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One year on: ‘Making do’ and the nature of unconventional humanitarian responses

Article by Andra-Lucia Martinescu

February 24, 2023

One year on: ‘Making do’ and the nature of unconventional humanitarian responses

One year since Russia prosecuted the invasion of Ukraine, cities, towns, and villages are systematically erased from the map, leaving millions searching for shelter and safety. In response, we have seen pockets of resilience and islands of good practice stemming from unlikely humanitarian actors (by conventional standards), who, in absence of substantial capabilities or funding, still acted as first responders, ‘making do’ on a daily basis to alleviate the plight of others. 


On the ground, troves of Ukrainian grassroots charities repurposed whatever resources they had to respond to widespread displacement, often, facing the monumental task of supporting refugee centres, hospitals, military units, schools, orphanages, local administrations, and many others (all at once). Amid constant targeting barges and nationwide power cuts, volunteers strive to deliver supplies beyond the frontlines, at great personal cost and sacrifice. With manpower and operations under such duress, these distributed solidarity networks coordinate evacuations, locate the missing, and inventory the bodies left behind, to be returned with dignity to their families.


From abroad, I witnessed how other decentralised, humanitarian ecosystems came together. In the UK, dozens of diaspora community organisations pooled resources to send aid to Ukraine before established humanitarian actors developed a presence on the ground. Local parishes and supportive local authorities offered space for storing, sorting, and packing material donations. These small charities and informal diaspora networks then launched crowdfunding appeals to cover the costs of transportation, organised logistics, crowdsourced aid, and opened humanitarian corridors when the full-scale invasion had just erupted. Some clusters survive one year later, others are just fledgling, but the majority had a limited lifespan, despite acting as first responders. Perhaps, during this brief time of reflection, it is worth shifting the conversation to the limitations that curb unconventional but effective humanitarian responses.

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