Sanatorium tried to snatch aid from before the kids

Ukraina noored president Petro Porošenko taustal iseseisvusparaadil Odessas.

PHOTO: Palinchak Mikhail / Scanpix

Last Friday, humanitarian aid sent by Estonian foreign ministry arrived in Southern Ukraine. The children invited to receive it had to leave the sanatorium empty-handed.

An Ukrainian journalist Tatyana Milimko went to Odessa in order to cover the aid’s arrival. The Lustdorf Sanatorium where the aid was to be received set up a grand media event. The aid sent from Estonia included milk powder, canned meat, warm blankets, bed-linen and toiletries.

For the media to have something to film, kids were arranged to be in place. In front of the cameras, the children said how well they had been received in the sanatorium and how badly they wanted to go home already.

Having filmed for an hour, Ms Milimko had the material for her story and the camera was switched off. She proceeded to ask the sanatorium director when the kids would be receiving the aid. The man said the aid that arrived was not meant specifically for the children but for the sanatorium. That made the journalist wonder. So she continued interrogating the director.

«I kept pointing out that the sanatorium has to give the aid to the children,» recalls Ms Milimko. «But I never got an answer to my question. The director of the sanatorium, indignant at my questions, asked all the journalists to leave. I think my question wa the only logical one at that moment.»

Estonia is supporting those internally displaced in Ukraine via the UN refugee agency UNHCR, whose Odessa office representative was very upset with Ms Milimko for stirring a scandal. Even the Odessa vice governor Zoya Kazanži spoke up. She said that the journalists were to be blamed for the conflict as they were the ones who wanted to film children and invited them.

«I did not want to cause the conflict,» said Ms Milimko. «Because the Estonian mission is noble and I did not want to associate people with bad opinions.» However, as one of the officials accused the journalists in using the children to get a better story, Ms Milimko did raise her voice. According to her, it was the sanatorium’s idea.

«There is war in my home country and I do not want [people] abroad to think that here everything is being stolen and that the aid sent does not reach those who need it. That is not so,» said the journalist.

From the UN agency, Ms Milimko was promised on Monday that the aid will reach the children during this week. According to the journalist, the scandal around Estonian humanitarian aid is not the usual in Ukraine. Still, she said, it has occasionally surfaced that canned food and money collected by donors has been stolen. «It seems to me the sanatorium just wanted to put up a good front – that everything is working and the kids are there. Therefore, they gathered the children into the hall.»

According to Ms Milimko, it is the state and not foreign countries that ought to support the sanatoriums which offer accommodation to refugees.  

All in all, Estonia supports those internally displaced in Ukraine with €80,000.