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The Russian-Ukraine war is a horrific crisis that has shocked the international community. It’s driven many of us in England to reflect on how we can support Ukraine and those fleeing the country.
At the start of the war, we outlined the ways charities and the public can help Ukraine. The Mobilising UK Voluntary Action (MVA) project explored voluntary action responses to the pandemic across the UK. Through the project, we explored how best the public can be mobilised, and how their energy and time can be channelled towards a shared goal.
As the government launches Homes for Ukraine – a scheme matching Ukrainian nationals with hosts in the UK – it provides an opportunity to build on learnings from the covid-19 pandemic and the MVA project.
The speed and scale of the response from potential volunteers themselves aren’t always matched with the development of large-scale national programmes, particularly ones as complex as the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
National programmes and policy responses developed in partnership with the voluntary sector are stronger, more effective and responsive, and are quicker to establish. We’re pleased that the government is proactively engaging specialist and infrastructure organisations right now to do this.
Where different sectors had collaborated during emergencies previously, the response to covid-19 was better. Building on the resource and capacity already established helps charities and volunteers to play their crucial role in crisis response quickly and more successfully. Our research showed that, for many, relationships between local authorities and charities improved through covid-19.
Establishing and maintaining a frequent dialogue with potential volunteers is essential. Where safeguarding checks, vetting and the matching process may take some time, it’s crucial we keep those who have signed up for the scheme updated and involved.
It can be tempting not to communicate until there’s a set of actions that volunteers can take immediately. However, we strongly encourage communications to be maintained on a regular basis, to make sure volunteers feel connected to the process and continue to want to be involved. We can’t underestimate how important a simple email can be in keeping people engaged and motivated.
For the response to be most effective, government at differing levels need to understand the role charities and volunteers can play, build relationships and work in partnership wherever possible.
Charities and volunteers are well established in and between communities and can carry out a range of activities to support the settlement and support of refugees. This can include:
The generosity of the 200,000 people who have already signed up to the scheme is clear. But we must be under no illusion about the complexity and seriousness of the ask being made.
Those in Ukraine will have experienced atrocities and trauma and will need immediate and long-term support. Both hosts and those housed under this scheme will need clear, accessible and coordinated support into the future.
Financial support is clearly necessary to enable a wide range of people to support refugees in their homes, and wider integrated support will need to be established and maintained. Charities will play a vital role in ensuring that financial and other support is coordinated and directed to refugees on a local level.
Schemes like Homes for Ukraine take an enormous effort from government at differing levels, charities and voluntary organisations, and wider social infrastructure.
While the development of these schemes can build on elements and learning from previous crises, such as the Afghanistan evacuation and Syrian civil war, each crisis is unique and requires a tailored response.
Charities and volunteers – in the UK, Ukraine and in border states – will be a vital part of the war effort. People want to do everything they can to help others in their time of need.
The public are incredibly generous and respond quickly and compassionately to major crises. We saw this in the sheer levels of sign ups to the NHS Volunteer Responders programme, the thousands of volunteers that helped with vaccination and the fact that over 200,000 people have signed up to the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
We can be proud of our response so far, but we must learn the lessons from prior emergencies and build the structures and systems needed to direct that goodwill in an effective way.