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Ways to help victims of war this holiday season

From Ukrainian civilians facing another winter of brutal Russian bombing to Palestinian civilians suffering from Israeli air strikes, it's a bleak time of year.

This holiday season is a bleak time for Ukrainian civilians facing another winter of brutal Russian bombing — especially when GOP members of Congress have sent Vladimir Putin a huge Christmas gift by blocking further U.S. aid to Kyiv.

It is also a tragic time for Israeli civilians traumatized by Hamas’ vicious attack and for Palestinian civilians in Gaza suffering horribly from Israel’s military response.

For those who are frustrated by a sense of helplessness and wondering how to help, one way is to donate to charities that are reaching civilians on the ground.

In Ukraine, as soldiers battle on the front, civilian volunteer groups have held the country together. From the start of the war, women and men excused from the front lines have banded together to feed people in urban bomb shelters, rescue elderly Ukrainians from villages under fire, provide generators for those without heat and electricity, and help the internally displaced and wounded.

The courage of ordinary people who risk their lives to help their countrymen is extraordinary and continues as the war nears the second-year mark. It reflects their determination not to fall under Russia’s despotic rule (and shreds the argument of those who claim Ukrainians fight only at NATO’s bidding).

» READ MORE: Why Ukraine can beat Russia, and why that matters to America | Trudy Rubin

That is why, when it comes to Ukraine, I prefer to recommend smaller Ukrainian organizations, founded by Ukrainians (or Ukrainian Americans) whose work I have seen in person.

As I did last Christmas, I particularly recommend Ukraine TrustChain, whose teams deliver aid directly to where it is most needed, and whose terrific work I have witnessed in my reporting.

Ukraine TrustChain was founded at the start of the war by two Ukrainian American childhood friends who had emigrated from Kyiv to Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively, when they were 10 years old. Their concept was to find team leaders among people they or their friends trusted in Ukraine and have those volunteers build regional networks of people they trusted in turn. The money raised goes directly to the teams, with constant contact and periodic visits from board members in the U.S.

In July, I traveled with a team of volunteers from the southern port of Odesa as they drove four hours in their own cars to the recently liberated city of Kherson, on the Dnieper River. The city is still under daily shelling from Russian troops on the opposite bank — we heard regular booms, sometimes close by. Parts of Kherson had been heavily flooded when the Russians blew up the Kakhovka Dam upriver to impede the movement of Ukrainian troops.

Led by Alena Prizhebolska, a real estate agent before the war, the group dropped off some equipment to two local deminers trying to clear the area around a bus stop and a walking path. The group also unloaded sacks of vegetables to volunteer cooks at a shelter who were feeding locals whose houses had been destroyed by the flood.

Then we drove to a dangerous area along the river, from which you could almost see Russian positions, where local volunteers were helping residents dig out the claylike muck that had poured into their houses when the floodwaters hit.

“Right after the flood, we bought a boat and evacuated survivors from the left bank,” Prizhebolska told me, as local homeowners rushed out to greet her. “Now, to save houses, Ukraine TrustChain bought pumps to pump out water.”

In the Kherson area, other Ukraine TrustChain teams are providing seeds, seedlings, and tools to thousands of small farmers in deoccupied areas who lost everything under Russian control.

What is so amazing — and moving — is that this volunteer spirit has continued for nearly two years. Other teams bring food to villages on the front lines and evacuate those who seek to leave while delivering firewood so residents whose power lines have been bombed can survive the winter. And these actions do not come without risk for the volunteers. In November, one volunteer truck in eastern Ukraine was nearly hit by a Russian drone.

» READ MORE: In the war between Ukraine and Russia, which side is the GOP on? | Trudy Rubin

Meantime, the number of Ukraine’s military war wounded has mounted. For those who want to help, I again recommend Revived Soldiers of Ukraine, which aids wounded soldiers at home and brings some to the U.S. to be fitted for prosthetics. I met one such soldier, brought to Philly for treatment, who had lost an arm and a leg defending Mariupol and was tortured by Russians while captive in a Russian hospital. He returned home to Odesa, is now married, and hopes to return to the fight.

Another dedicated Ukrainian organization that helps Ukrainian amputees is Barvy. The group is the local Ukrainian partner for the Ukraine Initiatives run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Global Health program. Penn medical teams train Ukrainian surgeons in special techniques to salvage and repair blast wounds and regularly consult on cases. I met some of these wonderful Ukrainian surgeons and their gutsy military amputee patients in Vinnytsia on my July trip. I have also met some of their terrific Penn Medicine counterparts and will be writing more on this project. You can read more about the program at

When it comes to Israel and Gaza, here are a few groups I recommend:

IsraAID is Israel’s largest humanitarian aid organization and is supporting Israelis who have been evacuated from their homes along the Gaza border at over a dozen evacuation centers around the country, with mental health and psychosocial support. The organization is also building shelters for unrecognized Bedouin villages in Israel’s south, which, unlike other Israeli cities and villages, do not have access to shelters from ongoing missile fire.

New Israel Fund is an umbrella organization making grants to Israeli Jewish and Arab civil society organizations for the advancement of democracy, equal rights, and social justice. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, NIF has supported Israeli Jewish-Arab emergency efforts such as Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, in which hundreds of Jewish and Bedouin women gather to pack relief boxes for Jewish and Bedouin towns affected by the war.

To help get humanitarian aid into Gaza, I’m recommending international aid organizations that have the resources and staff inside the strip. Others — such as the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children — are trying to get aid in.

Doctors Without Borders is a renowned international medical relief organization, which has doctors working inside Gaza.

UNICEF is the United Nations children’s organization, which has support staff inside Gaza.

Anera is a long-standing Palestine refugee relief aid agency, which works with partners in the West Bank and Gaza.