Support On the Ground

Emergency supplies being gathered by United Way Romania and its eight non-profit partners.

United Way and our partners in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain are responding to urgent, immediate needs of Ukrainian refugees every day, and planning for long-term support. So far, more than 770,000 Ukrainians had fled to Romania, mostly in transit to other countries. “Here in Romania, we are seeing a lot of pain, hurt and great trauma. We see women and children and elderly,” said Adriana Dobrea, Executive Director of United Way Romania. “They have travelled for hundreds of miles on buses and trains to stand in line for hours. They are cold and hungry. We offer whatever they need, and we embrace them with love and support.” United Way Romania has directly helped more than 16,000  Ukrainian refugees so far.

Some 570,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled to Hungary. “They are freezing, some are sick, and some are with infant babies,” said Kincso Adriany, CEO of United Way Hungary. “The children are shocked at the beginning. These children will be hurt for the rest of their lives. We are with them now and will stay with them.”

Katarzyna Szaniawska, who coordinates social projects for United Way’s partner in Poland, Fundacja Dobrych Inicjatyw, never thought she’d be worried about her family’s future in Poland. “I am trying to watch less TV and concentrate on helping the refugees who came to Poland,” she said. “By acting for refugees, I feel that I have some influence on their peace. In times when there are so many uncertainties ... the impact is very important for me.”

Wherever refugees end up, they have many needs: food, shelter, emotional support, health care, treatment of wounds, medicine, hygiene and sanitary supplies, COVID protections like masks and tests, support with documents and translation, as well as transportation for the next leg of their difficult journey.

Ania’s Story

Ania playing at the children’s space set up by United Way Romania at customs.

Ania doesn’t know that her home country is engaged in a war with Russia. ”I came to Romania on vacation,” says the 5-year old who traveled 1,000 miles from Kyiv by train and bus with her mother, Maria. In customs at Sighetu Marmatiei, Maria managed logistics for their journey to a host family in Bucharest. Meanwhile, Ania took part in children’s activities provided by United Way Romania. She drew, modeled play dough, had a snack and played make-believe with toys. It’s not home, but it makes the trip more maneagable for both mother and child.

Volunteers Making a Difference

Gabor Renyi (R), volunteer and member of United Way Hungary’s Board of Trustees

United Way has a presence all over the world, in more than 40 countries and territories. In some 1,100 communities, local leaders work to solve local problems. Often that involves funding, leading or creating solutions that will work locally, but volunteer power makes a meaningful difference, too.

Gabor Renyi, a retired economist and renowned software developer, has been a member of United Way Hungary’s Board of Trustees for 30 years. When the war started in Ukraine, Gabor volunteered for the Crisis Hotline, operated by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, which seeks to help refugees from Ukraine regardless of their religious or ethnic background.

As an operator, he takes heartbreaking calls every day, while other volunteers connect refugees with local resources to meet their immediate needs – shelter, housing, food, safe transport, and health care. Once, Gabor had to call an ambulance to a refugee in distress who was in an Airbnb apartment in Budapest, but did not know how to access Hungarian emergency services.

No one can do this alone. Refugees need our support. The generosity of volunteers like Gabor remind us that even during times of war, people are stepping up to help one another.

Partnerships Support Refugees

United Way can't do our work alone. Across the world, we partner with nonprofits, companies, governments and individuals to help people and communities thrive. In Poland, United Way partners with a foundation called Fundacja Dobrych Inicjatyw (FDI) to support Ukrainian refugees.

Just hours after the Russian invasion, FDI was collecting money and basics to support the Ukrainians already crossing the border. In the first few weeks, they saw 150,000 refugees a day. FDI helped organize transportation, worked with NGOs in Ukraine to finance evacuations, and prepared care packages of food (including food for infants), clothes, sleeping bags, cosmetics, hygiene basics, and more.

Donations and volunteers make it all work, said Katarzyna Szaniawska, who coordinates social projects for FDI. “Dozens of volunteers come to us after their day jobs,” said. “They bring shopping, engage with neighbours, and invite refugees to their homes. You have a feeling of solidarity, and you know that this is very important (to all of us).”

Helping Refugee Children Cope

One of the soothing activities for children at a refugee shelter in Hungary

The trauma that Ukrainian children are experiencing as they’re forced to flee their homes (usually without their fathers) is significant – and won’t be going away any time soon. It’s heartening that so many volunteers want to help. But few of us are trained in providing the right kind of emotional support to traumatized children.

In Hungary, for example, it’s mostly volunteers, civic organizations and charities and local governments who are supporting refugees, many of whom are children.

In response, United Way Hungary is collaborating with CalmSchool to launch a program to support these volunteers, with a video series providing tips and tools for preparation, understanding the impact, stress management for children and more. The program is also providing materials from CalmSchool to help children cope with stress. For example, a soothing fairy tale that teachers or volunteers can read aloud is accompanied by a worksheet (in several languages) adults can use to teach self-soothing techniques to the children.

Planning Longer-Term Refugee Support 

FDI relief efforts in Poland

So far, United Way has mostly focused on responding to immediate needs of Ukrainian refugees. But as we do across the world during any disaster, we’re also thinking about longer-term recovery and how best to help refugees reimagine and rebuild their lives.

That’s why United Way Romania is coordinating efforts to identify needs over the next three months in education, financial stability and health programs – and will be offering grants to organizations who can help meet those needs. That may include access to education and educational activities for Ukrainian children; or facilitating job training, coaching and placement for adults; connecting families to health and mental health resources and more. That’s what United Ways across 40 countries and territories do every say, but the stakes are higher during wartime.

In Hungary, United Way and its partners know that after the influx slows, the rebuilding of lives begins. Thousands are expected to stay in Hungary, will need support for housing, health care, education, language support, jobs, and social integration.

And in Poland, United Way’s partner FDI is planning for the long haul as well. The Foundation is working with leaders across sectors to make intermediate- and long-term plans to help Ukrainians living in Poland build productive lives, and help their children thrive in the new environment.  Meanwhile, FDI continues to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine, provide comprehensive support to the hundreds of children coming to orphanages in Poland because of the war, and technology support to Ukrainian students in Poland.

Updates From the Border: Angela F. Williams, President & CEO of United Way Worldwide, talks with United Way leaders about Ukrainian relief 

United Way Worldwide President & CEO Angela F. Williams talks with with United Way Hungary CEO Kincso Adriany about its support for Ukrainian refugees. (3-11-22)


United Way Worldwide President & CEO Angela F. Williams discusses Ukrainian relief efforts with Adriana Dobrea, Executive Director of United Way Romania. (3-24-22)