Volunteers in Estonia seeing drop in donations supporting Ukraine

A mobile sauna and shower facilities truck being sent to Ukraine by the nonprofit Vaba Ukraina.
A mobile sauna and shower facilities truck being sent to Ukraine by the nonprofit Vaba Ukraina. Source: ERR

Volunteers who have been collecting donations for Ukraine are now facing reduced support. They recognize several different factors contributing to the decline, including war fatigue and people's worsened financial situations, but also dishonest fundraisers who have tarnished the reputation of charity in general with their actions.

On Sunday morning, a refurbished truck converted into a mobile sauna and shower unit hit the road from Harju County, Estonia toward Ukraine, tailed by a yellow van. The two vehicles are being delivered to a warzone in Ukraine by the four Estonians who built the saunabus themselves.

"This is a mobile showers whose internal temperature, I believe, should reach 40-50 degrees [Celsius]," said Raul Leemets, a volunteer for the nonprofit Vaba Ukraina. "The men said that three minutes per man, four showers, it could serve 80 men in the space of an hour. The goal is to get warm and get clean."

The saunabus is fully automatic and capable of pumping water from any body of water; all they need to do is find firewood and fill up the vehicle's gas tank. The vehicle itself has water tanks, washing machines and even clotheslines built in. The volunteers know that this will go a long way in improving the well-being of those out on the front line.

"Previously it was the case that a tanker truck of cold water arrived at the front once a week, and each man was given three liters of cold water and wet wipes," Leemets said.

This group of friends, who are otherwise kept busy day to day organizing adventure tours, has been volunteering to help Ukraine since 2014 already, when the nonprofit Vaba Ukraina was established under the patronage of the late Lt. Gen. Johannes Kert, a former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF). The volunteers organize aid on the basis of donations to the nonprofit.

Sunday's marks the second such saunabus that this particular nonprofit has built and dispatched to Ukraine. Fundraising from donors has since slowed in pace somewhat, however, and one of the causes of this slowdown has been the dishonesty of several other fundraisers.

"Is [your] donation going where it's supposed to go and fulfilling its intended purpose?" Leemets asked. "We've had this stability, this trust, and in Vaba Ukraina's case, there's been no such immediate downward curve. The people supporting [us] are still supporting [us]."

The nonprofit Toeta Ukrainat has likewise long since been in operation – since 2015, to be precise. And they've felt the decrease in donations as well.

"If you look at what kind of campaigning was done for [Estonian nonprofit] Slava Ukraini and then how that fell apart, support fell after that too," recalled Toeta Ukrainat board member Ants Erm. "Some months it fell by almost half. Now things have more or less recovered. People are generally kind; they're still donating despite the fact that the economic situation has gotten worse and the war has lasted a long time, [people] are already getting war fatigue."

Another four SUVs are currently in the shop undergoing finishing touches before they'll be sent south to Ukraine by Toeta Ukrainat. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, they've sent a total of 52 of them, on top of all kinds of other equipment and gear ranging from tires to sleeping bags.

"Our plan is of course to keep going like this," Erm affirmed. "As much as we're donated, and as much as we can handle. We can't help it; Ukraine has to win this war."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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