Localizing Aid in Ukraine: Perspectives from Ukrainian Humanitarians in Odesa, Lviv, Zaporizhia, and Dnipro

Localizing the humanitarian aid response in Ukraine is not just the smart thing to do—but done well, it could help inform more effective delivery of aid globally. Refugees International is calling for urgent actions by donors, international NGOs, and UN agencies to put more aid directly into the hands of Ukrainians. Failing to do so is a significant missed opportunity.

To advance this work, Refugees International has partnered with a range of Ukrainian and international organizations to form a Sub-Cluster on Localization within the Ukraine Advocacy Working Group, the main meeting point for international and Ukrainian NGO advocacy managers. Refugees International Consultant Nicholas Noe traveled to Ukraine from November 28 to December 8 to co-chair two workshops on the localization agenda with People in Need, Caritas Ukraine, and Oxfam. The workshops took place in Odesa on December 1 and Lviv on December 6 and built upon two other meetings in Dnipro and Zaporizhia in November that were originally designed as a part of a scoping exercise commissioned by the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

The convenings aimed to gauge Ukrainian perspectives on humanitarian partnerships with international organizations since the Russian invasion in February 2022; understand what changes Ukrainians believe should be made to improve partnerships and the flow of aid to those who need it most; and outline what localization entails, the commitments made in these regards, and how humanitarian principles are supposed to function in conflicts.

In all, over 120 individuals and organizations joined the four workshops, with Ukrainians sharing their experiences and recommendations. Read the findings of the meetings here.

What do Ukrainians think about international humanitarian support for their country?

Ukrainians are steadily mobilizing themselves to take greater control and exercise more say in the conduct of humanitarian aid in their own country. Whether because of the exhaustion of local funds and volunteers or because of the evidently large influx of foreign aid and requests for partnerships, Ukrainian organizations appear to be increasingly demanding fair and equitable partnerships, greater access to resources, more say in where and how aid is distributed and flexibility when it comes to often complicated partnership requirements.

Leaders like Dmytro Kondratenko, who conducted the DEC scoping exercise in October and November, make a compelling case for the need to localize aid:

Kondratenko also highlights potential solutions to make aid more flexible:

The obstacles are particularly significant for smaller Ukrainian NGOs. Olesya Balyan of Caritas Ukraine shared more:

Ukrainian humanitarians like Daria Rybalchenko, who chairs the National Network of Local Philanthropy Development, see the importance of the localization agenda not just in Ukraine but as a wider global movement:

Although still unsatisfactory, big international donors at least may finally be listening to Ukrainians and international humanitarians seeking change. On December 13, more than a dozen donors issued the most specific call to date for localizing aid in Ukraine at the conclusion of the International Conference “Standing with the Ukrainian People” in Paris. Now they must walk the talk.

COVER PHOTO CAPTION: Para-athlete Oleg Kapinus, 48, receives food items during an aid distribution in Kharkiv on September 27, 2022. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)