It has been over a year since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, which took more than eight thousand lives, and led millions of Ukrainian people to flee their country. We were able to act fast and have since kept up the support for those affected through ongoing programmes.
In March last year, after monitoring the growing crisis with the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE), we awarded the first donation, of £50,000 to the British Red Cross to support the increasing number of Ukrainian refugees were forced from their country or internally displaced from their homes. This followed the establishment of a dedicated Ukraine Crisis fundraising appeal using the Relief Chest Scheme to allow Freemasons to donate, which saw huge support and would eventually exceed £1million.
Less than a month later, with donations continuing to flood into the appeal, we awarded a further £500,000 to five charities to support the work on the ground in Ukraine, with donations of £100,000 each to the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), Plan International UK, the Refugee Council, British Red Cross, UK for UNHCR, and the UN Refugee Agency.
Freemasonry’s support for Ukraine through the MCF hit the £1million mark in July, and the remaining £500,000 was later awarded to UK Community Foundations, which would use the grant to support local charities and community organisations that are actively providing immediate support for the 150,000+ refugees arriving from Ukraine, as well as those who are developing longer-term support for the integration of Ukrainians who are already in the UK.
UK Community Foundations recently provided us with an update about the progress made so far in the ten participating community foundations across England and Wales. By January 2023, around £350,000 had already been distributed to fund projects that are supporting many Ukrainians in the UK with their mental health, employment skills, integration and wellbeing. For example, Sussex Community Foundation has distributed £58,500 in grants to 13 organisations, which is funding English lessons, delivering IT equipment in connection with employment, SIM cards, and accommodation provision; and Community Foundation for Lancashire and Merseyside has distributed £31,500 in grants to four organisations, funding the provision of mental health support and creating a safe place for young Ukrainian people to build on their digital skills.
We kicked off 2023 with a further donation of £106,000 to the British Red Cross to support its ‘Families Reunification Project’, which works with people seeking safety in the UK who have lost contact with loved ones.
The British Red Cross International Family Tracing team helps to find missing relatives, with experienced caseworkers, supported by interpreters, finding out how people were separated and where they could be. Those looking for loved ones can also upload a photo of themselves on the Trace the Face website in the hope that their missing family recognise them. If found, they will be able to speak to each other by phone.
The Red Cross can also help families with visa applications and arrange face-to-face reunions with relatives in the UK. Dedicated caseworkers support refugees both practically and emotionally during this long process, helping them deal with the trauma of separation, and supporting them to access accommodation and financial support to maintain their wellbeing. Red Cross teams can also help pay for flights to the UK, for those that cannot afford it.
Though over a year has passed since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, its impact will undoubtedly be long term. Freemasonry’s outstanding support through our work for Ukrainians both on the ground and in the UK reached over £1.1million in just under a year, which is continuing to fund many vital projects that are making a meaningful difference.