Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, held a hearing Friday to examine the humanitarian crisis resulting from Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine and the efforts of international aid organizations to deliver urgently needed assistance to support civilians affected by the conflict.
“Thanks to the extraordinary work of international humanitarian organizations such as World Central Kitchen, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, and Samaritan’s Purse, aid is fortunately making its way into Ukraine,” said Chairman Lynch in his opening statement. “Their task is complicated and made more dangerous, however, by indiscriminate violence and shelling of civilian areas and key infrastructure nodes. As Russia shifts its military objectives toward Eastern Ukraine, the international humanitarian community may only be beginning to understand the full extent of destruction and suffering the Russian military has left in their wake.”
“For more than three months, Russian forces have carried out a campaign of terror against the Ukrainian people. They have indiscriminately targeted and killed thousands of innocent civilians, destroyed Ukrainian schools and hospitals, brought Ukraine’s farmlands to ruin, and decimated entire cities,” said Chairwoman Maloney in her opening statement. “Moving forward, it will be critical for Congress to work with the Biden Administration to efficiently distribute humanitarian aid and continue to unite our allies in support of the Ukrainian people.”
The Subcommittee heard testimony from José Andrés, Founder and Chief Feeding Officer of World Central Kitchen; Christopher Stokes, Emergency Coordinator for Ukraine at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders; Amanda Catanzano, Acting Vice President for Global Policy and Advocacy for the International Rescue Committee; Pete Walsh, Country Director for Ukraine with Save the Children; and Edward Graham, Vice President of Operations for Samaritan’s Purse.
Witnesses testified about the massive humanitarian crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its implications for the entire world.
- Ms. Catanzano testified the while the war is “devastating” Ukraine’s “people, infrastructure, and economy,” at the same time, the effects of the war have “gone global,” as “the knock-on effects of this crisis are pushing communities already dependent on humanitarian aid further into debt, hunger, and misery.” Mr. Andrés added that “Russia, in a way, very directly, is using this war to put extra, extra pressure around the world by creating famines in places that we should not have.”
- In response to a question from Ranking Member Glenn Grothman about Russia’s treatment of Ukrainians in Russian-occupied areas, Chef Andrés testified that: “I will tell you stories and even things I could say I saw with my own eyes of people that were shot from the back, in their head, only because they dared to leave their home just to try to pick up a [loaf of bread] … Just the very simple thing of trying to feed your family became an act of heroism.”
- Mr. Stokes testified that Ukraine’s health care system and workers are “under huge pressure” and that “we’re only 100 days into this conflict and it’s quite worrying to think what will lie ahead for the health care system and the hospitals, especially in the east, close to the frontlines.”
Witnesses emphasized that structural changes and reforms are needed to improve how the international community responds to urgent humanitarian needs around the world.
- In his opening statement, Mr. Andrés argued that “the current system” for delivering humanitarian aid “just does not work when people are starving and thirsty in a crisis. We need a more agile and effective system to deliver aid. That means reforming approval processes, cutting red tape, and rethinking contracting awards.”
- Mr. Andrés later added that the “best way America and international community can be helping Ukraine is not by bringing everything from the outside but is making sure that we keep supporting the local economy, the local infrastructure, investing the money locally, creating jobs locally that will keep Ukraine in the fight for freedom of their country, making sure that we are investing in the solution, making sure that the entire economy doesn’t collapse.”
- Ms. Catanzano testified that “[e]ven well-resourced” responses to Ukraine’s humanitarian and refugee crisis “are undermined by bureaucratic obstacles,” adding: “Responding to needs today and preparing for the long-term impacts of this war will require fast, flexible, and long-term funding especially to NGOs and local actors with insights and understanding of evolving needs, investments in bilateral diplomacy to remove bureaucratic and banking challenges, and multilateral diplomacy to protect and expand access to populations most in need.”
Witnesses warned that Ukrainian civilians, especially children, face risk sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, and psychosocial trauma, and emphasized that special considerations are required for their psychological and physical health.
- Mr. Walsh testified that, “on average, two children have been killed or injured every day” in Ukraine since the Russian invasion and a “child has become a refugee almost every second.” He further argued that “thousands of children have been separated [from their families] and are now unaccompanied, thus exposing them to new threats including sexual violence, trafficking, or exploitation.”
- Mr. Walsh recalled an instance when a psychologist described children arriving to one of Save the Children’s child-friendly spaces as being in a “catatonic” state, with their drawings “filled with civilians running from tanks, bombs, and crying women.”
- In response to a question from Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, Mr. Stokes testified that “mental health is a major issue,” with many Ukrainians “living in underground bunkers and shelters for weeks and months.” He added: “We’re trying to look at supporting survivors of torture who are coming back from neighboring countries and with some quite horrendous stories. So mental health is going to be an issue. It is today and it will be for the medium and the long term here in Ukraine.”