People in Need helped hundreds of thousands of people in Donetsk and was always transparent in its work
Prague, 11th December 2016 - A Russian television station TV Tsentr (TVC) has aired a documentary about the work of humanitarian organizations in the parts of the Donetsk region that are not under government control. “People in Need is repeatedly criticised in the documentary, but no proof is provided to back up any of these claims. We were not given a chance in the film to respond appropriately to the accusations and the way the documentary was made indicates that it is part of an organised campaign to confuse the public on what humanitarian work is about and to discredit our work in Donetsk. So, we want to use this opportunity to explain how we operate,” says People in Need (PIN) Director Šimon Pánek. “The fact remains that since 2014, we have helped hundreds of thousands of people suffering as a result of the ongoing conflict. And after our accreditation was taken away, more than 137,000 people have been left without this assistance in the middle of the winter,” adds Pánek.
People in Need has been working in eastern Ukraine, both in areas that are controlled and not controlled by the government since 2014. Since November 2014, in the non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, PIN has provided food aid to almost 570,000 people and almost 296,000 people gained access to water and sanitary items thanks to PIN and the local authorities and communities who participated.
PIN’s accreditation in Donetsk has been revoked on 25th November. When the organization’s office was unexpectedly shut down by authorities, the terrified staff were faced with a raid of masked gunmen, among them was a female reporter, who secretly filmed the proceedings. In the documentary, this covertly obtained footages has also been mixed in with those about the closing of another local organization that allegedly stocked weapons. “We still hope, that despite everything we will be allowed to deliver humanitarian aid to people before the harshest days of the winter,” says Šimon Pánek.
People in Need is able to provide aid in Ukraine thanks to financial contributions collected during a public campaign and resources contributed by respected international institutions and organizations such as the UNHCR, the UN Development Program, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the EU’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection office (ECHO), the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Foreign Ministry of the Czech.
Transparent aid to the neediest
Although humanitarian organisations wish to help as many people as possible, it cannot support everyone. For this reason, People in Need has clear beneficiary selection criteria, which the recipients and authorities are always informed about in advance. The list of aid recipients is primarily put together by local authorities. The PIN team then verifies the lists and visits the recipients’ homes. “This makes it easier for aid to get to the elderlies, people who are sick, people with disabilities, families with many children, single mothers or to households that ar isolated in areas where there is still active fighting going on,” Pánek explains. “Then everyone knows whether they are eligible for aid, or why they are not. It sometimes happens that a local mayor will promise a whole village that everyone will get aid, without checking with us. In the end they might be surprised that aid is given only to the neediest families.”
People in Need never promises to provide aid that it cannot deliver. PIN always has sufficient supplies. “We also always have extra supplies for unforeseen situations, as, for example, in case the fighting quickly intensifies and we need larger amounts of immediate aid,” says the Director. Theft or selling of the humanitarian aid is out of the question. “All the aid distributions are monitored by our staff and the local authorities, both during and after. Additionally, our donors regularly audit our work,” says Pánek.
Comprehensive aid for hundreds of thousands of people
Since 2014, as part of their work in the Donetsk region, People in Need repaired 9,447 single-family homes, and helped with the reconstruction of a number of multi-storey buildings that accommodate 1,447 families. This work helped 26,095 people. At the time of the ban in Donetsk, the organization was fixing homes for 1,324 families and was planning to help rebuild 1,685 more households in the next few months. Tens of thousands of people also received food, personal hygiene packages or access to drinking water from PIN.
“When the volume of the work is that large, it may happen, in rare situations, that during the reconstruction of a house some problems occur. But we can confirm that all repairs were carried out by licensed companies or professionals from the local communities. And PIN engineers oversee the development of the work and checks the quality of materials and work”, Pánek explains, adding that local municipalities are involved in selecting aid recipients and they can personally verify the quality of the completed projects. “We do sometimes receive complaints from aid recipients or from the mayors, and this is exactly why have a hotline where they can inform the organisation about possible problems so we can come and fix them,” says Pánek. He also highlights that quality of the work his organization does is just as important as the volume.
Personal information as a guarantee of quality and accountability
In order for PIN to be able to distribute humanitarian aid effectively and transparently, it has to collect some information about aid recipients. During the distribution of food and personal hygiene packages, recipients only have to show their passports (IDs), as proof of identity. People usually give their name, address, phone number, the size of their family and the ages and genders of family members. With larger aid provisions, like home rehabilitation, the PIN team makes a copy of the passport and potentially other documents that prove the person’s eligibility for aid. “For example, if the aid recipient says he or she is a pensioner, we ask for his passport and pension documentation,” as Pánek explains.
“Our donors and auditors expect us to have this information, and they check after the project is completed if the work was done according to plans and accountability principles. All the recipients are informed ahead of time that we may provide their information to third parties, if they ask for them,” adds the Director. “People in Need normally only provides donors with general statistics about the aid recipients. We do not provide sensitive data, like passport numbers to the donors. They can be requested only during an audit.”
“The data we collect helps us, above all, to make sure that the aid we distribute really gets to those most in need. It also helps us show that the aid was not misused and was delivered to the right people. This way we can also avoid double distribution and can check our own work or have an external evaluation,” Šimon Pánek adds.
Credibility of testimonies
Most of the humanitarian work is carried out by local employees, who best understand the situation of the local people and we would not be able to help without them. But among hundreds of PIN employees, sometimes there could be dishonest people. “This is the case of our former employee Alexander Tyszkiewicz, who seriously broke PIN’s code of ethics when he paid out only a part of financial aid and stole the rest. In the end, he confessed to the theft, to which there were a number of witnesses, and returned the money. This is why, first, his workload was decreased and then his contract was not renewed,” says Pánek. “Alexander sued People in Need twice in Ukraine. In both cases, the court ruled in favour of PIN and the verdicts are final,” attests PIN Director in response to the person whose testimony appears in the Russian television’s report.
Helmets and bulletproof vests in a war zone
Employees safety is one of the top priorities for People in Need, making sure that they are provided with appropriate working conditions. “Our staff distributes aid in the most affected areas, including on the contact line, where unfortunately open fighting is still ongoing. Our colleagues are required to wear bulletproof vests and helmets in some specific locations, which are meant to protect their lives. Carrying a weapon, on the other hand, is strictly prohibited,” says Pánek. “If finding blue helmets and bulletproof vests in our offices leads someone to believe that we are spies, they should probably better acquaint themselves with the work we do, especially considering the areas where we deliver aid,” adds Pánek, referring to this video. (starting 00:26)
At the same time, he rejects any possible manipulation of public opinion. “Since the conflict began in eastern Ukraine, People in Need has been providing humanitarian aid to people affected on both sides of the conflict, because we respect the core principles of impartiality and independence of humanitarian work. The only reason we decided to work in Donetsk is to help people in critical need. We were never involved in any other activities.”
People in Need were never under investigation in Chechnya
Without any evidence, the documentary tries to remind the audience about PIN’s work in Chechnya in 2004. At the time, one of PIN employees, without anyone else’s knowledge and against the organisation’s policies, hid her brother in the basement of the Iman centre, which People in Need was running. The Russian army then attacked the centre and disarmed the employee’s brother. “People in Need were never investigated in connection to this incident. PIN was considered a witness during the trial with the former employee, which the court never called on,” Pánek explains. “The authorities also promised PIN that if its involvement would not be proven during the investigation, they would renew our registration. Which the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation did in 2007.”
Then, also, PIN’s centre closure was connected with manipulated footage aired on Russian television, which showed some weapons that were allegedly found at the centre. “In reality, the only equipment in the centre were sewing machines, computers and one printer, which we used for vocational trainings. These weapons were brought in for the film shooting and taken away afterwards,” Pánek explains about the archivel footage that appeared in the TVC documentary.
People in Need on Maidan
PIN organized medical point for people injured on Maidan. It treated all people who were coming with injuries, without any preference or selection, based on medical and humanitarian principles. This same strictly neutral approach was used when cooperating with the Czech government medical evacuation program MEDEVAC.
“In the same it is true that during the civilian protest in Maidan, People in Need supported, in our opinion, legitimate demands of people for more transparency, better governance, a better future. The support was symbolic by sending a Czech rock band which perfomed at Maidan stage and contributed to cook 1000 meals at the New Year eve,” says People in Need Director Simon Panek. “And this has nothing in common with our strictly neutral humanitarian work in eastern Ukraine,” he adds.
Jaromir Stetina is not an employee or member of People in Need boards anymore, which he repeatedly stated in media and social media. He is an active politician and has closed all his ties with People in Need. “The visit of battalion Azov was his personal activity not consulted with People in Need before. And People in Need officialy distanced itself from such visit,” says People in Need Director Simon Panek.
Read more about our work in Ukraine here.
For more information contact:
Šimon Pánek, People in Need director, +420 777 787 913
Jan Mrkvička, PIN’s Humanitarian and development section director, +420 777 787 961