of the capital of kyivsparked global outrage and led to calls for tougher sanctions and war crimes prosecutions against Russia.
Last month, a maternity ward in Mariupol was damaged by shelling, killing a pregnant woman and her baby and injuring at least 17.
Larson encourages people who feel inspired to help donate or volunteer with well-established organizations that have undertaken thorough risk assessments, developed a safety plan, and have experience providing humanitarian aid in conflict zones.
Well-meaning volunteers who are not tied to these organizations may not be as well equipped to deal with security threats.
Those who show up in “informal business” are in real danger of being caught up in the violence and may end up needing to be rescued themselves, tying up resources, he said.
They could also be seriously injured or killed in the ongoing fighting.
“Unless you know the lay of the land, it’s a bit silly because it may very well not be useful. It could have the opposite effect, and you put yourself and possibly others in danger,” Larson said.
In times of violence, combatants are called upon to respect a buffer zone where humanitarian aid and medical care can be provided.
But that’s no guarantee of security in Ukraine, Larson says, because the zones are not respected by Russian troops.
“We will do what we can”
In the weeks since the start of the Russian invasion, Ukraine says hundreds of people have come to help, including former soldiers.
Among those who felt pressured to help was a group from Manitoba who left for the front line on Tuesday.
Pedro Bédard – a firefighter from St. François Xavier who has advanced first aid training – has left Winnipeg and is heading to Poland, where he and a small group intend to buy an ambulance to transport supplies and Ukrainians .
“You see things on the news and you say, ‘That’s not right. It’s not good. These people need help. They are getting help, don’t get me wrong, but they need more,” he said.
He takes five weeks of unpaid leave to help out.
“I just felt the need to,” he said.
The group plans to work from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, which Bedard said is relatively safe, having been bombed once in the 41 days since the war began.
“Something could happen, but you’re going to let that worry you. You might as well worry about slipping and falling on the ice,” he said.
Chad McFarland of Tyndall, Man., accompanies Bedard to do what he can for the Ukrainian people.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I mean, it’s a war zone. There’s every chance things will go wrong. I mean, just be in the wrong place at the wrong time “, did he declare.
“We will do what we can. And that’s all we can do.”