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Coming to Ukraine’s aid

Former Minister of Defence Ron Mark has been working day and night in an attempt to connect donors with organisations in Ukraine. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

Wairarapa connection to Ukraine aid
The smallest fundraiser counts when it comes to supporting Ukraine. TOM TAYLOR investigates how a former mayor of Carterton and a Masterton pastor are helping
to deliver aid.

Former Minister of Defence Ron Mark says New Zealand should be doing more to help Ukraine.

However, he was not waiting for the Government to act and was busy using his own connections to bolster support for the war-torn European nation.

“The Government has done what governments always do. Governments are very risk-averse,” Mark, also the former mayor of Carterton, said.

“They give money to very large international organisations with long track records that provide humanitarian assistance.”

However, Mark said that people on the ground often saw no evidence of those agencies.

After running into dead ends when seeking aid, a New Zealand humanitarian worker had reached out to Mark.

Owen Pomana, above and below, helps deliver supplies to Ukraine people. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

Owen Pomana said there was a dire need for supplies in Ukraine, including basic medical items.

“We’re hitting walls – there’s just red tape everywhere,” he said.

Pomana spoke with the Times-Age from the western Ukrainian city of Rivne, where he had a day’s respite between evacuation missions.

His team was working to deliver aid and evacuate civilians from the coastal city of Mariupol, which Russian forces had heavily bombed in recent weeks.

Pomana, an evangelist and former New Zealand Navy diver of Ngati Kahungunu descent, had been driving supplies into war-torn Ukrainian cities, travelling through hundreds of checkpoints and risking his safety.

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Having left another humanitarian mission in Singapore, he had travelled to Europe and joined a Christian outreach team called European Initiative.

“We started taking in food, aid, medical supplies – whatever the warehouses would pack. We would take vans six hours across Slovakia to the borders of [western Ukrainian border city] Uzhhorod.”

Pomana and his team worked for about nine days straight, supplying Ukrainian soldiers with essential items such as blankets, socks, and medical supplies.

Pomana then joined another church group involved in evacuating Ukrainian families across the Romanian border.

He said that from donations by “generous Kiwis”, he was able to contribute $6000. However, the church needed about 15,000 euros a month to feed its 100 families.

“To tell you the truth, they don’t have that money, but the resilience of people giving food and supplies is amazing.”

Pomana said that humanitarian workers needed more support to continue their work.

He had been trying to secure 40 protective vests for workers and a small fleet of buses to evacuate civilians.

Struggling to secure these items himself, he had connected with Ron Mark.

Mark said he had, so far, been frustrated with his efforts.

He had made calls to consulates and embassies across the world but said a more structured organisation was needed to bring together support in a cohesive manner.

His attempts to secure buses for Pomana’s team had been unsuccessful.

“Being able to hire 10 55-seater buses seems like a pretty simple thing. You ring up [Wairarapa bus company] Tranzit, and you get 10, don’t you? Not in Ukraine, you don’t.”

With supply lines already congested due to covid-19, supplies from private sources could take a long time to reach their destination.

Mark said the Government could access faster supply lines, but these channels were unavailable to humanitarian workers like Pomana.

“All I know is that people are running in and out of Ukraine who don’t have body armour, and every day they drive those vehicles through there, they are at risk.”

On March 21, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced that New Zealand would provide a further $5 million in non-lethal military assistance for Ukraine, adding to the $6m previously provided in humanitarian support.

Soulway Church fundraising for aid in Ukraine outside the Masterton Town Hall.

The New Zealand Defence Force [NZDF] would also supply 1066 body armour plates, 473 helmets, and 571 camouflage vests.

“Aotearoa stands with the international community in condemning Putin’s unjustified and illegal attack on Ukraine,” Mahuta said.

However, Mark said that these contributions did not go far enough.

“It’s easy in our ministerial offices and our government departments to say, ‘We did a good job; we gave $6 million and thousands of suits of body armour.’ But that’s not going to be enough.”

Meanwhile, humanitarian workers such as Pomana were relying on donations.

In Masterton, one church had set up a fundraiser with proceeds supporting Pomana and his team.

When Soulway Church pastor Mahauariki Edmonds decided to hold a prayer vigil for Ukraine outside the Masterton Town Hall, he said some of his congregation suggested holding a fundraiser too.

Soulway Church pastor Mahauariki Edmonds said money raised by the church fundraiser went directly where it was needed on the ground in Ukraine. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

The church had previously held fundraisers for Pomana’s various missions.

“There are no administration costs incurred, no bureaucracy – just direct to the source,” Edmonds said.

He had received a report from Pomana saying that the money raised had gone towards infant formula.

“Now that’s a beautiful thing.”

Pomana said his objective as an evangelist was to raise money through his channels and help where he could.

“I’m really happy that Soulway Church wants to assist,” he said.

Pomana said that through donations from many small organisations, alongside a large contribution from Pomana himself, he was able to hire some of the buses needed to transport people out of Mariupol.

“Whatever money comes in, we’ll get more buses.

“If we can purchase big 55-seater buses, we can get people out now. Time is of the essence.”

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