It was 1922 when a plea for help from the town of Berdiansk in the Ukraine reached America. One of the worst famines in history had struck Ukraine and Russia. Millions were facing starvation. Their only hope was America.
Part of a letter from a Ukrainian farmer was published in a Cincinnati newspaper. It read, “We were not always poor, that came to us suddenly … We pinned our hopes on this year’s harvest, but again the crops have suffered from drought and that hope, alas, has vanished.”
The generosity of towns and cities across the U.S. helped send life-saving food aid. Now, over 90 years later, the town of Berdiansk is once again a scene of tragedy, this time from the conflict between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian separatists. Humanitarian aid from America and other nations is desperately needed.
A fragile ceasefire is in place. But there is no peace. There is suffering among thousands of civilians who have been forced from their homes throughout Eastern Ukraine. In Berdiansk and other towns, the U.N. Refugee Agency, the Red Cross and U.N. World Food Program, or WFP, are feeding displaced persons.
Think about Ukrainian families who fled the fighting, some sustaining injuries from shelling. They have lost their homes and their livelihoods. They are now trying to settle into new areas, away from the conflict zones.
The U.N. Refugee Agency quoted one Ukrainian woman who witnessed her home go up in flames. She said, “I didn’t ask them to bomb me. I had everything. Now I have nothing … I stood there and my tears were falling. I didn’t mean to cry, but my tears were falling. And they have been falling for two months already, and now the third.”
The communities hosting the war victims are also under strain to provide help. They, too, need aid from charities.
With winter approaching, the need for good shelter is taking on even more urgency. WFP spokesperson Laure Chadraoui says, “Amidst rising needs ahead of winter and as ceasefire violations continue – WFP plans to scale up its response to meet the food needs of about 120,000 people over the next 6 months.”
All this humanitarian aid needs funding. Our U.S. Food for Peace and International Disaster Assistance programs will need to be given top priority by Congress in the budget.
The conflict in Ukraine is just one part of the crisis. Wars in Syria and Iraq have caused over 12 million people to need food, water and other aid.
In South Sudan and the Central African Republic, we are trying to prevent famine. Humanitarian funding is low for these emergencies and some refugees are seeing cuts in life-saving rations.
Food, water and shelter save lives and give comfort to war victims. They also form the foundation for reconstruction and peace. You cannot build peace under extreme conditions of hunger and want.
In 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall said U.S. foreign policy was “against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos.” That must be our guiding light going forward, too, as we try to build peace in Ukraine and other nations engulfed in conflict and hunger.
Originally published at The Los Angeles Register.