photography by Jana Čavojská
With the conflict in Ukraine raging, many of us have taken to doom scrolling and news binging, wishing there was something more that we could do to relieve the suffering. We go to anti-war protests, drop off essentials with the citizen-organized convoys headed east, we share, like and express our dismay on social media. But still, we feel helpless.
But what if instead of trying to figure out what to do, we support the people who already know what to do?
Medair is a Lausanne-based NGO with a mission to support people affected by emergencies, natural disasters, displacement, and conflict. And because Medair is headquartered in our city, we are honored to count many of their staff as personal friends – including our very own TLG Contributor Nicola Reinle.
Many of these friends are the ones who have to cancel lunch plans because they’re unexpectedly being deployed to a conflict zone; the ones who send their kids off to local schools and then later that morning board planes for places like Afghanistan, South Sudan, or Jordan. They’re some of the most courageous, compassionate, and inspirational people we’ve ever met.
Last week, they assembled a reconnaissance team to Poland to begin setting up their operations to help the soon-to-be millions of refugees fleeing the violence in their country. We interviewed Nicola because we wanted to learn more about what her colleagues are doing to respond to the crisis and also – in full disclosure – let you know how you can support the hardest hit Ukrainian refugees by supporting Medair.
How is Medair responding to the crisis this week?
Nicola: When our team headed out last Monday to the border crossing between Ukraine and Poland, their initial focus was deepening relationships with the local grassroots partners and other humanitarian actors – this is really important the initial stages so that everyone is working in coordination with each other.
After assessing the situation, the team decided to set up to provide health services, water and sanitation support and critical relief items like blankets and basic hygiene products. Based on what we’re seeing on the ground, we’re prioritizing eight transition centers (existing buildings that can be transformed into temporary lodging for refugees while we look for more permanent solution) and 12 warehouses in the region.
When your team dispatched to the border crossing between Ukraine and Poland can you describe for us what they found?
Nicola : They first arrived in a place called Przemysl and came across chaotic scenes; ambulances, police, fire brigades, an enormous number of women and children looking disoriented, unclear exactly where to go. The team has already departed to other border crossing points to understand how and where we can best support. James McDowell, our Head of Programme in the Global Emergency Response Team, told us, “The crisis is moving incredibly quickly, and people are being pushed to their limit. Their lives are changing by the hour. It’s critical that we are there for them now.”
In the midst of everything, our team has been moved to see the response of the Polish people, many of whom have left their jobs and families for a week to volunteer at the border. Over the last week, we’ve seen a barrage of images of the horrors of the escalating conflict, but we can be inspired to know that there are countless volunteers rising up as unsung heroes of this conflict.
In what ways does Medair anticipate supporting refugees in the coming months?
Nicola: If we receive the funding we need, our team will continue to provide anyone fleeing the conflict with essential items like blankets, dignity kits, and emergency shelter. This could also mean helping them with access to cash transfers and supporting Polish host families who are welcoming them. On the medical side, we’ll provide initial health screenings and post-trauma psychosocial support at border points as well as giving medical supplies and equipment to clinics where necessary. And in all of this, we’ll work – as we always do – to get this help to the individuals and families who are in the most underserved and hard-to-reach locations. This situation is evolving hourly, so our response will as well.
What are the most acute needs of the people Medair is helping?
Nicola: People are in need of protection from the elements – it’s winter and they’re cold. They need basic household and hygiene supplies, access to cash and primary health care, including essential medicines and the need for psychosocial support. We will come alongside other organizations to strengthen and build capacity for informal initiatives, for example Polish host families who need support to continue housing refugees.
How can we - the people of Lausanne - help support your work in Ukraine?
Nicola: Obviously, the people impacted by this conflict need financial support – any donations that can help us to help them would be greatly appreciated.
And although I know it can feel small, any effort people make to raise awareness about the work organizations like Medair are doing helps. Follow Medair on social media and keep sharing the content that moves you. We can’t forget these people who lives will never look the same again.