Several outdoor companies are sending aid to Ukraine. For example: the Swedish retail chain Naturkompaniet transformed all its stores into collection points for clothes and equipment. At the same time, aid organizations are requesting what will make the greatest difference over the long term: economic support.
Early Thursday morning on the 24th of February, Russian President Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine. Just one week in, the UN’s refugee organ UNHCR estimated that 1 million people had fled to neighboring countries, and even more were on the run within the Ukraine. People who have in haste left everything but the most essential behind them. Their need is great and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
The major aid organizations like Red Cross have a message to individuals and companies that want to help Ukrainians: send money and choose organizations that have worked with refugees before. UNHCR, Red Cross and other actors have long experience working in war zones and refugee camps. Their local representatives in Ukraine have the best oversight of what is needed. With financial support, they can also support the local economy. And it looks like people are listening – several aid organizations have reported record contributions during the war’s first week.
Smaller actors respond quickly
But alongside the big organizations there are also a range of grassroots initiatives that are both quick and flexible. There is also the will among both individuals and companies to do more than “just” send money. The outdoor industry is no exception. Companies like Keen Footwear and Finnish retailer Partioaitta have donated money and equipment, for example. David Nordblad is the General Secretary for Scandinavian Outdoor Group, which represents over 70 Nordic companies, comments on its response:
“We sent out an internal email the day after the invasion and offered to coordinate the responses following a request from Silva who asked if we could help. Several other members, such as Aclima, Reima, had also already started. Now we are looking into what is needed and what distribution paths are available. Among other actors, we are working with Polish Outdoor Group.”
One example of grassroots efforts is the network surrounding the internationally renowned mountaineer Nikita Balabanov, who Polish Outdoor Group collaborates with. In his Facebook feed, there is a clear “before and after.” Up until the beginning of February posts related to expeditions to high summits from around the world. Now everything is about the war – and survival – with posts explaining how volunteers are equipping the needy with sleeping bags and other essential equipment.
At the same time, various media have reported that places without the infrastructure and organization to properly care for deliveries have seen an unknown proportion of clothing donations simply ending up as garbage piles covered in snow at the Ukrainian border.
“The motivation is huge – basically all our members want to contribute in some way. At the same time, it’s important that we respond properly and strategically,” says David Nordblad.
Outdoor retailer’s initiative fills several truckloads
Another example of outdoor companies taking action is the retailer chain Naturkompaniet, with over thirty stores across Sweden.
“Like many others, I began to think about how we could help once the invasion was launched on Thursday. The fact that many Ukrainians would need help was completely obvious,” shares the company’s CEO Henrik Hoffman.
“Naturkompaniet has previously worked together with a small aid organization, Filippus, that only focuses on Ukraine. On Friday morning I sent a text message to the head of Filippus, Bertil Sjöström, and asked if we could donate clothing and equipment via them. He called me immediately and we began making a plan.”
When Naturkompaniet’s stores opened Friday morning, the staff was to be prepared to receive clothes and equipment from the customers. The company would take responsibility to collect, sort and transport to Filippus’ headquarters in Sweden.
“Filippus would take it from there by renting trucks and transporting to its local contacts in Ukraine. Naturkompaniet would cover all costs.”
Filippus has operated in Ukraine since 1992, where they have established and managed a children’s summer camp in Lutsk and have organized aid shipments to Charkiv, Mucachevo and other locations. Now they were to prepare to send down five or six truckloads for Naturkompaniet. The store managers were informed, and the word was spread via newsletters and Instagram.
“When Friday came, people had already begun pouring into our stores with their donations,” shares Henrik Hoffman.
Filled to capacity
Over the course of the weekend the initiative had gone viral within the Swedish outdoor community. The stores needed to call in extra staff to receive and sort the donations. Storage rooms and offices quickly filled to capacity.
The Swedish postal company Postnord offered to organize the logistics, and by Monday hundreds of fully packed boxes were sent on their way to Filippus.
“Less than a week after starting out, we were able to collect so many donations that Filippus was able to fill its trucks. The response from our customers has been incredible, and our staff have dropped nearly all regular tasks and worked exclusively with this. There’s such an incredible will to help out!” says Henrik Hoffman.
Filippus already had a shipment being prepared when the war began. The summer camp was to be supplied with a huge teepee, bunkbeds, and mattresses. Already on Saturday everything was packed onto a truck that reached Ukraine on Sunday. Bertil Sjöström and his team could deliver their first aid shipment. The next shipment will be Naturkompaniet’s collected donations.
But there remains large uncertainty surrounding the future, whereby the situation in Ukraine is changing daily. The organization has announced on Facebook that it is putting further collections on hold for now. Instead, Filippus is sending out the same appeal as the large aid organizations of how people can help mitigate the crisis: send money.
Another general advice from organizations like Filippus with respect to aid initiatives is to first have a dialogue with people on the ground in Ukraine about their specific needs. Instead of sending what might be handy, it can be better to send specific items like chainsaws and circular saws (to cut wood for fire and rescue people from ruins), sleeping bags, pain killers and walkie-talkies.
How to Support Ukrainians
Any outdoor industry organization that is able to offer materials or products to support civilians affected by the conflict in Ukraine can contact:
Photos: Henrik Witt/Naturkompaniet