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Santa Barbara-based relief agency launches new aid program for war victims in Ukraine

A Ukrainian couple receiving an aid shipment from the Santa Barbara-based Shelterbox relief agency.

Effort focused on helping those with damaged homes prepare for harsh Ukrainian winter.

Millions of Ukrainians have faced bombs, bullets, and some even Russian occupation. But, nearly nine months into the war, many are facing an additional crisis: the impacts of winter.

A Santa Barbara-based international relief agency has launched a new program to help Ukrainians deal with the sub-zero temperatures, and power outages.

"What we're doing now is really focusing on the winter months, and trying to keep people warm," said Rachel Harvey, who is Shelterbox’s Ukraine Program manager.

She spoke to KCLU News from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

"Temperatures have dropped down to around zero here, and this is just the start of winter," said Harvey. "Imagine what it's like if you're living in a house that's got a hole in the roof...or the windows are blown out. You're going to get really cold, really quickly."

Harvey said the non-profit initially helped people impacted, and displaced by the war with essentials like tents, mattresses, water filters, and personal hygiene kits. She said with winter starting, the new Shelterbox effort is focused on helping people in homes which are damaged, or without power.

"What we're doing is bringing in aid that will allow people to repair those houses really quickly, but then also giving them wood-burning stoves, and a supply of firewood," said Harvey. "And, then we are helping to keep people warm through thermal blankets, some winter jackets, hats, and gloves."

Many people are also without electricity as the result of Russian attacks on the power grid, so Shelterbox is distributing solar lights.

Harvey was an interesting choice for the Santa Barbara-based relief agency to run the Ukrainian program. She was a BBC Correspondent for more than a decade. But, Harvey decided that rather than just tell people about, and show them the impacts of war, and disasters around the world, she would do something to provide hands-on help.

She said while it’s a complicated question, the morale of the Ukrainian people remains high. But, she said some Ukrainians are now more worried about the impacts of the traditionally harsh winters than the war.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 16 million Ukrainians are in need of critical humanitarian aid. Shelterbox is hoping to help meet some of the basics with its new program, by working to keep people warm, and with light.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.