We met with Marta Barandiy, founder of the Belgian NGO Promote Ukraine, in the European Quarter of Brussels, in the spacious office of the Ukrainian Civil Society Hub, provided to the organisation by the European Parliament. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola handed over the keys to this office, which occupies the entire floor of one of the European Parliament’s buildings, to Marta Barandiy during a solemn ceremony (Inauguration of the Ukrainian Civil Society Hub – official press release of the European Parliament).
Ms. Barandiy, how did it happen that Promote Ukraine got the keys to Station Europe, the European Parliament’s building?
When the large-scale war broke out, Promote Ukraine was the organisation with about a hundred activists. At that time, we had the history, the brand, and the infrastructure in place to ensure communication and support volunteers with all the necessary resources. However, we did not have a permanent location for meetings and work of a large number of people, and such a location was necessary for the rapid exchange of information, which was crucial to responding to Russian aggression. So, on 25 February, we sent a letter to Roberta Metsola, the President of the European Parliament, with a request to provide premises for activists to work. Ms. Metsola immediately supported the initiative and personally agreed with all structural divisions of this institution on providing the office to us. And on 17 March, Promote Ukraine got the symbolic key to this building.
You mentioned that Promote Ukraine had set itself primarily informational goals since it was founded. Are you engaged in volunteer activity? How are the informational and volunteer components of Promote Ukraine related?
Indeed, informational work is at the core of our activity. We have an information and news site, publish the Brussels Ukraїna Review magazine in several languages, and have accounts on social media sites. We constantly communicate with leading politicians in Europe and Ukraine, often acting as a “bridge.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine on a full scale on 24 February, we simply could not stand aside. It is obvious that we had an extensive network of influential contacts that could be used to collect humanitarian aid to further transfer it to the military. This is one of our advantages, which we began to use from the very first day of the Russian invasion. As a result, our purely informational functions were supplemented with the collection and distribution of humanitarian aid, primarily for the Ukrainian army.
Can you tell us about the day when a decision was made within the organisation to deal with humanitarian deliveries for the Ukrainian army?
When Russia hit Ukraine with its first missiles on the morning of 24 February, Ukrainian activists in Brussels began to write to each other in messengers, trying to find answers to dozens of questions. We quickly realised that it is impossible to solve everything through messengers, and we needed to meet in person to exchange information and communicate effectively.
When we gathered in our office together with the volunteers, we realised that not everyone even knew each other. So, everything was chaotic at first. Everyone took on various tasks, and there were a lot of them, as you can understand. However, during these six months, we have become a real family. Since 24 February, our team has increased many times. Currently, more than 120 volunteers are involved in the activities of Promote Ukraine, of which 40 work permanently. We have structured all the work, separated it into several areas, which are taken care of by specialised working groups. One of these working groups is a humanitarian one, engaged in assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
How is the work of the mentioned humanitarian working group, which ensures the fulfillment of orders for the military, structured?
We receive requests from Ukraine through various channels, mainly for protective equipment and medicine for our military. We process these requests: we analyse them, conduct fundraising campaigns, cooperate with various partners who transfer money to us and look for the necessary equipment throughout Europe. When we find it, we organise the logistics, and send it to all the “hot spots” across Ukraine. The military always sends us photo and video reports, confirms that they have received everything, and provides acts of reception.
What do you send the military most often?
Most often, these are bulletproof vests, plates, load-bearing vests, helmets, tactical glasses, active headphones, walkie-talkies, knee pads, tactical gloves, military uniforms, tactical boots, first-aid kits, etc. In June, we started purchasing pickup trucks and SUVs for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as ambulances.
Can you name which military units have received humanitarian aid from you?
In general, more than 30 Ukrainian military units have already received humanitarian aid from Promote Ukraine. The Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence, the Administration of State Guard of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, the special forces unit of the NABU, Azov Special Operations Regiment, the 93rd Separate Kholodnyi Yar Mechanised Brigade, the 28th Separate Knights of the First Winter Campaign Mechanised Brigade, the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, the 36th Rear-Admiral Mykhailo Bilynsky Brigade Marine Infantry, the 72nd Black Zaporozhians Separate Mechanised Brigade, the 73rd Chief of Staff Antin Holovatyi Naval Centre of Special Operations, and the 57th Separate Kost Hordienko Motorised Infantry Brigade are among the recipients.
You’ve said that Promote Ukraine started implementing humanitarian programmes for the army relatively recently. How comfortable are you with working in the area where there are already large foundations and corporations with significant budgets, experience, and established logistics?
In my opinion, there can never be too much help in wartime. Everyone should do the best they can. Indeed, compared to large humanitarian organisations and specialised foundations that have long helped the army, our scope is modest. But we are learning how to attract funds, work with large donors, develop logistics, look for contractors, and build even more systematic processes for organising aid to the Ukrainian army.
As for working side by side with other organisations, I can say that we feel very comfortable. A large number of humanitarian organisations, charitable foundations, corporations that systematically help the army, and private individuals have already rallied around the “Ukrainian issue.” For the six months since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, a powerful international civil ecosystem of assistance to the Ukrainian army has formed – all key participants know each other either personally or have a common acquaintance. We all help each other to our best: consultatively, logistically, financially.
Can you give some examples?
Sure. For example, we sent an ambulance to a military hospital in Kharkiv this summer, together with the KOLO charitable foundation, as part of the #UkraineNeedsYou joint project. And recently, one of the Brussels hospitals handed over valuable medical equipment (diagnostic tables, sterilizers, oxygen generators, lamps, etc.) to the Poltava hospital. The Brussels hospital management chose Promote Ukraine to provide logistics and proper legal registration of the delivery.
Moreover, as I have already said, individuals offer us assistance. For example, in the very first days of the war, a person contacted us and organized a fundraiser campaign in the USA. It was important for this person to have guarantees that the collected funds would be used for the intended purpose – for the needs of the army. Our volunteers used the raised funds to purchase several dozen high-quality bulletproof vests made in Sweden and sent them directly to the military units from which we had relevant requests at that time. Also, at the beginning of March, we purchased over 50 sets of plates and load-bearing vests for the funds collected by this person in the USA and sent them to one of the military units that defended the Kyiv region.
The war in its current phase has been going on for six months. Most charitable organisations and volunteers note that it has become more difficult for them to raise funds for humanitarian needs. How can you comment on this statement? Do you feel that Europeans have tired from the war in Ukraine? Has it become more difficult for you to work?
Indeed, it seems at first glance that humanitarian aid keeps diminishing. People now donate less money, because all those who wanted to help Ukraine with funds have already transferred them and cannot do this constantly. In the first months, we received donations mainly from large foundations, corporations, private companies, and individuals. We collected money through social networks, during charitable public events (for example, the Ukrainian picnic in Brussels). These fundraising models are no longer as effective.
At the same time, I want to assure you that the international community is ready to continue financing Ukrainian independence and our fight against the aggressor. The world understands: Russia is evil and poses a threat to all civilised humanity.
There are resources to support Ukraine; just generally accepted models of access to them are changing. I assure you that the international community will continue to help Ukraine and the Ukrainian army. And we are currently working with international partners to obtain new tranches for humanitarian needs. I am sure that we will soon be able to talk about our new projects for the Ukrainian army.
Source: Ukrayinski Novyny