Ukraine - how to help

Ukraine - how to help

On February 24, 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine. This is a full-blown war. In a war, charities have a limited role to be effective. A war is different from a natural disaster like an earthquake. An earthquake happens and is over. It is safe for charities to help people recover. In an ongoing war, this is not the case. Ukraine's needs are also different. Firepower and financial sanctions are the domain of governments, not charities.

May 28, 2022 3 month update: To date, Ukrainian Red Cross has only received 1.3% of the total Red Cross funding. Learn more.

As a disaster response is entirely different from charities' development programs, war is a whole different realm entirely. Charities provide humanitarian needs. Most charities are impartial. It is unclear which charities are working in Ukraine or in neighbouring countries like Poland and Romania, and what they are doing.   

For donors, you want your giving to get as close to Ukraine as possible, as quickly as possible. You don’t want your donation sitting in a Canadian bank account two years from now.

The charity appeals ask for donations now, to save lives now. Yet this is in contrast to a strong trend across the emergency response sector to stagger emergency aid over many years, sometimes lasting more than five years. Fast aid is far more effective than aid given in five years. For example, shelter provided today provides more good than shelter provided five years from now. Be wary of charity appeals that include wording like “long term rebuiliding” or “development”. Ukraine needs humanitarian aid now.

3 Donating Tips:

1. Use secure websites to make credit card transactions. We recommend CanadaHelps or PayPal Giving Fund. CBC reports fundraising scams, or “war profiteering”, from the Ukraine war. We too have been notified of credit card scams.

2. Also make a larger one-time donation to get aid there faster, rather than smaller monthly donations.

3. Cash not stuff. On social media people are posting shopping lists to buy supplies to take to Ukraine. Logistics are challenging in Ukraine. Most of these supplies will likely not make it to the region or end up in landfills. Without humanitarian corridors or a ceasefire, getting aid into Ukraine is nearly impossible as ports are blockaded and roads are bombed. It is not safe for humanitarian aid staff to deploy.


Key Take Away: 

While there is much focus on Ukrainian refugees, it is the needs of people inside Ukraine where we see support doing the most good. The +3 million refugees who have left Ukraine are exhausted and distressed. But they are safe in Europe.

It is the 41 million people in Ukraine where we see support critically needed. There are twice as many, an estimated 6-7 million Ukrainians, that are refugees inside Ukraine. They have left the war regions for relative safety in Western Ukraine. We recommend giving financial support to charities inside Ukraine like Ukrainian Red Cross, MSF/Doctors Without Borders. We are also exploring how Canadians can give to Caritas Ukraine. 

Charities to choose from

Donate here to Canada-Ukraine Foundation appeal. In a CBC Toronto Metro Morning interview on February 28, it provided clear facts: it isn’t possible to send containers and shipments into Ukraine. The charity is raising donations to buy food and blankets inside Kyiv to distribute. A donation today will be distributed in 7 days. Canada-Ukraine Foundation has funding reserves of $1.6 million and hopes to raise $5 million.

Update March 17, 2022: $17 million raised with $5 million (29%) in aid delivered to heavily shelled areas in north and east Ukraine. Aid also distributed to neighbouring countries to support displaced families. Future aid will follow as prior deliveries of support are monitored and needs evolve. 

Doctors Without Borders/MSF Canada is typically our go-to top pick with the best track record in speed, effectiveness and reporting. Medical supplies and medical support are the evidence-based, proven highest impact response. As of March 3, 2022 MSF's Ukrainian operations are based out of the relatively calm city of Lviv in Western Ukraine. It is co-ordinating with Ukrainian hospitals to assess their needs, restock medical supplies, especially surgical supplies to deal with mass casualties that are running low. Supplies are being trucked in and distributed across Ukraine. For more information, CBC The Current's interview (starts at 34:30.)

Please note that MSF’s policy is not to raise money for a specific appeal. Donations will be used for all of MSF’s work. That said, looking back over prior crises, MSF spends more on disaster response than other charities which have special emergency appeals.

April 6, 2022: While respecting neutrality, Doctors Without Borders testifies Ukrainian hospitals are bombed by Russia which is against the Geneva Convention. Also Canadian pediatrician and former head of Doctors Without Borders worldwide, Dr. Joann Liu, is deployed in Ukraine to help transfer critically injured children from southeastern Ukraine.  

Ukrainian Red Cross: To ensure your support gets into Ukraine, you can donate directly to Ukrainian Red Cross. This is not a Canadian registered charity and you will NOT get a tax receipt. Its donations are processed by Swiss Red Cross. Inside Ukraine, Ukrainian Red Cross is mobilizing volunteers and resources, collecting blood and helping those affected by the conflict. It is providing food, blankets and medical care in the subway station-bomb shelters in Kyiv. Ukrainian Red Crosses heroic work in the Maiden protests are featured in Netflix's documentary Winter on Fire. It's battle-tested and proven.

The International Committee of Red Cross is also supporting Ukrainian Red Cross with medicines and equipment, food and hygiene items for families.

Most people don't know that each Red Cross is an independent charity, and donations are not necessarily shared between them. For example, in Canadian Red Cross's most recent filings for its international spending in F2021 (March year end), of its $34.4 million spent with other Red Cross partners, $30,000 was allocated to the International Federation of Red Cross Societies for work in Ukraine. These transfers are important to track going forward.


Charity Intelligence in the News:

CBC News 5 Things to Consider When Donating to Ukraine, March 5, 2022

Radio interview with CBC Halifax (8 minutes) March 10, 2022

Talking with Humble and Fred March 17, 2022


What's going on? 

Canadians and donors around the world with governments have contributed more than C$850 million to Red Cross Ukraine appeals. Globe and Mail's Paul Waldie reports from Kiev that Ukrainian Red Cross is in "desperate need" of supplies.

As of March 28, Ukrainian Red Cross has only received $2.5 million in transfers from Red Cross members. We're waiting for an interview with Canadian Red Cross and will update.


Canadian Red Cross: Donations now surpass $119 million including the Government of Canada's match of $30 million to Ukraine appeal. (This match is fulfilled). Historically in wars, Red Cross supports prisoners of war, ensuring international codes of conduct, providing letters and food parcels. 

Update March 17: Canadian Red Cross has committed $45 million to the International Red Cross response. In addition, Canadian Red Cross has sent 9 humanitarian experts who are based in Hungary, along with emergency supplies like blankets, tarps and cooking supplies.

Update March 23: Ukrainian Ambassador to the European Union, Chentsov, calls on the Red Cross, that has received millions in donations, to use this money to help Ukrainians now, not in one year. 

Update March 29: Canadian Red Cross has already contributed $82.5 million (69% of all funds raised) to the international Red Cross response with approximately 2/3rds (~$54 million) going to support people in Ukraine and 1/3rd (~$28 million) to help Ukrainian refugees in surrounding countries. Nine Canadian Red Cross experts are mobilized to support in the response areas, like Hungary.

Here’s Canadian Red Cross’s appeal statement:

“Money raised will enable Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to respond to

  • humanitarian needs generated by almost eight years of conflict, as well as
  • preparedness and response efforts due to heightened tensions in Ukraine
  • The support could include:
    • preparedness
    • immediate and ongoing relief efforts
    • long-term recovery
    • resiliency
    • other critical humanitarian activities as needs arise, both in Ukraine and surrounding countries.”

This is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink statement – the money can go to pretty much anything over any time frame. The time has passed for Ukraine to “prepare” for conflict and the statement also includes “long-term recovery”. Let’s pray that a ceasefire comes soon but, in the meantime, the priority should be immediate efforts. More information and clear details of spending will be appreciated.




Refugee support

Update March 22, 2022: An estimated 3.6 million Ukrainians have left Ukraine and are now refugees. Most, 2.1 million or 59%, have left through Poland, with Romania and Moldova receiving the next largest influx. Polish Red Cross and Romanian Red Cross will likely be the frontline responders supported by the International Red Cross. (Source: UNHCR Ukraine situation portal for updates.)

Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine's population was 44 million. So far, 8% have fled. For context, there were 6.8 million Syrian refugees during its ongoing civil war, about 35% of its pre-war population. (source Justine Spike, Associated Press, February 28, 2022) Watching news reports, it is local citizens rather than charities who are providing food and hot drinks to arriving refugees. European citizens have opened their arms and homes to support these refugees. This is incredible. The border areas appear to have many of their humanitarian needs met.



Children's charities 

Many international children’s charities are also fundraising. We feel that in war, yes children are vulnerable, but all people need humanitarian aid. Parents need help to care for their children. The elderly need care too. We focus on charities that help all people rather than a focus on children.

Plan International Canada's response is mobilized to support Ukrainian refugees at the borders of Poland, Moldova and Romania to provide shelter, food, water, psycho-social support, safe spaces for children, and protective services for girls at risk. "It is vitally important that we act as quickly as possible."

Plan International and other international development charities are coordinating their appeals for the Ukraine response through the Humanitarian Coalition

Save the Children Canada's statement: “Children in Ukraine are caught in the crossfire of an adult war. They need our help. Save the Children stands ready to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to children and their families in the region.” Save the Children is scaling up to distribute winter kits and hygiene kits, providing cash grants to families so they can meet basic needs like food, rent and medicine as well as support to children to overcome the mental and psychological impact of conflict.

World Vision Canada: its Romanian office will be responding and providing relief to children and families fleeing Ukraine. In past disaster responses, World Vision has a good track record with quick support, high cash distributions and meeting needs. Yet this is a full-out war rather than a natural disaster response.

Other charities you have asked about: 

Help Age Canada spent $32,000 in Ukraine last year distributing 1,000 boxes to vulnerable and isolated seniors in the Eastern Ukraine conflict area. This is 2% of its total spending. Help Age International is supporting 4,800 people. 

Samaritan’s Purse Canada is a US-based evangelical Christian charity. It has deployed disaster response specialists to Poland and Romania to do rapid needs assessments. It has set up a 60-bed field hospital outside of Lviv in Ukraine. Ukraine hospitals outside of the South and East conflict zones are fully functional. 

BCU Foundation is a private Canadian foundation that has donor-advised funds. It is handling transactions for Friends of Ukraine Defense Forces organized by League of Ukrainian Canadians. “Since 2014, Friends of Ukraine Defense Forces (FUDF) have provided humanitarian aid and non-lethal assistance to Ukraine’s courageous soldiers, volunteers and families of fallen heroes. Over $2.5 million has been raised to support Homeland Defense – Terytorialna Oborona and its mission to protect territorial sovereignty of Ukraine." Yet it is confusing that BCU Foundation doesn’t report any previous international work

Animal charities

Many emails from donors asking how to help pets and animals in Ukraine. We have no knowledge of these charities or groups nor have we seen their work in previous disasters. An email from a Dr. Hardy recommends the Canadian charity Veterinarians Without Borders (its website had no information about its Ukrainian crisis work) and there's another Ukrainian animal rights group, UAnimals, that says it is distributing pet food inside Ukraine and helping evacuate animals. 

Charity Intelligence's star ratings on charities have limited relevance for the Ukraine response. For example, a Canadian local charity may have a 5-star rating but its expertise would not be applicable to Ukraine's urgent needs. 

If you have any comments or questions, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Other non-charity options to support Ukraine:

One can also send money directly to the Ukraine government through the National Bank of Ukraine. Canadian banks have waived all wire transfer fees on this support. Kyiv Independent lists other options to help Ukraine.

Many questions about AirBnB: People around the world are using AirBnB’s platform to give money to people in Ukraine. This is an innovative way to make direct cash payments. Extensive evidence shows cash with no strings attached works as good if not better than charity programs in development (source USAID and GiveDirectly). Cash transfers were used to deliver aid in the Fort McMurray fires here in Canada. This gets support into Ukraine quickly. Cash transfers are dependent upon markets functioning, i.e., people can use the money to buy food, medical needs, transport. 

UNHCR Canada Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds' $1 million match donation to UNHCR caused confusion on Twitter. This match is for donations to USA UNHCR, an American charity. Canadian donations to UNHCR are not matched. And some Canadians on Twitter seem to feel that a donation to Canadian Red Cross is the same as a donation to UNHCR. These are different organizations that do different programs.

UNHCR's Ukraine Emergency Response: UNHCR is a UN agency that operates with a $9.2 billion annual budget. It is mostly supported by governments rather than individual donations. UNHCR Canada is not a registered charity. We have no information about its finances or its results (see our report on UNHCR Canada for more information.) But as a UN agency, support receives a tax receipt. UNHCR will handle the refugee resettlement process as it did in the Syrian war.

UNHCR is launching a cash program to help internally-displaced people inside Ukraine who have taken refuge in the Western region. It aims to provide cash to 360,000 people in this first round. In Eastern Ukraine, UNHCR trucks delivered tarps, blankets, mattresses and jerry cans to 5,400 people, and core relief items to 2,000 people in Suny. In Donetsk and Luhansik, emergency shelter support (tarps, blankets) were delivered to 5,000 people. (Source UNHCR Response in Ukraine)

The Guardian's March 27, 2022 article is dire: Lviv's deputy mayor Serhiy Kiral says it took weeks to get through to the UNHCR just to find the person to talk with. "We laid out what we need like humanitarian aid, food, etc. There were lots of promises and commitments...up till today, nothing is happening."


Canadian Government response

Support to Canadian charities for Ukraine appeals:

  • $30 million matching donations to Canadian Red Cross
  • $15 million in humanitarian aid funding in 2022 to assist “experienced charity partners” on the ground respond to humanitarian needs in Ukraine as they evolve – emergency health services, WASH, shelter and food aid
  • $35 million in development funding – international development – to partner organizations in Ukraine that are well placed to scale up programs. This will likely be the big humanitarian aid charities, like Canadian Red Cross, Save the Children, UNICEF, Plan Canada

This split of $15 million in humanitarian aid (30%) and $35 million in development funding (70%) has raised ire in the Canadian Ukraine community that calls for a more short-term weighting with more aid funding now.

Support to the Ukraine government: Loans to the Ukraine government of up to $620 million through lending and also $6 million in technical assistance grants.

Since 2015, 250 Canadian Armed Forces personnel training Ukraine forces. On February 14, 2022 the Government of Canada announced $7 million in military support to Ukraine.

To have the greatest effect, Canada is coordinating with the European Union and the US. It is taking the lead on pressing the claim of war crimes to the International Court of Justice. Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, was the lead on the economic blockade of Russian banks with the SWIFT ban. For more information, the Globe and Mail's Robert Fife gives a walkthrough in this podcast

We will be updating this page. Follow on Twitter @CharityCanada 


How we make our picks: disaster response research since 2010

Charity Intelligence has followed charity disaster appeals since 2010. We assess and analyse the charity's updates at 6 months, 1 year, 2 year, and 3 year. These donor reports tell how much money was raised in the appeal, when it was spent, what it was spent on, who it helped and other information. We compare which charity did what. We also use external research on disaster responses, like Ground Truth Solution's surveys on those affected, what their needs are and which charity was most responsive.

For example, here's our 2018 report on Nepal's 2015 Earthquake disaster response. 

Too few donors evaluate disaster or emergency appeals. With scant donor interest in reading progress reports, charities perhaps see little need in reporting back. We urge all donors to expect accountability of the charities they support and ask how the charity spent its support. As more Canadians do this follow-up, charity reporting should improve and there will be better accountability. Aid will be faster and better, ultimately helping those in a crisis.


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