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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #94

I wake up today, much refreshed. A small group of us - all with like minds, I think - are starting something new and special. We are all educated and reflective people, trying to organise the international community’s activities in Ukraine in a more rational and logical direction. We want to rationalise what activities foreign organisations, whether in the private, NGO or public sectors, are doing. There seems to be much better synergy between the members of this small group, as we are all thinkers with professional backgrounds. We are asking ourselves the questions that ought to be asked: how many international NGO’s are there in Ukraine; what connections if any do they have with Ukrainian and foreign governments; what are their sources of funding; are they operating legally (many foreign NGO’s in Ukraine operate entirely outside the scope of Ukrainian law, which is not much good if we are here to promote standards of rule of law yet we do not uphold them ourselves); and so on and so forth. Most importantly, we want to keep track of all the NGO’s and what they are doing; and also of all the volunteers and what they are doing.

We bring to the table things I have not seen much of in the international community in the past: accounts; spreadsheets; work plans; project management tools. Now I feel like I am part of a real management team, and this is the sort of environment I am used to working in: getting people to work together to do things on a larger scale that have lots of effects across the board, rather than just being part of a group of people allotted repetitive manual tasks. The repetitive manual tasks must be done; but they need to be organised well so that the necessarily limited resources allotted to the international community in Ukraine can be better husbanded and used to maximum advantage, and most importantly not overlap with things that Ukrainians can do better themselves.

One of those things, of course, is fighting: given adequate training (and this is an area where the international community must focus its attentions more in bringing skills less available in Ukraine), Ukrainian soldiers are going to be better infantrymen than foreign volunteers. That is because they share a language; they share a culture; they have knowledge of the terrain; and they understand the psychology of their enemy better than we do. They are naturally better soldiers, therefore, defending their own homeland, than the foreign volunteers who wish to do battle beside them, irrespective of their enthusiasm. In my view, those foreign volunteers would better have their enthusiasm channelled in different directions in helping the Ukrainian people rather than becoming medical or public relations liabilities for the Ukrainian government each time one of them is killed or injured.

However I pick fighting as just one of a number of areas in which Ukrainians have the natural advantage over foreigners. There are others, like working in kitchens although many foreigners still do this and it is appreciated. But organising logistics; training on use of medical supplies; rationalising procurement procedures; expertise in specific areas from de-mining to nuclear physics to training in specific military equipment to training Police in European human rights standards (and this is very important even though it might seem a soft skill - it can make a difference to the underlying fabric of society so Ukraine is ready to join the European Union): these are the sorts of things where foreign volunteers can make a real difference.

Also the work of the international community needs to be joined up somehow. Ordinarily this would be done by foreign governments monitoring and liaising with the international NGO community in each case under their purview, and with regular meetings with all the NGO’s to understand what they are doing and how the foreign governments can assist. Also it would be done via international organisations. Unfortunately because Ukraine is at war and the diplomats are largely confined to Kyiv and Lviv and with restrictions on their movements, and often with severely scaled back staff focusing upon consular and Ukrainian government liaison issues, the western embassies may not find time for these activities. Nor are the United Nations, World Bank or other global international institutions playing the role they might in coordinating the activities of the international community in Ukraine. I feel sometimes that the NGO community is, although almost invariably well intentioned, a morass of hydras’ heads each looking and pointing in different directions.

To give one example, I have met recently a range of voluntary organisations, including ones I have been working with, that are focused upon delivery of food aid to rural areas in liberated Kherson Oblast. These various NGO’s are not coordinating with one-another, and there does not seem to be a collective understanding of the military risks of doing this. Every journey into liberated Kherson entails a substantial element of risk, as I discovered for myself earlier in my tour of duty when I was part of a team doing this on a daily basis. I am not sure that there are common security briefings and I am not sure that such aid as is reaching Kherson is being distributed rationally between the various rural communities. I find the efforts of those taking risks to travel to Kherson laudable; but from my own experiences the authorities are clearly nervous about legions of foreigners driving long distances on poor roads to reach rural communities while artillery shells are plopping down in the fields around them. Should foreigners be involved in this sort of activity at all, or should we be leaving it to local Ukrainians? I strongly suspect the latter.

The problem of private fundraising to support humanitarian activities in Ukraine remains critical. I am struggling as I write this just to raise sums in the order of a few hundreds of dollars to deliver essential medical supplies to the front line - and I know quite a lot of wealthy people. Donors’ interest has simply dried up. Governments are still allocating budgets; but they are sending most of their funds to the larger established NGO’s whose on-the-ground operations in Ukraine are extremely limited for the most part - with one or two notable exceptions - because the environment is too insecure and chaotic to pass their security protocols for safe and efficient delivery of aid. If the smaller NGO’s want a piece of the governmental pie, then they will have to pool their resources and show the requisite discipline and adherence to government procedures and formalities in order to obtain government funding. This will entail a substantial loss of independence. But unless and until the NGO community adapts to meet these strictures, it will continue to shrink.

What does this all mean for me? I am being strongly encouraged to leave military theatre, at least for a short time. Maybe it does not matter too much where I am at least for now, because most of the valuable things I can do are sitting behind a desk and making observations of the kinds contained in this essay, as well as planning what my new team has in mind for our future operations. It is another cold day in Lviv, and the winter is coming. I have my routines, and there is work to do. This is a struggle for Euro-Atlantic values in the face of military aggression on the European continent of a kind not seen for almost eighty years. It could be a long war. Whatever my next commitments, I will retain a strong interest in and support for Ukraine and her people.


Here is a sample list of questions for NGO's working, or intending to work, in Ukraine. It seeks to focus upon a lot of detailed administrative, management, legal and personnel issues that may be overlooked by some members of the NGO community seeking to operate more informally. We welcome all comments.


  1. What are your principal anticipated areas of activity?

  2. What are your areas of expertise, that are not available in Ukraine?

  3. How many members of your senior management are Ukrainian, of Ukrainian origin, or have travelled extensively in Ukraine?

  4. How large is your organisation in terms of number of employees and turnover?

  5. What is your anticipated monthly budget?

  6. What is your corporate form, and in which jurisdiction are you incorporated?

  7. Do you anticipate incorporating a subsidiary or associated entity in Ukraine, for example to employ Ukrainian staff, to own vehicles, to rent property, or other activities that require a Ukrainian entity? Do you have access to adequate legal advice?

  8. What is your estimated monthly budget? For how many months are you confident of sustaining funding for your activities based upon this budget estimate?

  9. Do you anticipate bringing your own vehicles into Ukraine? Are you aware of the regulations governing the driving of foreign vehicles into and out of Ukraine? Have you taken legal advice on these issues?

  10. Do you intend to import anything into Ukraine? If so then what? Are you aware of the legal and documentary requirements to do this?

  11. Do you intend to export anything from Ukraine? If so then what? Are you aware of the legal and documentary requirements to do this?

  12. Do you intend employing any people locally and how will you pay them?

  13. Have you familiarised yourself with the immigration rules for foreigners entering Ukraine? Do any of the people you anticipate travelling to Ukraine require a Ukrainian visa from a Ukrainian Embassy or Consulate? (Warning: such visas are not straightforward at the current time.)

  14. Do you anticipate any person from your organisation staying in Ukraine for more than 90 days in any 180 day period? If so then are you familiar with the requirements to apply for a visa and residency from outside the country and do you need assistance with this procedure?

  15. If you anticipate providing material support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, then are you familiar with the legislation of your country and of the countries of the volunteers regulating support to foreign armed forces? Do you need advice on this subject?

  16. Do you anticipate working with any local NGO’s, private entities or government entities in Ukraine? If so then are you already familiar with the relevant contact people or would you like assistance in making these contacts?

  17. Would you like assistance with fundraising, in particular in connection with applications for grants from private or public fund sources?

  18. Do you need advice on where to find Ukrainian employees?


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