Non-government organizations that are supplying the army from private donations quote cases of protracted customs clearance for no grounded reason. Red-tape and lack of regulatory documents are the most problematic practices they face.
Over 50 volunteer organizations demand that the problem of ungrounded protraction of customs clearance of humanitarian aid is resolved in the quickest way possible. It particularly concerns the vehicles that are brought from abroad as humanitarian assistance and are later re-equipped into ambulance cars for the combat zone. In an open letter volunteers addressed Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman requesting him to intervene in the situation personally. “We demand a transparent procedure for recognizing a consignment being humanitarian aid; reduced terms: eight working days between the moment when documents are filed and when the permission is issued; we demand that the staff of the Ministry of Social Policy is held liable for the mistakes they make. And the main thing is we want to have a clearly established list of documents, not the recommended one like now, it lays grounds for corruption,” said Valentyna Varava, volunteer of the “Initiative E+” NGO at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
According to the volunteers protracted customs clearance has grown into a systematic problem. Main pre-requisite is the lack of the established exhaustive list of documents required to have the consignment recognized as humanitarian aid. “Each time we are getting a new list of documents to be submitted. Different organizations get different requirements that also vary for various types of consignments. Actually, according to the law ‘On humanitarian assistance’ it’s only two documents that are required, namely the certification of donor’s will to supply humanitarian aid and that of recipient’s will to accept it,” Varava said. She added that the volunteers were addressing the Minister for Social Policy and his first deputy in the written form, but to no avail.
Volunteers say that each vehicle that they officially bring to the combat zone is used for medical needs. Valentyna Varava noted that the vehicle that was being cleared at customs for two months was critically needed at the Svitlodarsk bulge and later outside Avdiivka. “During the escalation in the end of January – in the beginning of February we had 43 wounded in action and 11 killed in action over five days. […] All the vehicles were fully loaded,” said Vasyl Los, medic of the 72nd brigade.
Mobile laundry service supplied by the Canadian diaspora brought in by the charitable foundation SVOI has been awaiting clearance for a month and a half. “The Ministry of Social Policy requests that we justify our need. It means 168 pages of justification why we need this mobile laundry unit and other assistance in the near-front area,” said Oksana Sukhorukova of the charity foundation SVOI. Charity foundation “Povernys zhyvym” has been waiting for customs clearance of five vehicles for two months already. Resulting from this type of protraction as well as from the request to assign vehicles to particular units already at the purchase stage, the vehicle often gets to the frontline late and not to the unit that needs it most. Vitaliy Deynega, coordinator at “Povernys Zhyvym” said that the vehicle for the 10th brigade was being cleared for two months. By the time it was cleared and repaired the brigade had already returned to the training ground.
Oksana Sukhorukova noted that similar situation is observed not only with vehicles but with humanitarian aid in general. For example, the medicines donated by the Ukrainian diaspora in the US, were being cleared at customs for over a month. It happened due to numerous justification requests as to who the beneficiaries were and why they needed them. Another reason was the technical mistakes that the staff of the Ministry of Social Policy made when issuing the documents. Moreover volunteers had to pay UAH 10,000 (approx. three minimum officially-established salaries) for the constrained lease of the warehouses.
According to the volunteers it is quite hard to understand what motivation is behind these actions, whether indifference or a masked bribe request. Back in 2015 this problem did not exist. In some cases vehicles were cleared in course of several days. “In one week it was possible to buy a vehicle, bring it to Ukraine, submit the documents, get permission, clear it and sometimes even take it to the frontline,” Valentyna Varava says. “One thing is to be fighting against the enemy, another thing is to be fighting domestically against your own state. […] I am convinced that we need to be collecting money and passing more vehicles [to the frontline] instead of fighting against the Ministry of Social Policy. I do not want to sponsor smuggling. I want to be bringing them from abroad in an honest way,” Deynega emphasized.