Saints and the Occasional Scammer: The Humanitarian Side of the War in Ukraine

I am writing this as I sit on the floor of a train station in a Polish border town called Przemysl. All the hotels are booked because of the humanitarian workers living here. Przemysl is a jump off point for many going into Ukraine and the humanitarian workers who don’t go into the country stay in border towns like this one. They coordinate supplies going in. It seems poetic to write an article on the humanitarian effort of this war while here.

Ukrainian refugees in the Przemysl train station.

Since going to Ukraine I have spent a lot of my time with humanitarian workers. The ones I have met are truly selfless people attempting to do honest good. Although they all have the same goal of helping, they don’t all have the same motivations. The ones that are in the small towns lining the border are generally young kids in their twenties. I have heard them talk about wanting to do something meaningful. They seem to be disillusioned with the monotony the west provides through its comfort. It’s interesting that they are attracted to this. In their home countries they could spend their time building lives, wealth, and families. On the surface it does not make sense. But once you get to know these people you begin to understand that they believe they are doing something real. They want to have their actions be meaningful. This is why they sacrifice for a stranger. While their friends occupy themselves with a day to day of pleasure seeking, they occupy themselves with coordinating supply movements or handing out food to Ukrainians who just crossed the border.


Then there are the Ukrainian citizens who are volunteering in their own country. Most of them are in safer cities such as Kyiv or Lviv but some of them ride along the frontlines and deliver supplies to remote villages. These people are the cowboys of the humanitarian workers. They are willing to go to some of the most heavily contested areas to donate to their fellow citizens. I have been with them as they pass out boxes of macaroni while Russians and Ukrainians fight around them. They work while the artillery slams down which is deeply frightening. Artillery is like spinning a roulette wheel. Where it lands is out of your control, and you can only hope for the best outcome.

Ukrainian volunteers handing out supplies in a town that was being actively contested.

Then there is the occasional individual who sees this crisis as an opportunity for financial gain rather than one to help people in their time of most need. It’s sad but also to be expected. This is why many humanitarian organizations are cautious with their supplies. But a large issue right now is that these organizations are sometimes “tossing” things over the border and hoping their donations make it to where they are needed.


However, from what I have been hearing, most of the military and humanitarian aid isn’t making it past Kyiv. This is a huge issue as the fighting is now incredibly concentrated in the east and south. The need for aid is greatest in these areas but the majority of things sent into Ukraine passes through too many hands for it to make where it is actually needed.

Chase Baker
Chase Baker
Chase is a seasoned journalist and former resident of Iraqi Kurdistan. With a background in English and Philosophy from the College of Charleston, Chase covered the 2022 conflict in eastern Ukraine, including cities like Kharkiv, Bakhmut, and Kramatorsk. He has also produced short documentaries in Ukraine and the U.S., and has been with Atlas for three years.


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