Hundreds of tonnes of liquid disinfectant, several millions of masks and coronavirus testes—in the recent months our Fund has donated ca. PLN 54m worth of personal protective equipment to Eastern states. Polish aid reached people struggling against COVID-19 all across Belarus, the Balkans, and the Caucasus.
No country in the world was prepared for the scale of the SARS-COV-2 outbreak. The first months after the pandemic was declared were the most challenging, and it was then when the immediate and solidary international assistance proved essential for effective response.
As many other states, the countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus experienced the significance of external assistance first handed. Why? Among other things, their weak health care systems and excessive centralisation of power prevented the inhabitants of peripheral areas from obtaining adequate care.
Here and Now
That is why a rapid response from Solidarity Fund PL, a State Treasury foundation for many years active in the field of development cooperation, with strong focus on Eastern Partnership Countries, was so important. Our activities not only contribute to strengthening neighbourhood cooperation and security in partner countries, but also promote Poland abroad.
Our extended network of local partners allowed us to rapidly locate communities with limited access to personal protective equipment such as masks, antiseptic fluids, bodysuits, or gloves, while having permanent offices in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine enabled us to purchase the necessary equipment without unnecessary delay, and to supply it promptly to the most remote towns and villages. The locations we have reached include, among other places, the Georgian town of Bolnisi and ten surrounding villages that were locked down due to the coronavirus.
How did we help?
Our established presence in the countries affected by COVID-19 allowed us to swiftly assist those most in need. Still, as the pandemic situation worsened, jointly with the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we undertook larger-scale operations: humanitarian convoys to Eastern European states, to the Caucasus, and the Balkans.
In the first weeks of the pandemic we have launched a support programme for hospitals in Chernihiv, Lviv, Rivne, Zhytomyr, and several other Ukrainian oblasts, i.e. regions where we have had partners from our earlier activities related to the works on the self-government, media, and education reforms. Polish aid—oxygen concentrators, bodysuits, or diagnostic monitors—was also sent to military and veteran hospitals.
Furthermore, we took action to limit the spreading of the virus in Georgia. The government in Tbilisi received heating systems for field hospital tents, disinfectants, liquid disinfectants spraying devices, face masks, and face shields. Through volunteers and self-government officials the equipment reached the most needy across 18 territorial self-government units.
Also the citizens of Moldova have received Polish support. We have launched a Crisis Fund, which allowed for purchasing, among other things, several dozens of oxygen concentrators, 800 protective bodysuits, thermometers, liquid disinfectants, and liquid disinfectant spraying devices.
The total value of the aid provided in the first weeks reached ca. PLN 800,000.
In the light of the worsening of the pandemic, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to organise humanitarian convoys. Given our experience in Eastern countries, our extended network of contacts, and effectiveness of our actions, we have taken upon ourselves to coordinate this effort.
Our tasks included, among other things, collecting funds from the donors, organising transport in collaboration with the State Fire Service, handling legal and customs formalities, drafting agreements for the recipients (e.g. target countries’ health ministers), and supplying the aid. Thanks to our representative offices and the knowledge of local situation we were able to organise the convoys in a record-breaking time (as quickly as just several days).
In total, we have assembled six major convoys comprising tens of large vehicles (including HGVs). Hundreds of tonnes of liquid disinfectants, mask, face shields, bodysuits, respirators, and coronavirus tests were shipped to Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus. Interestingly, one of our convoys to Belarus turned out to be the largest convoy in the modern history of Poland.
The total value of donations supplied by the convoys exceeded PLN 53.5m.
Our activities in places where precise identification of problems and immediate actions proved crucial have gained recognition not only among the citizens, but also among the local state authorities and institutions. Hospital directors, members of a local governments, small entrepreneurs (e.g. shop owners), and representatives of local aid organisations, and many others have expressed their gratitude.
Our actions have also been noted by President of Georgia, Ms Salome Zourabichvili, who expressed her gratitude for the assistance offered through the Fund to Polish President Mr Andrzej Duda.