ShelterBox Prepares for the Worst

Getting Supplies into Poland and Ukraine

ShelterBox Prepares for the Worst

Getting Supplies into Poland and Ukraine

By Nick Welsh | March 17, 2022

ShelterBox President Kerri Murray in Przemyśl, Poland. | Credit: Courtesy ShelterBox USA

As a girl growing up in Connecticut, Kerri Murray wanted to become the first woman ever to play professional baseball. That dream did not materialize. Today, Murray is facing something far more challenging — the biggest refugee crisis on the planet since World War II. For five straight days last week, Murray, the president of ShelterBox U.S.A., watched as 20,000 exhausted Ukrainians poured out of trains arriving in the small Polish town of Przemyśl. 

Murray, who has just returned to ShelterBox’s Summerland headquarters, has for the past 12 years worked for organizations providing aid to nations engulfed by catastrophes. Murray was in Haiti after a cataclysmic earthquake and in Fukushima after the massive tsunami. But none of that prepared her for the enormity of what’s happening in Ukraine. “I’ve never seen anything of this scale that’s happened so fast,” she said. “It’s truly unbelievable.”

In just two weeks, more than 2.6 million Ukrainians have fled their nation. Millions more have been internally displaced. The number of people needing humanitarian assistance will be substantially greater. “Even as many as nine million,” Murray stated, citing some of the grimmer estimates. 

It’s her mission to figure out how to get the immediate housing and home supply kits that ShelterBox provides to people inside Ukraine and to the refugee camps now sprouting up in many countries that neighbor Ukraine: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Moldova. 

Credit: Courtesy ShelterBox USA

Murray and her team spent the better part of last week doing necessary logistical and supply-chain reconnaissance. “ShelterBox doesn’t just do truck and chuck,” she explained. Without proper advance planning, the potential for “humanitarian waste,” she said, is huge.

Right now, ShelterBox has massive supplies of mattresses, thermal blankets, solar lamps, water carriers, and other non-edible household necessities in Belgium warehouses. The temperature is freezing, and the need for coats is great. ShelterBox has 20,000 coats in sizes that will fit these refugees, who are primarily women and children.

Getting some of this inside Ukraine, however, is no simple task. Trucks may be available, Murray said, but drivers are not, and the roads have been bombed. Nevertheless, Murray expects shipments to begin sometime this week. 

Murray hopes to launch ShelterBox projects in countries accepting refugees, such as Moldova, where resettlement camps have the capacity to handle 70,000 people. “Right now, they’re at 95 percent capacity,” Murray said. Moldova, she noted, has declared a no-fly zone that, if the Russian military respected it, would offer safety it currently does not observe in the so-called Humanitarian Corridors in Ukraine. 

Murray said she’s been awestruck by the generosity of Polish citizens and their government as well as people throughout Europe. Polish priests pass out tulips, and volunteers provide food, housing, and transport. And most of all, she’s been struck by the Ukrainians. She encountered a woman from Odessa who traveled for five days to get to Przemyśl — by foot, by bus, by train — to save her 10-year old son. But she’d been forced to leave behind her 22-year-old son, who presumably will be conscripted into the war against the Russians. “She has no idea if she’s going to see her older son again.”

Murray’s job, among other things, is to raise money to keep the warehouses full. There’s a lot of money in Santa Barbara; that’s in part why ShelterBox U.S.A. — an international organization that originated in England — has its headquarters here. She is not sure how much will needed to be raised; certainly it will be in the “millions and millions” range. Right now, ShelterBox is getting lots of smaller donations, mostly in the $50-$200 range.

Media attention, Murray recognizes, is essential. “When headlines fade, donations will dry up,” she said. This, however, might be different. “What we are witnessing is the worst refugee crisis since World War II. And what people are thinking is, ‘Is this the start of the next world war?’”

What does Kerri Murray think?

“I don’t know.”

See Catch up on the rest of our cover package, “Ukrainians Speak Out in Santa Barbara,” here.


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