Latter-day Saint Charities began to move humanitarian aid into place around Ukraine weeks before Russia invaded and will continue to provide relief in the region until the conflict is over, according to the organization’s president, Sister Sharon Eubank.

“We have (made) a commitment. We’re going to stay,” said Sister Eubank, who also serves as first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We’re not just there for the first month or the first week. We will stay until that that situation is resolved ...” she added. “The disaster is only the very beginning. What we really care about is helping people spiritually, emotionally and physically recover and build their societies back.”

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Sister Eubank also mentioned the church’s members in Russia during a presentation Friday for a virtual leadership summit hosted by Horasis USA, part of an independent international think tank based in Zurich, Switzerland.

“We have members in all the countries affected,” Sister Eubank said. “We have members in Russia who are feeling the difficult effects of sanctions. We have members in Poland and Germany and Slovakia and Hungary and Moldova and Russia — they’re all receiving enormous amounts of refugees and generously giving the help that they can. And we have members in Ukraine who are facing impossible choices in the destruction of their beautiful country.”

More than 53,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia. In all, the U.N.’s refugee agency says more than 1.3 million Ukrainians have become refugees — more than 2% of the national population. More than 100,000 people have left the country every day after the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.

The church’s charity has provided sleeping bags, cots, tents and other supplies to local governments, the Red Cross and other groups helping Ukrainian refugees who are arriving in bordering countries, according to a news release issued Thursday.

Sister Eubank said Latter-day Saint Charities operates on cash reserves so that it doesn’t have to raise funds each time a crisis arises. That allowed it to begin funding and funneling aid to the countries around Ukraine before the invasion.

“The church, in its humanitarian arm, it keeps a two-year reserve of funding, and this allows us to be incredibly nimble,” she said. “We’re not going to raise funds for the work that we need to do. We’re using funds that have already been raised. That allowed us to pre-position food and water several weeks ago. It allows us to be right on the border with what the people need and be responsive, because the needs change every single day as the situation goes forward.”

Sister Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities, speaks to the Horasis USA summit on March 4, 2022.
Sister Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities, speaks from her home in Utah during a virtual leadership summit hosted by Horasis USA, part of an independent international think tank, on Friday, March 4, 2022. | Screen capture

Sister Eubank asked governments and religions to continue new alliances that are beginning to improve humanitarian aid services worldwide.

“Faith is actually the answer,” she said.

Faith communities are local, so they understand customs and language and needs.

“They remind us that we’re all children of the same God,” she said. “Faith communities are perfectly positioned to do this because we’re very good at trying to make humanity come together and achieve a larger goal.”

She said governments and policymakers would more effectively achieve their objectives if they integrated faith communities into the solutions.

“The good that religion can do, especially when it comes to integrating and achieving sustainable development, is amplified when religions work together along with governments and non-government organizations,” she said.

Sister Eubank also shared three principles rooted in stories that she has gleaned from a quarter-century of work in the humanitarian sector.

“My point is that people are the heart of the solution. I think these examples show it’s not just goods and services that make a difference that is sustainable. It’s building trust and respect and understanding,” she said. “That just takes time. It takes effort to be able to do that.”

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Principle 1: Provide choices to those receiving aid

Sister Eubank shared the story of a Yazidi girl who needed a coat for the brutal winter in Turkey. The girl selected a pink one that wasn’t as warm as others, but Latter-day Saint Charities staffers didn’t correct her choice.

A Yazidi girl chooses a pretty pink coat provided by Latter-day Saint Charities at a refugee camp in Turkey.
A Yazidi girl chooses a pretty pink coat from a pile of winter clothing provided by Latter-day Saint Charities at a refugee camp in Turkey. Choice is an important principle in helping those receiving aid after a disaster, said the charity’s president, Sister Sharon Eubank. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“The ability for her to choose has been taken away from her in so many ways,” Sister Eubank said. “She can’t pick what she eats, where she lives, how she worships, who’s she’s with. A small thing, even like a coat and protecting her ability to choose that, is one way of restoring the dignity and the ability for self-determination that has been ripped away in the disaster. So being free to choose, being free to make a mistake, being free to recover, change your mind and then allowing other people that same freedom — that’s a foundational principle for any positive human interaction and often in a disaster will get truncated. One of our great desires is to bring that ability back for people.”

Principle 2: Help people in need find dignity and meaningful work

Eubank said simply distributing physical supplies to people can be hollow instead of also recognizing that they are hurting spiritually and emotionally.

In Mosul, Iraq, Latter-day Saint Charities agreed to help rebuild a Chaldean priest’s Christian school but asked if the schoolchildren’s parents could help make the desks. None of the parents were skilled laborers, and the priest was skeptical, but the experts were provided to work alongside them.

“When those polished desks were finished, and (the parents’) little children were sitting in them and they’re standing at the back, they are filled with pride,” Sister Eubank said. “They’re filled with, ‘I did this, I provided, I’m not a failure. I provided this for my family. And if we can get together as a community to build desks, what else can we do?’ So that removal of the skepticism and that empowerment of meaningful work is a great healer in these situations. I’ve seen some of the most moving responses to humanitarian work in that way.”

Iraqi students in Mosul smile at desks their parents helped to build with aid from Latter-day Saint Charities.
Iraqi students in Mosul smile at desks their parents helped to build at a Christian school with aid from Latter-day Saint Charities. Meaningful work is an important principle in helping those receiving aid after a disaster, said the charity’s president, Sister Sharon Eubank. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Principle 3: Cooperation and voluntary service

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She said sports and music are additional ways to help communities come together and heal after a disaster, but one underutilized method is voluntary service.

“Volunteering in your community and doing something that doesn’t benefit you in any way, but it’s good for the group, is very powerful as you work shoulder to shoulder with people that you may have never had any interaction with and maybe wouldn’t want to, but you’re doing something for your community. That weaves the social fabric back together when it has frayed,” Sister Eubank said.

The Horasis USA summit was sponsored in part by Deseret Management Corp., which owns the Deseret News. Sister Eubank was introduced by DMC President and CEO, Keith McMullin. Deseret News President Robin Ritch, Deseret News Executive Editor Doug Wilks and Deseret National Executive Editor Hal Boyd moderated panels.

The two-day virtual summit included more than 100 organizations with 35 concurrent conversations taking place throughout the day Friday. Subjects ranged from the arts to artificial intelligence to health, tech, crypto, supply chains, the future of democracy and improving elections and defending them from foreign interference.

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