Estonian NGOs taking targeted approach to Ukraine aid as donations fall

A donation center at the former Ekraan movie theater in Tartu. March 15, 2022.
A donation center at the former Ekraan movie theater in Tartu. March 15, 2022. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

Donations made in Estonia to support Ukraine have been considerably lower this spring than during the same period last year, however, the focus has become more targeted. Estonian voluntary associations believe, that the recent financial scandal involving the NGO Slava Ukraini has negatively affected the image of the entire sector.

Whereas a year ago the aid sent to Ukraine mostly consisted of blankets and woolen socks for the local population, now the most help is needed on the front line. Aid is being sent to Ukraine by the Estonian state, as well as private sector and civil society organizations. ETV show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" spoke to four such organizations to get a better idea of the amount of money being donated in Estonia to help Ukraine and how it is being used.

Overall, when it comes to donations, the momentum has slowed considerably in comparison to the initial months after Russia's full-scale military invasion began last February.

The Estonian Refugee Council (Eesti Pagulasabi) for example, collected €4.7 million between March and April last year. In the same months this year, the organization raised just €72,000.

The Estonian Red Cross (Eesti Punane Rist) collected €3.8 million last March and April. In the same months this year, it raised just over €128,000.

The volunteer Rescue Association (Päästeliit) received €3.8 million in donations in the first few months after the invasion, but has only taken in €25,000 this spring.

The same is true of Mondo, which raised €1.8 million in spring 2022 but just €37,000 in the spring of this year.

Both the Estonian Refugee Council and Rescue Association examples show, that the highest monthly donations made to support Ukraine since the full-scale invasion began, came in March last year. This year so far, the most donations have been received in March and April.

At the same time, aid to Ukraine, both public and private, has become more targeted. The recent scandal surrounding the use of funds by Estonian NGO Slava Ukraini does not affect state aid packages. Nevertheless, a number of voluntary associations have noted that the entire industry has suffered reputational damage as a result.

Sending military aid to Ukraine is the responsibility of the Estonian Ministry of Defense, along with the Defense Forces (EDF) and the Defense League (Kaitseliit). Since the beginning of last year, a total of €400 million in military aid has been provided.

"Over the last six months there has been a really big emphasis on artillery support, because it is very much an artillery war that is being fought there today," said Peeter Kuimet, head of the Estonian Ministry of Defense's International Cooperation Department.

"The last major packages this year - in January and April - were related to the provision of various howitzers and their ammunition," Kuimet added.

Both medical training and weapons training for Ukrainians have also been added to the packages.

"Since last fall, we have been engaged in basic field training for mobilized Ukrainian reservists and new conscripts," Kuimet said.

The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also training people living in the war zone. The aim is to train officials there for EU accession negotiations. In addition to that, Estonia is working to support Ukraine's post-war reconstruction.

"We decided to select the Zhytomyr region. In the Zhytomyr region they had their own list of priorities, on the basis of which we chose what we would do. That's why right now, at the start of June, we are opening a kindergarten that we have we built, which includes a bomb shelter," explained Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Undersecretary for Economic and Development Affairs Mariin Ratnik.

"We are financing the reconstruction of a bridge in the town of Malyn, in the same region. Further projects include family homes for orphans in cooperation with, among others, the Olena Zelenska Foundation, [headed by] the wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy," Ratnik added.

As one of five partners, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is cooperating with the 15-year-old Estonian NGO Mondo, which has also shifted its focus from humanitarian aid to state-building and training for people in need.

"Nearly 20 houses, located in de-occupied areas or close to the front line and have been damaged in the war, are currently under renovation," said NGO Mondo head Triinu Ossinovski.

"We are providing them with entrepreneurship and livelihood training to increase their capacity and chances to successfully enter the labor market there. During the summer we will run psychosocial camps for children with three different partners. The demand is really high," Ossinovski explained.

The Estonian NGOs ETV spoke to, all said that donations to support Ukraine are unfortunately decreasing. However, this has not stopped them from sending aid to those in need.

For example, trucks filled with of boxes of mosquito nets have already been sent from Estonia to Volyn Oblast this week.

"Donations were coming in at first, but now they are all depleted. So, now we need more or less everything that we bring. Mostly they want box cars and of course they want vans and SUVs. I can't tell you how many of these Kia Sorentos we've taken there," said Ants Erm, board member of NGO Support Ukraine (Toeta Ukrainat).

The NGO Free Ukraine (Vaba Ukraina) is also feeling the shortage of donor money, but says that every month they also see new supporters. The frontline aid they are sending to Ukraine has however, become more expensive.

"Drone projects, both reconnaissance and kamikaze drones, have been added. On the other end, we have sent cars, different types of vans, SUVs as part of a special project, a sauna bus in cooperation with another organization, an excavator and countless tools of all different kinds," said Vaba Ukraina founding member Ronald Riistan.

The recent revelations about the misuse of donations by the NGO Slava Ukraini have put other aid organizations in a difficult position, with many having to go further than before to justify the work they are doing.

"For our part, we have tried to do everything we can to allay the fears that other humanitarian organizations in Estonia may have, to explain how our work processes work, to explain the operational side of our organization," said Triinu Ossinovski.

"But, when I have to read comments like 'how much are you taking for yourselves from the middle?' and 'oh, you're all the same,'  well forgive me, because we're not," she said.

 Ants Erm added that his organization is also doing what it can to ensure all the money donated in Estonia is used to help Ukraine in the best possible way and that derogatory comments, which suggest otherwise can hit hard.


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Editor: Michael Cole

Source: Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal

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