Emergency Parliamentary Call on the War in Ukraine: Humanitarian Action and Initiatives
In response to the war in Ukraine, the Open European Dialogue launched an Emergency Parliamentary Open Call series in an effort to support open communication for parliamentarians, irrespective of party lines and committee roles, to share concerns and perspectives with parliamentary colleagues across Europe at this critical time.
This communication channel has so far seen the participation of over 60 policymakers from 20 countries, including a delegation of Ukrainian MPs, as well as representatives of international organizations, NGOs, think tanks and volunteers operating in the field. During the last call, they discussed the unfolding humanitarian crisis and emerging humanitarian needs as well as suggestions for actions and initiatives to be taken – at the individual, state, and European levels.
The OED remains committed to supporting cross-country dialogue on the unprecedented and urgent challenges presented by this war.
Tuesday March 15th, Members of Parliament from eleven countries across Europe met with Ukrainian MPs, NGOs and volunteers to discuss the humanitarian situation and needs emerging on-the-ground.
We would like to share with you the important messages voiced by participants, starting with those who are directly living through the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
“Every day it gets worse and worse, I woke up with the news that three buildings in my neighborhood were bombed as well as the metro station where I grew up. We do not know how many people are trapped by Russian forces, and unconfirmed numbers for the Mariupol killings could be as high as 20,000 people.
The humanitarian corridors are not working, the shelling does not stop. It is much worse from the last time we spoke, 10 days ago, I do not see the situation improving, people who are fleeing are being killed.
I don’t need to mention what is happening in the maternity wards, there is almost no adequate medical care left anywhere in Ukraine, I have become an Internally Displaced Person myself as my apartment was bombed.
We are grateful for the help provided by European countries. Any kind of support is needed, but we need weapons, humanitarian aid will not stop the war. We need to stop the war.”
“War crimes are a systematic means of warfare in this war.”
- We need medicines, including not only basic medicine, such as paracetamol, but also HIV and cancer treatment medication. All these people [in medical need] are currently being displaced and we do not have the means to treat them.
- In the East, doctors are driving around in private cars because cars marked as medical aid, or ambulances, are being targeted. Throughout the country, there is a lack of medicine and ambulances. People with chronic disease cannot get any Insulin or Thyroxin.
SUPPORT OUR NEIGHBOURS
- Try to support not only Ukraine but also Eastern and Central European countries which are dealing with the immediate flow of people and work together with Western European countries to spread out refugees.
PRIVATE COMPANIES CAN HELP TOO, NOT JUST GOVERNMENTS
- We would welcome more donations from large scale private companies – like, pharma, hygiene, and food companies. Large-scale donations of such companies are more effective than collecting private donations. Logistics companies could become more involved in transporting aid to Ukraine and within Ukraine.
- Use not only government resources but also resources of private Private organizations can be an example that motivates other people to help – for example the football club Juventus in Italy is welcoming 80 young Ukrainians on their football base. The German club Borussia Dortmund raised money for medical aid.
- What is needed is to help connect people in need with potential hosts: organizations and companies that could potentially help need to know how to reach out and who to help.
COORDINATION CHALLENGES EXIST – BUT EVERY SMALL OR BIG EFFORT HELPS!
- Coordination is improving – we have different coordination centers in Ukraine, hubs dealing with various aspects of the crisis, but we still need coordination at the European level and within the donor countries.
- Please distribute your efforts and consider smaller organizations not just the big players, this way we can reach more people and faster. Smaller players are much more flexible and can use short windows of opportunity to deliver aid that bigger players cannot use.
- “We need to decentralize. Given the risk of a Russian attack on major aid hubs, it is essential to decentralise aid.” If we have a single major hub, Russia could bomb it and destroy the supply chain.
- At the moment, there is no safe place in Ukraine to deliver aid, but this is not a reason to stop delivering to any hub or individual place.
- Decentralization also allows for smaller non-governmental organizations to provide aid in places that are unsafe to operate for larger organizations.
- Please use the whole of the western border of Ukraine to deliver aid – there is no [one] best place to do so.
TOO LITTLE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE POLITICAL LEVEL AND THE HUMANITARIAN LEVEL – PLEASE REACH OUT AND TALK TO US!
- Reach out to civil society and organizations working on the ground, we are open to be contacted. “Wonderful things can come together if you write or call us,” as we can help to direct your efforts to areas where it is most needed.
- For instance, “a child hospital in Kyiv needs to be replaced and is seeking a partner hospital to do so.” These kinds of operations are possible when government and politicians reach out to NGOs on the ground to ask how they can best help. Don’t do what you think is needed, ask what is necessary.
TRANSPORT AND SHELTER NEEDS
- There is a huge lack of housing in the west. One solution could be campers, trailers, or tiny houses. If anyone has contacts relevant for organizing those –please contact Imke Hansen from VOSTOK SOS – we need to set up trailer parks in the west of the country in order to be able to host displaced people.
- We also lack cargo drivers, who usually are men between 18 to 60 years old – exactly the ones who are not allowed to leave the country. Besides, many vehicles from Europe cannot enter Ukraine because of their insurance. This is causing logistical bottlenecks.
START THINKING AND ORGANIZING LONG TERM AS OF NOW
- There is a substantial risk of a dramatic increase in poverty. We are now aware that this crisis will go on for long – for at least five years – we will need constant support and to start building sustainable long-term partnerships right now.
WE NEED TO BUILD PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
- The more we create the opportunity for personal relationships – invite people over to dinner, get to know those who are being affected, and allow human ties to be built – the more we will be able to combat this situation, particularly with a long-term perspective in mind. We need to intertwine our societies so much more.
MILITARY AND DEFENSE COOPERATION
- As parliamentarians, what we need from you is to work with governments locally on military and defense cooperation, which is still very much needed. We need military equipment. We cannot end the war only by welcoming refugees.
- There is a need for a defense effort and a need to preserve humanitarian spaces. Let us not confuse the two – the safe space to operate from a humanitarian point of view does not exist yet, we have not secured this.
Parliamentarians, international organizations, and policy observers from the European and International policy spheres shared further perspectives.
HUMAN RIGHTS AT STAKE
- The serious degradation of international humanitarian law is a major concern.
PROTECT THE WEAKEST: EARLY WARNING ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING RISKS
- Third-country nationals living in Ukraine, people with disabilities, and other fragile groups are extremely vulnerable and at risk of exploitation and trafficking. We see that people rely on “the connection of a friend of a friend who tells you where to go to manage to get out of the country. This is how human trafficking starts.”
CONCERN FROM NEIGHBOURS
- A military drone armed with an air bomb fell out of the sky and crashed near a student dormitory well out of the conflict zone. Before crashing, it flew through shared NATO airspace for over an hour without local authorities knowing – “I am concerned that NATO is starting look like a bunch of amateurs.”
THE VIEW FROM BRUSSELS
“What we have seen is a watershed moment in European history – things will not be the same after this. After a little bit of hesitation, the European Union has come together in a united and effective way. What is needed now is that we continue with initiatives to counter this war against all Western democracies.
National parliamentarians should continue supporting EU measures and push their governments to step up their efforts and do more. We need to go further and keep putting pressure on Russia on all fronts.
The response to refugees so far has been good, but we now need to sit at a table and organize long-term solutions, which support refugees, civil society, and free press across countries – If we let short-term economic interests prevail now, we are going to lose this war.”
INITIATIVES & MOBILIZATION EFFORTS
- Portugal implemented a platform for jobs explicitly for refugees who are arriving into the country and will need to find employment.
- Romania has fewer refugees than Poland, but Bucharest is one of the main hotspots. It was civil society and ordinary citizens who welcomed the first wave of refugees in Romania. They are playing a big part in the Romanian response. “Large-scale coordination is not always the best answer politically.” Until now the main efforts are being shouldered by civil society, NGOs, citizens, and private companies but there is concern as to whether this support will hold in the long run.
- Hungarian society and individuals have taken the initiative in lieu of the Hungarian state in welcoming refugees. Many small citizen groups and small villages are helping refugees along the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. “Let us keep in mind this is a delicate time in Hungary as these are the last days of election campaign and state TV has been dominated by propaganda.”
THE BALTIC POINT OF VIEW & WARNING: INCLUDE US IN THESE CONVERSATIONS, WE CAN HELP
“I need to remind you and emphasize again that the Baltic states have been dealing with Russia and the Russian mentality for hundreds of years. We have been warning about Russia for a long time. Different opinions on this still exist but it is good to hear that there is a better understanding of the threat of Russia now.
We really know how Russia operates – there is historical knowledge that we have access to and there are valuable insights that we can share –please use the expertise of the Baltic countries.”
SKEPTICISMS AND MOODS TO BE KEPT IN CHECK
- Overall popular support is high when it comes to standing with Ukraine, but we should be aware of the narratives of skepticism that also exist and remain a cause of concern. The parts of the population that tend to be wearier seem to overlap with ones that were skeptical of Corona and vaccines – it is worthwhile to wonder if these sentiments are being fueled by propaganda.
- “[Western] people’s opinion might shift when we start to also feel the pressure of the economic measures.”
- Our job as parliamentarians is to help people understand that this war is not about how much it will cost, but it is about the survival and integrity of the European continent. “Actions taken now will be less costly than if there is an actual war on the whole European continent.”
- We need to please tell our citizens that we should not get used to the images that we are seeing. We need to keep support strong and educate our own people – we need to continue to talk regularly about this so that we do not drop our attention.
- Gas prices, agriculture prices and inflation rates are already worrying the populations of Europe, especially in economically weaker member states – we cannot ignore the social-economic cost that this war is already having.
Vostok SOS, working on coordination of humanitarian aid – explicitly encourages you to reach out to her to speak directly to organizations helping on the ground
Senior Regional Emergency and Post-crisis Specialist, International Organization for Migration (IOM) – encourages you to reach out if there is any information you may need from IOM
Latvian Parliamentarian, The New Conservative Party – explicitly encourages colleagues to reach out and engage with Baltic know-how and insights into the political and cultural interpretation of Russian actions
Disclaimer: the above readout does not represent the views of the Open European Dialogue or its partners, but is a representation of the views of its participants.