Military expert warns against no-fly zone over Ukraine
London-based Irra Ariela Khi, 37, decided to use her skills honed developing software for airlines to wage a “smartphone war” and “to get information out and aid in” to Ukraine. She created Sunflower Relief, the only grassroots humanitarian organization in the UK with a network throughout Ukraine, which is carrying out large-scale micrologistics, getting money, food, water, baby food, baby milk and medicines to people struggling to survive. It has hundreds of people in its global network.
The aim is to get aid to those areas where western aid agencies can’t reach and the organization is now in contact with UK’s Business Secretary Greg Hands as well as receiving the support of Ukrainian ministers.
Those unable to flee the Russian advance and trapped in basements are able to use several encrypted chat groups to alert Sunflower to what is desperately needed.
The items are then sourced and forwarded to delivery networks already operating in the areas, who then distribute them to where it is needed most.
Airlines are also offering Sunflower cargo space to get aid to the region for onward distribution.
Irra, explained individuals and organisations, such as city councils, local NGOs and orphanages, are contacting Sunflower.
Ms Khi, a mother of four who speaks Ukranian, Russian, Polish and English, uses her languages to put aid delivery drivers in touch with truck drivers on the borders. She said: “Anyone inside who cannot leave is the most vulnerable. They’re trapped.
Volunteers prepare aid boxes for Ukranians
“If you’re not fighting you are either too young, too old, or too unwell to leave and they are in a desperate situation without food, clean water or medicines.
“Pharmacies have been bombed or destroyed. But people don’t stop being sick, children don’t stop needing to eat and women don’t stop having babies.
“If there is no baby food or formula and a mother has stopped breastfeeding, then they will starve.
“Understandably charities cannot safely go into these areas so we are using Facebook, Telegram, Viber and WhatsApp to organize supplies.”
The network also aims to get information out to alert the world about what is going on but also help those who want to flee.
The chat groups “are all closed and private and we share up-to-date real-time information about how to access and distribute aid or get out of the country by, for example, helping identify roads that are no longer accessible,” she said.
She regularly chats with those still in Ukraine and supports distressed families and individuals who are trying to contact their relatives.
Flags fly over the crowd during a vigil at the White House
Ms Khi, who has temporarily stepped back from her job as CEO of Zamma – which makes blockchain technology for airlines, said: “From the videos and texts, people have not eaten anything hot in many days.
“And one excited message said some people in a basement had figured out how to boil water on a camp stove and had found a few teabags for a cup of tea and this led to great celebrations.”
She added one person she had been in contact with has not heard from their mother trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol for six days and has only had a 30 second call with their brother before the line went dead.
She explained their family were “hiding under the parking lot in a garage with their cat but even the cat doesn’t eat out of fear.
“They have no food, and today they heated snow on some fire just in order to drink it, because they have no water. Some people are already dying from dehydration. Many are having to hide for up to 30 hours in basements and out of contact. These basements are not like people in the west might understand, they are concrete, cold with no electricity or water. This is where the rubbish is sent through a chute. When we were growing up I was told not to go into the basement because of the rats. “
The project was personal to her as her family are among those still in Ukraine, with her father, 70, her godmother, 82, her stepsister and her children mother and sisters in the west while her grandparents, aged 90 and 95, live in a village near Dnipro in the east where Russians are advancing from the south.
And her godmother, 82, a retired nurse who brought her up, has refused to leave insisting she was “staying in case I can be useful to someone here.”
Irra said: “I am in a semi grief state. Every morning starts with what we call the death call. I ring up or text to find out if people are still alive.
“I have now found that I can now talk about it without crying.
“People with family or friends in the Ukraine living in the UK wake up with a similar panic and pressure on their chest.”
The organization is creating a library documenting the plight of people in Ukraine so people can learn for themselves what is going on.
For more information or if you would like to volunteer / donate here http://www.sunflower.in.ua/