“Credit unions have always been more than just financial institutions. We care about people, not money. In these difficult times for our country, we are all doing our best to help each other and our members" - a leader of the Ukrainian credit union movement.
On the morning of February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation invaded the independent country of Ukraine. The full-scale invasion has since included bombing of civilian targets, including hospitals, schools and kindergartens, as well as fleeing civilians trying to escape the active combat zones. The past several weeks have been marked by unbelievable tragedy for everyday Ukrainians trying to survive and escape the war.
In light of this evolving crisis, Ukrainian credit unions – community-based regional financial institutions - face unprecedented challenges to operate and still remain strong so they can keep supporting their members and communities in need.
Credit unions located in the relatively peaceful areas of western Ukraine are continuing to do just that. The working day has been adjusted around curfews and restrictions on movements, and to account for roadblocks and the safety of staff and members. But the doors of their offices remain open.
In addition to their direct operations, credit unions in western Ukraine have also coordinated together or joined volunteer hubs and humanitarian aid centers.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have moved from conflict areas to the City of Lviv and its surrounding region, or "Oblast." One credit union with branches in Lviv Oblast is making significant efforts to help those in need. Most of its 38 employees and 5,000 members have joined various volunteer initiatives.
Together with the local entrepreneurs, volunteers from the credit union community, including the credit union legal counselor, organized and equipped a warehouse to receive and house humanitarian aid. In cooperation with the Lviv Regional State Administration and its Logistics Center, credit union employees and members sort out and pack the humanitarian aid, including dressing supplies and medicine, to be further delivered to other regions of Ukraine.
Credit union representatives coordinate the support provided to internally displaced families – most of them from heavily bombarded Kharkiv Oblast - who temporarily live in a school on the outskirts of the City of Lviv. There, the credit union representatives lead activities where families weave protection nets for Territorial Defense Forces.
Credit union employees and members, led by the credit union CEO’s wife, cook meals in big quantities, including traditional Ukrainian varenyky and holybsti, which are distributed among the internally displaced people, Territorial Defense Forces and Ukrainian soldiers.
The credit union CEO also provides shelter at his own home for some of the displaced people. He has also helped his colleagues from a Cherkasy credit union with a prompt search for and delivery of armored vests and helmets to protect 600 local members of Territorial Defense Forces. Such protective equipment is in high demand in Ukraine and supplies remains short.
Given that Lviv is full of exclusive and historic art and architectural monuments, the credit union's chief accountant and her family members coordinated a group of artists to create and place protective materials over these monuments, to protect them from potential bombing.
Many Ukrainians have also fled from Russian bombs and missiles to Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. An area of the Carpathian Mountains which was known for pioneering green tourism before the war, has now become one of the central hubs for hosting refugees.
A credit union operating there has joined the local volunteer center initiatives. Three of the credit union's employees have been assigned on a full-time basis to the volunteer center, helping to sort out and pack humanitarian aid. They make energy bars from local nuts and dried fruit to be distributed among the internally displaced people and to the regions of Ukraine being directly impacted by the war.
The credit union CEO is also doing their part by searching for shelters to help the internally displaced people relocate temporarily.
All these examples show the credit union movement is strong in Ukraine, as is the mantra of "people over profit."
World Council of Credit Unions' Credit for Agriculture for Producers' (CAP) Project, a USAID-funded activity, provided the content for this post. The names of specific credit unions and their employees were omitted for their safety.