Copyright © 2024

The work of Euromaidan Press is supported by the International Renaissance Foundation

When referencing our materials, please include an active hyperlink to the Euromaidan Press material and a maximum 500-character extract of the story. To reprint anything longer, written permission must be acquired from [email protected].

Privacy and Cookie Policies.

From neutrality to solidarity: International organizations need to rethink their aid to Ukraine

neutrality humanitarian aid to Ukraine
A first aid worker stands near a burning depot of humanitarian aid belonging to Red Cross Ukraine which was hit in a Russian missile strike on 8 May 2023. Credit: press service of Ukraine’s Red Cross Society
From neutrality to solidarity: International organizations need to rethink their aid to Ukraine
Article by: Daria Rybalchenko
The well-intentioned principle of neutrality of international humanitarian aid organizations serves to prolong Russia’s war and causes active harm to civilians in Ukraine, says a leading philanthropist developer fighting for change.

We hear it again and again from international aid organizations operating in Ukraine.

“We cannot support your military.”

“The principle of neutrality is at the core of our work.”

“We cannot compromise our neutrality by allowing our help to reach your soldiers.”

But how do you separate the army from the people in Ukraine? How do you properly help a nation that is facing total war from an enemy that does not discriminate between military and civilian targets?

The principle of neutrality is not working for us in Ukraine. Quite the opposite. International humanitarian actors need to reconsider their approach, urgently.

Since the war first started here back in 2014, Ukraine’s own non-governmental institutions – its charities, NGOs, and humanitarian groups – began supporting the war effort, realizing the country was facing an existential threat.

Since last year, that threat has only intensified. This is a question of national survival, and every Ukrainian realizes that. So why won’t the international community help us?

Take, for example, a small charity called the Ridnia Community Foundation in Stryi, western Ukraine. Sixty percent of the projects it funds involve supporting the military – from organizing sewing shops to make warm uniforms to cooking instant borscht for Ukrainian front-line soldiers. The local population supports this work because they understand that they’re helping to bring victory and end the humanitarian crisis.

humanitarian aid to ukraine neutrality
Cooking energy bars for the military by volunteers in Stryi. The project was supported with small grants for products by Ridniya Community Foundation. June 2022. Credit:

The Global Fund for Community Foundations made a small grant ($16,000) to the Ridnia Community Foundation to support its program of community grants, ranging in size from $200 to $1,500. However, most big international donors won’t touch this kind of work, even though local groups now comprise 60% of all the 700 humanitarian groups currently active in Ukraine.

Sewing shop supported with a small grant by Ridnia Community Foundation. June 2022. Credit:

It’s the same problem with medical assistance. How, in practical terms, do you distinguish between supporting civilians and the military in the Donbas, where most of those fighting are newly-recruited civilian volunteers, and the frontlines encompass towns and even cities still full of civilians who require the same emergency medical aid as the soldiers living alongside them?

“Frequently, civilians come under artillery fire, and we, the military, always use our medical supplies to try to save their lives. I remember in October, in Kharkiv Oblast, when a tank shell hit a building, and we saved a person’s life,” said Vladyslav Stoyka, a 20-year-old medical student who joined the military last year. His combat team also routinely helps civilians with flu medicine, first aid, and treatment for chronic illnesses.

Vlad’s unit gets some support from Razom for Ukraine, a US-based fund. But most military medics have no such assistance from humanitarian organizations.

RAZOM for Ukraine delivered individual medical kits IFAK to Vladyslav Stoyka. October 2022. Source: FB page of Vladyslav Stoyka

We understand why. Humanitarian groups fear that they may be targeted by armed groups if they’re seen to be taking sides. It’s a legitimate concern in many conflicts. But not in Ukraine, not anymore. Not when the Russian military has already made it abundantly clear that it has zero respect for international humanitarian standards and rules.

The Russian military routinely attacks residential areas, destroying hospitals and humanitarian supplies. The evidence is overwhelming. Eight rockets hit an aid warehouse in Kramatorsk. UN convoys were fired upon in Kharkiv. A Red Cross building was attacked in Kherson. Most recently, an ambulance was hit near Bakhmut, killing Global Response Medicine medic volunteer Pete Reed.

Consequences of the Russian shelling of Kharkiv, 18 October 2022. Photo: Suspilne Kharkiv

And there are so many more examples which international humanitarian representatives keep quiet about – including hostage taking, and the use, by Russia, of aid workers as human shields.

We, representatives of Ukrainian civil society, are calling for an honest debate about the way forward in our relationships with international donors and organizations.

We have seen how the West has gradually moved its red lines regarding military support. Those same lines need to move in the humanitarian field.

We believe the principle of neutrality is causing active harm to civilians in our country. Yes, our army should lead the way in terms of looking after its soldiers. But these are extraordinary times: our military is stretched to the limit and largely indistinguishable from the society around it.

It is time to put saving lives first and prioritize getting international aid to those places on the frontlines where it is needed most urgently. Otherwise, we fear, the well-intentioned principle of neutrality will only serve to extend the war and deepen Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis.

Daria Rybalchenko is the Head of the Ukrainian philanthropic organization National Network of Local Philanthropy Development. Together with the team and movement #ShiftThePower, they started an advocacy campaign for localization resources in Ukraine. In 2022 they published an open letter to INGO and donors with requests to cut bureaucracy, move from neutrality to solidarity, amplify the voice of locals, and gain equal partnership. Daria can be reached by [email protected] or on FB.

You could close this page. Or you could join our community and help us produce more materials like this.  We keep our reporting open and accessible to everyone because we believe in the power of free information. This is why our small, cost-effective team depends on the support of readers like you to bring deliver timely news, quality analysis, and on-the-ground reports about Russia's war against Ukraine and Ukraine's struggle to build a democratic society. A little bit goes a long way: for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, you can help build bridges between Ukraine and the rest of the world, plus become a co-creator and vote for topics we should cover next. Become a patron or see other ways to support. Become a Patron!

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here

You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Please leave your suggestions or corrections here

    Will the West continue to support Ukraine?
    • Know what moves the world.
    • Premium journalism from across Europe.
    • Tailored to your needs, translated into English.
    Special discount
    for Euromaidan Press readers
    Euromaidan Press

    We are an independent media outlet that relies solely on advertising revenue to sustain itself. We do not endorse or promote any products or services for financial gain. Therefore, we kindly ask for your support by disabling your ad blocker. Your assistance helps us continue providing quality content. Thank you!