Charities struggle to deliver humanitarian aid into Ukraine

Volunteers of the civil protection load humanitarian aid onto a truck for the victims affected by the Russian invasion in Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, Thursday, March 3, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 06 March 2022

Charities struggle to deliver humanitarian aid into Ukraine

  • With ports blocked and roads made treacherous by bombings, charities currently can’t send humanitarian aid into Ukraine through normal channels

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the fog of war is extending to those who are trying to help the beleaguered Ukrainians.
With ports blocked and roads made treacherous by bombings, charities currently can’t send humanitarian aid into Ukraine through normal channels, though both countries agreed Thursday to create corridors to allow those donations to be delivered. The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed worry that Russian attacks being carried out in densely populated areas are imperiling children, the sick and the elderly.
Yet the complexities of the conflict haven’t stopped aid from reaching Ukrainians. The United Nations says much of the humanitarian effort are now based in neighboring countries to support roughly 1.4 million Ukrainians who have fled the country, mostly to Poland, Hungary and Romania. But charities are also working to send aid to Ukraine itself.
The scale of need is enormous. On Tuesday, the United Nations issued an appeal for $1.7 billion to help with aid efforts, estimating that 12 million people in Ukraine and 4 million refugees could be in need of relief and protection in the coming months.
Filippo Grandi, chief of the UN refugee agency, said his agency had already received more than $40 million in private donations from individuals and companies.
Many corporations have committed to help. Amazon pledged $5 million to the UN’s refugee agency and other humanitarian organizations and plans to match up to $5 million more in donations made by its employees. Snapchat announced $15 million for humanitarian support. Airbnb offered free housing” to up to 100,000 refugees and is waiving its fees on the grassroots movement of people booking stays in Ukrainian homes, with no plans of using them, to get money quickly into the accounts of hosts. And Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, has pledged $10 million toward aid.
Cryptocurrencies donations themselves have emerged as a leading form of aid. Samuel Bankman-Fried, CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, said his company gave $25 to “each Ukrainian” on FTX.
“Do what you gotta do,” he wrote.
Elliptic, a company that tracks cryptocurrency transactions, said that as of Friday, $56.2 million in digital currencies had been donated to Ukraine’s government and to Come Back Alive, a Ukrainian organization that says it trains and supplies ammunition to Ukraine’s military.
Come Back Alive is set to receive support from a crypto fundraising campaign, Ukraine DAO, that was organized in part by the punk protest group Pussy Riot. The organizer tweeted Wednesday they had raised just over 2,258 ether, equivalent to about $6.7 million.
“This is the first time that we’re seeing sort of a public concerted effort to raise funds to finance an ongoing conflict through cryptocurrency,” said Chris DePow, a regulation and compliance expert at Elliptic.
Inevitably, scammers appear to be trying to profit off the crisis. Elliptic said in a blog post that it had identified crypto fundraising scams that solicited aid for Ukraine.
“If the funds are being raised directly by the government through a publicly announced appeal, or if the funds are being raised through a third-party reputable organization that’s known to be active in this space, that’s probably a safer bet,” DePow said.
As of Wednesday, Meta said, more than $20 million had been raised on its Facebook and Instagram platforms for nonprofits that support humanitarian aid.
Maria Genkin, a board member with the American nonprofit Razom, which was established to help Ukrainians after Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, said her group has generated donations through their Facebook and Instagram fundraisers to send supplies to Poland.
The usual delivery trucks and other shipping methods, Genkin said, have either been halted or made more dangerous by the war. So supporters are building their own system.
“It’s a system of volunteers essentially crowdsourcing delivery,” she said. “There will be a lot of private cars bringing supplies from Warsaw to Lviv.”
Razom says it would prefer that people donate directly to the Ukrainian Armed Forces through an account opened by the National Bank of Ukraine. But Genkin said she recognizes that many nonprofits cannot give directly give to the military because of tax restrictions and that many donors may object to funding another country’s armed forces.
For that reason, Razom will continue to collect donations for humanitarian aid for Ukraine. It also plans to raise awareness for campaigns to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine and upcoming protests, including one Saturday in New York’s Times Square.
“We’re finding a lot of little things that we can do that add up to big things,” Genkin said.
That’s Nova Ukraine’s plan as well. The American nonprofit, which provides humanitarian aid and raises awareness of Ukrainian issues in the United States, initially planned to collect clothing and other aid and ship it to the country. However, with Ukraine’s ports cut off by Russian forces, that is no longer an option. Igor Markov, one of Nova Ukraine’s directors, said the group will work to send what they have collected to Ukrainian refugee camps in neighboring countries, as well as prepare for ongoing refugee support.
Elsewhere in the US, the Jewish organization UJA-Federation of New York spent the past month preparing for different scenarios with its Ukrainian partners, some of whom had been storing two to three months’ worth of food as a precaution. Once the invasion occurred, said Deborah Joselow, the group’s chief planning officer, the federation managed to quickly deploy $3 million in emergency grants to provide humanitarian support and other aid to roughly 200,000 Jews living in Ukraine.
The initial grants are slated to help their partners — at least 15, with many more affiliates — provide food and medicine for the elderly, Holocaust survivors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations. The organization said it’s been receiving inquiries from community activists and others who have taken shelter in bunkers in Odessa and in metro stations across Ukraine.
“They’re scared,” Joselow said. “They’re really, really scared.”

Indian-origin California family kidnapped on Monday found dead - Sheriff

Updated 06 October 2022

Indian-origin California family kidnapped on Monday found dead - Sheriff

  • Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was a suspect in family's deaths and was in custody
  • The victims include an 8-month-old baby, her mother, father and uncle

BENGALURU: Four members of a California family, including an 8-month-old girl, were found dead in a rural area on Wednesday after they were abducted in the city of Merced on Monday, authorities said.

The victims were identified as the baby, Aroohi Dheri, who was abducted along with her mother, Jasleen Kaur, 27, her father, Jasdeep Singh, 36, and the baby’s uncle, Amandeep Singh, 39. Police say the four were abducted on Monday morning from the family’s trucking company in Merced, about 150 miles (240 km) east of San Jose.

“Tonight our worst fears have been confirmed. We found the four people from the kidnapping and they are in fact deceased,” Merced County Sheriff Vernon Warnke said in a media briefing.

Describing the incident as “horribly senseless,” Warnke said that the motivation for the crime was not known yet, adding that they were alerted by a farm worker.

Authorities in Merced County said Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, was a suspect in the family’s deaths and was in custody. They were attempting to speak with Salgado, who was hospitalized after trying to kill himself before being taken into custody, to determine whether another person was involved, Warnke had said during a news conference on Wednesday morning.

“We are devastated. We are shocked. We are dying every moment,” a relative who gave only his first name, Balwinder, said during that news conference.

Warnke said they had notified the family about the deaths.

“We got information from the suspect. We are going to keep that close to our chest at this point, but that suspect has in fact been talking to us,” Warnke said.

Police had shown a surveillance video from outside the trucking company showing a man whose face was obscured by a medical-style mask leading away Jasdeep and Amandeep Singh, then Kaur and her daughter.

Police were alerted to the crime after finding Amandeep Singh’s black 2020 Dodge Ram pickup truck burning on the side of a county road. While investigating, sheriff’s deputies were unable to reach the family and determined they had been abducted, leading them to the trucking business.

Authorities took Salgado into custody after the family’s ATM card was used at a nearby bank. A motive has yet to be determined, the sheriff said.

Death toll in Thailand day-care center mass shooting rises

Updated 29 min 53 sec ago

Death toll in Thailand day-care center mass shooting rises

  • Former policeman Panya Khamrab kills 35 people, including 22 children

BANGKOK: A former policeman killed 35 people on Thursday in a mass shooting at a children’s day-care center in Thailand, with media reporting the gunman later shot and killed himself.

The victims included 22 children as well as adults, police said in a statement.

Police colonel Jakkapat Vijitraithaya from Nong Bua Lam Phu province said the gunman, Panya Khamrab, went home and killed his wife and child after the mass shooting.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha on Thursday ordered an urgent probe after a former police officer murdered more than 30 people, most of them children, in a rampage at a nursery.

“Concerning this horrifying incident... I would like to express my deepest sorrow and condolences to the families of the dead and injured,” Prayut wrote on his official Facebook page, adding that he had told the national police chief to “fast-track an investigation.”

Earlier, police said a manhunt was under way for the shooter, and a government spokesman said the prime minister had alerted all agencies to apprehend the culprit.

Mass shootings are rare in Thailand even though the rate of gun ownership is high compared with some other countries in the region, and illegal weapons are common.

In 2020, a soldier angry over a property deal gone sour killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations.

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

Updated 06 October 2022

Two dead, five missing in strikes on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

  • Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it

KYIV: At least two people died and five others were missing in attacks on Ukraine’s southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, the region’s governor said Thursday, blaming Russia for the strikes.
The Ukrainian-controlled city is located in the eponymous Zaporizhzhia region, also home to the Russian-occupied nuclear plant that has been the site of heavy shelling.
Moscow annexed the region this week, despite not having full control of it.
“One woman died and another person died in an ambulance,” Ukrainian-appointed governor Oleksandr Starukh said on social media.
He added that at least five people were trapped under the rubble following the attacks.
“Many people” were saved in a rescue operation that was still underway, he said.
Earlier, Starukh posted a photo of a collapsed building with smoke still rising from the wreckage.
He said there were seven attacks fired by Russian forces at “high-rise buildings.”
Last week Ukraine said at least 30 people were killed after a convoy of civilian cars in the Zaporizhzhia region was shelled in an attack Kyiv blamed on Moscow.
Putin on Wednesday finalized the annexation of four Ukrainian territories — Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — but the Kremlin is yet to confirm what areas of those regions are being annexed.
Ukraine’s presidency said Thursday that over the past day 14 people were killed in attacks in the Donetsk region.

UN concerned about ‘dramatic collapse’ of Afghan economy

Updated 06 October 2022

UN concerned about ‘dramatic collapse’ of Afghan economy

  • Up to 97% Afghan population now lives below the poverty line, UNDP official says
  • Before Taliban takeover, Afghan economy was already very small, with $20 billion GDP

United Nations: Afghanistan’s formal economy has suffered a “catastrophic collapse” since the Taliban came to power, wiping out in less than a year what had taken 10 years to build, the United Nations said in a report released Wednesday.

Before the Taliban took power in August 2021, the Afghan economy was already very small, with a GDP of about $20 billion.

But in just one year it “lost about $5 billion,” Kanni Wignaraja, director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for Asia and the Pacific, told a news conference.

“That’s about 10 years’ worth of accumulated assets and wealth that just got lost in 10 months,” Wignaraja said. “That kind of dramatic collapse we’ve not seen anywhere in the world.”

While the price of a basic food basket has increased by 35 percent since August 2021, Afghans spend “60 to 70 percent, some of them even 80 percent, of their income, household income, on food and fuel,” she said.

Meanwhile, 95 to 97 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, she said.

That figure is up from a little more than 70 percent just a year ago.

The report paints a bleak picture of the country’s economy, highlighting a collapse of the banking and financial systems, with 700,000 jobs lost by mid-2022, mostly by women, and one in five children at risk of severe malnutrition, particularly in the south.

The collapse of the formal economy has also led to an increase in the importance of the informal economy, which represents 12 to 18 percent of gross domestic product, compared to nine to 14 percent a year ago, the report said.

Abdallah Al Dardari, the UNDP’s resident representative in Afghanistan, said humanitarian assistance alone cannot compensate for the economic collapse, adding that the number of Afghans needing assistance has climbed from 19 million people to 22 million people in just 14 months.

So over the next three years, “we want to create two million jobs through a revival of the private sector, through working with local communities, through focusing on women entrepreneurs,” and by reviving agricultural productivity, micro-finance and banking, he said.

China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

Updated 06 October 2022

China’s vast Xinjiang hit with COVID-19 travel restrictions

  • Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended
  • The humanitarian costs to China’s COVID-19 pandemic approach have grown

BEIJING: Sprawling Xinjiang is the latest Chinese region to be hit with sweeping COVID-19 travel restrictions, as China further ratchets up control measures ahead of a key Communist Party congress later this month.
Trains and buses in and out of the region of 22 million people have been suspended, and passenger numbers on flights have been reduced to 75 percent capacity, reports said Thursday.
A notice from the regional government said the measures were enacted to “strictly prevent the risk of spillover” of the virus but gave no other details.
As is often the case with China’s draconian “zero-COVID” policy, the measures seemed out of proportion to the number of cases detected.
The National Health Commission announced just 93 cases in Xinjiang on Wednesday and 97 on Thursday, all of them asymptomatic. Xinjiang leaders on Tuesday conceded problems with detection and control measures but offered no word on when they planned to lift the restrictions.
Officials are desperate not to be called out for new outbreaks in their regions and Xinjiang has been under special scrutiny over the government’s establishment of a series of prison-like re-education centers in which Muslim minorities have been taught to renounce their religion and allegedly subjected to a range of human rights abuses.
Xinjiang’s vast surveillance system, relying on ubiquitous checkpoints, facial and even voice recognition software, and universal cell phone monitoring has made controlling travel among the population especially easy.
An earlier 40-day lockdown in Xinjiang left many residents complaining on inadequate food supplies.
“Zero-COVID” has been closely identified with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who is expected to receive a third five-year term in office at the congress beginning Oct. 16. That’s despite criticisms from the World Health Organization and massive disruptions to the economy, education and normal life in China.
Last month, a nighttime bus crash that killed 27 people who were being forcefully moved to a mass quarantine location in southwestern China set off a storm of anger online over the harshness of the policy. Survivors said they had been compelled to leave their apartments even when not a single case had been discovered.
“Zero-COVID” has been celebrated by the country’s leaders as evidence of the superiority of their system over the US, which has had more than a million COVID-19 deaths.
Xi has cited China’s approach as a “major strategic success” and evidence of the “significant advantages” of its political system over Western liberal democracies.
Yet even as other countries open up, the humanitarian costs to China’s pandemic approach have grown. With national and some provincial borders closed, tourism has all but dried up and the economy is forecast by the World Bank to grow by an anemic 2.8 percent this year. Xinjiang has been hit especially hard because of sanctions brought against some of its officials and products over human rights concerns.
Even without nationally identified criteria, testing and lockdowns have become the norm for tens of millions of people in China from the North Korean border to the South China Sea, as local officials desperately seek to avoid punishment and criticism.
Earlier this year in Shanghai, desperate residents complained of being unable to get medicines or even groceries during a two-month lockdown, while some died in hospitals from lack of medical care as the city restricted movement. All 26 million city residents in China’s largest city and financial hub have been ordered to undergo two additional days of testing this week, despite the announcement of just 11 new cases Thursday, none of which showed symptoms.