Ben Stott to show photos and videos at Thursday fundraiser for relief efforts
By Paul R. Huard for Ashland.news
For Ashland acupuncturist Ben Stott, the war in Ukraine is a conflict where the heroes include a cadre of volunteers aiding and comforting civilians whose lives have been devastated.
His message is a simple one: Those heroes deserve financial support.
“Many people feel the urge to help,” Stott said during a telephone interview Sunday. “They just don’t know how, or they are concerned that there will be no accountability regarding how the money is spent. I want to help them learn there are accountable ways that they can be engaged through trustworthy organizations.”
Stott speaks from experience. He volunteered in Ukraine from Oct. 3 to Dec. 3, 2022. Based in Kyiv, he traveled across the country, but spent most of his time ferrying supplies to Kharkiv and Odesa in vehicles he drove.
Stott will speak about his time there and present photos and video of his work from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland. The presentation, entitled “What happens in Ukraine will shape our future — and you can make a difference,” costs $20 at the door.
Stott said all proceeds will go to Ukraine Aid International, a grass-roots humanitarian relief group that provides direct aid in the war-ravaged nation.
Stott said his presentation’s goal is to help people “come out of their comfort” and understand that helping the Ukrainian people is not only possible because of the trustworthy aid organizations, but worthwhile to do.
On Feb. 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, setting off the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II. It was the latest and most brutal escalation of a war between the two nations that dates to 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula by force and invaded portions of eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has mounted stiff resistance despite being vastly outnumbered by the Russian Army, but ruthless bombing and shelling have pummeled Ukrainian cities. Civilian casualties have grown by the day, and more than 14 million people have lost their homes, been displaced by the war, or left the nation altogether.
Since then, a small army of international volunteers have descended on Ukraine and nearby Poland to provide humanitarian relief and comfort to those still left in the nation. Mostly self-funded or supported by donations they raised themselves, these volunteers have performed work ranging from operating soup kitchens to providing medical care to transporting supplies and refugees — frequently while in great danger, and often on the front lines of the war.
Stott plans to return to Ukraine this summer with the hope of opening a free acupuncture clinic, intended to provide treatment for the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, a common medical issue for people exposed to the horrors of war.
One of the greatest needs is funds for organizations that move supplies from warehouses to villages and towns that need the relief the most, Stott said. Aid that comes into Ukraine via Poland is often crammed in warehouses because of what he called a “logistical logjam.” Storage facilities are overflowing with donated items, but getting adequate numbers of drivers and vehicles to move the material is a challenge.
Smaller non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, often created from grassroots efforts, are the most effective in moving these supplies because they take more risks when it comes to transporting the material.
“Some larger NGOs won’t move the supplies into Ukraine because their insurers consider it too risky,” Stott said. “The smaller NGOs convince the large organizations to release the supplies, set up accountability so there are records showing how the aid is distributed, and work with local leaders to make sure the aid is distributed fairly. Volunteer drivers transport the supplies to the villages, often at great personal risk.”
Stott called the drivers “final 10-mile aid workers.”
“It’s all done at the grassroots level by volunteers,” he said. “Those volunteers are really the sharp end of the spear.”
Stott said the success of Ukraine and its rejection of autocracy makes the nation a threat to Putin’s imperialistic ambitions. A “next-door neighbor” and former cornerstone-state of the old Soviet Union, Ukraine’s desire to link its future to the European Union cast all of Russia’s failures because of an autocratic government in a critical light, he said.
“Ukraine is a nascent liberal democracy, a nation trying to take a new path from autocracy,” Stott said. “For all its ills, Ukraine essentially had three fair elections and rejected corruption. It was never about joining NATO, but about joining the EU. If that happened, their young people could travel freely, be entrepreneurs, receive educations, and take a place in a larger world.”
Email freelance reporter Paul R. Huard at email@example.com.