UK and Irish charities issue Ukraine cash appeals to avoid items ending up in landfill

Donated toys, clothes and toiletries often never reach those in need due to logistical challenges

People who fled the war in Ukraine pictured queueing for assistance at the Ukrainian consulate in Krakow, Poland. Getty Images
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Charities in the UK and Ireland have urged people to donate money instead of clothing, food and household items for Ukrainian refugees to prevent unused items ending up in landfill.

Charitable organisations say they have been blown away by the generosity shown by the public following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has forced 2.8 million to flee the conflict zone and displaced thousands more.

While most groups are operating a strict “cash only” policy to avoid unnecessary waste and keep down logistical costs, some fund-raising groups have been inundated by donations of nappies, toiletries, clothes and other essentials.

Ireland’s branch of the Red Cross said it had raised €15 million in cash donations in response to its Ukraine appeal and about 12,000 households in the republic had signed up to accommodate refugees.

Liam O’Dwyer, Secretary General of the Irish Red Cross, said while the public had given huge amounts in the past when the charity was helping war victims in Syria, Yemen and Gaza, this response was off the scale.

“It’s very close to home and it seems to have struck a chord with people here. The public have given extremely generously,” he told The National.

Shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, sending refugees pouring across borders, the Irish Red Cross put out a clarion call to the public, asking them to refrain from donating used or new goods.

“Other charities rang me and said thanks for speaking about it because they had ended up dumping stuff,” Mr O’Dwyer said.

“In a major crisis like this, the preference is always for cash. There could be a huge amount of really good stuff but the logistics involved in receiving it, unpacking it and distributing it.”

He lauded the Irish public for digging deep into their pockets, saying: “The generosity of people at the moment in Ireland is extraordinary. It’s astonishing.”

Some of the 15 British charities fund-raising under the umbrella of the Disaster Emergencies Committee (DEC), which collected £150m in donations during its first week, have spoken out to remind people that the most effective way of helping people in Ukraine is to give money to charities with a presence on the borders.

Lydia Sparrow, Save the Children’s deputy team leader of operations in Poland, said it would be impractical for the charity to send lorry loads of donated toys and clothes across the continent, so instead these are being sold in charity shops.

“We would not take items from the UK and bring them here. It’s much better for us to have these items donated to the shops in the UK and use the cash to help people from Ukraine,” she told The National.

“Giving people cash gives them the dignity and empowerment to choose for themselves what they need.

“The most economic way of helping is to use the money to buy bulk in Poland and buy products Ukrainians are familiar with.

“We have been hearing from people who brought medicines from the UK to help the refugees in Poland and they were not approved by the regulator here.”

Ms Sparrow said as well as buying essentials to give to refugees upon arrival in Poland and other countries neighbouring Ukraine, the funds can be used to pay for food, clothing and toiletries further down the line after people have been resettled.

She praised the British public’s “incredible” response to the appeal and added: “We have worked in many different places over the years and the support from the UK people and the amount of money we have seen via the DEC is unbelievable.”

Ms Sparrow urged people in Britain to continue supporting charities helping Ukrainians and to go further by pressing politicians to introduce and back policies aimed at helping refugees.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, last week told MPs on the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that it was not practical to send some donations to Ukraine or its borders.

“There are very kind people with good intentions who are sending kids’ bicycles and expecting us to send them all the way to Kyiv, to Ukraine right now, which is not reasonable to do [and] resource-wise, it is not even possible,” he said.

Christian Aid, another charity operating as part of the DEC conglomerate, said a cash donation would go further than items could as many refugees want to travel as lightly as possible.

“Many have left with just one bag and just need the basics to get going,” a spokesman for Christian Aid told The National.

“The most effective thing you can do is to give cash to the DEC appeal which has the ability to act on the ground.

“It is not as effective to give items as it could lead to stuff going to waste, ending up in landfill.”

The spokesman said staff at the charity had been moved by the public’s generosity and added: “We’ve been blown away by how much people care.”

Updated: March 15, 2022, 7:22 AM