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Swiss fundraising effort creates tensions with Ukraine

Ukrainians receive humanitarian aid from the Worldwide Food Program (WFP) at a school building damaged by recent shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, July 15, 2022. Keystone / Sergey Kozlov

The humanitarian charity Swiss Solidarity raised CHF126 million ($132.4 million) to help Ukrainian refugees and support local journalists. But Ukrainian authorities say they have yet to receive anything and appear to be getting impatient.

The foundation explains it works on a long-term basis and finances concrete projects with the help of Swiss and local NGOs. The Ukrainian ambassador aired his country’s grievances over this matter in an interview with Swiss public broadcaster RTS.

“We want Ukrainians who have fled to be able to return to their country as soon as possible, so that they can go to the hospital, to the pharmacy, to buy medicines in cities that are in ruins. And they can’t wait two or five years, it must be now”, said Artem Rybchenko.

Swiss Solidarity confirmed to RTS that it recently received a reproaching letter over the issue and says it is in contact with the ambassador. But the director of the foundation, Miren Bengoa, defends herself and assures that the organisation, through its partners, has already invested CHF15 million from the funds raised.

Dozens of projects underway

More than 629,000 people have already received the help and protection they need during the conflict, according to Swiss Solidarity. Thirteen of these projects are currently underway in Ukraine, 11 in neighboring countries such as Poland and Moldova, and ten more in Switzerland.

“These are projects of medical aid, distribution of direct funding for families,” Bengoa said in a Saturday evening programme broadcast on RTS. “We will soon begin a reflection around improving living conditions, especially in anticipation of winter.”

No support for war effort

Ukraine would like the donations collected to be invested in the reconstruction project “United2024” that President Volodymyr Zelensky presented at the Lugano conference earlier this month.

But this fund, to which the participants in the Ukraine Recovery Conference will contribute, fits into to the country’s broader war effort. The fund rests on three pillars, the first of which is money earmarked for defence and demining. For Swiss Solidarity, it is out of the question to pay money into a fund that would finance military activities of any kind.

Since its creation in 1946, Swiss Solidarity has worked with private humanitarian organisations. In Senegal, for example, it works for the education of children alongside the Red Cross and the association Save the Children. These partnerships allow it to be practically and financially independent from local governments. That independence is especially important in a conflict zone.

“We are an independent charitable organisation, a public service foundation,” stressed Bengoa. “We do not have the means to work through a state body and we can guarantee the independence of this humanitarian assistance.

The charity says CHF111 million remain available for Ukraine-related projects. Swiss Solidarity expects this funding will be used within the next five years.

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

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SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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