Brian Mefford is director of Help Ukraine 22 Operation Palyanytsya, a relief, resupply and rescue organization which assists Ukrainians in need.
Prior to that, he founded the Kyiv-based, American governmental affairs and public relations firm Wooden Horse Strategies (WHS). WHS works primarily with Western companies operating in Ukraine, as well as other prominent government officials in Ukraine.
Brian is a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, and has been named one of the 20 most influential expats in Ukraine by the Kyiv Post.
Since the start of the war, Brian and his team at HU22 have funded more than 70 medical institutions and civil society projects delivering more than $1.25 million in humanitarian and medical aid to more than 167,000 Ukrainians in need.
How did you make the transition from private business to charity work?
It was not so much a choice as a necessity. When the war began, we all wanted to do everything we could to help Ukraine. First, we converted our company staff to humanitarian workers.
Next, we reached out to friends in different areas including government, business, charity, etc. to find volunteers and put together the HU22 project. We began raising money and many talented Americans donated their time as well.
Getting the project off the ground quickly was like building an airplane at 30,000 feet. But we did it. Thanks to a few corporate clients that continue to pay for our business services, we are able to keep everyone on staff and paid.
Our focus is now on humanitarian work but when the war is over, we plan to resume our core business activities, particularly for those clients. We are pleased with what we have been able to do so far to help Ukrainians in need and every day we get better, more efficient and wiser in our delivery of humanitarian support.
How do you go about allocating funding? It’s not an easy task to do and even well-established charities need weeks if not months to deliver aid.
We have more than 20 years’ experience working in Ukraine and know which organizations and individuals are doing real work and which ones are simply grant-eaters. We have a simple and concise grant application form on our website which allows us to review, approve and fund projects with a turnaround time as little as 24 hours.
Wartime is not for bureaucracy. People are in need and that is why we focus on filling the gaps in immediate assistance. There are some major international aid organizations, but they are waiting for a ceasefire before distributing that money inside Ukraine. We focus on current need because we believe it will make a difference to the lives of Ukrainians each day.
We also work to keep our administrative costs low so that 90% of all donations go directly to help Ukrainians in need.
What are the charity’s priorities?
We focus only on humanitarian and medical assistance and don’t provide any lethal aid or protective equipment. Our three main priorities span relief, resupply and rescue, which I’ll touch on in order.
Firstly. we provide relief to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and to Ukrainian organizations through targeted micro grants ranging from $500 to $50,000. Recipients have included medical institutions such as Okhmadyt and funding for gynecological examinations for rape victims.
We have also paid for housing and food for IDPs as well as psychological counselling for children.
In terms of resupply, this includes humanitarian and medical goods ourselves and in partnership with Ukrainian NGOs. Priorities for resupply are medicines, tourniquets, hygiene products and clean water.
Finally, we focus on rescuing Ukrainians in danger and getting them to safer places.
I’ve seen your website Help Ukraine 22 and you have raised more than $1in donations. How did you achieve that, and where have most donations come from?
We have around 900 donors and 98% are from outside the Ukrainian diaspora. That’s because we focus on American donors from the tech, finance, and defense sectors. It’s a way to connect Main Street America to Ukraine. We partnered with the Committee for Open Democracy (COD) a US-based non-profit organization so donations are tax deductible to the extent allowable by law. We even have one generous donor matching our donations this month up to $250,000, which doubles the fundraising impact.
What’s your plan for the near future?
We will continue our mission of relief, resupply and rescue of Ukrainians in need. The war is not likely to end soon and sustaining assistance will become increasingly more challenging.
It’s also important to maintain public interest in the U.S. so that the war is not forgotten. Thus, we will continue to fill immediate gaps in assistance for Ukrainians in need.
Keep in mind that even when the war ends, the humanitarian needs and reconstruction efforts will be enormous.
This war has changed Ukraine forever and we are only beginning to understand what will be needed in the months and years to come.
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