An internal letter of the Dutch-based organization Oost Europa Zending (OEZ), or ‘East Europe Mission’, obtained by Christian news Website www.manna-vandaag.nl and its partner BosNewsLife, said goods are not delivered to patients because local staff members fear they may be stolen.
"After a couple of days we discovered a room where everything had been stored what OEZ had given," wrote Willemine and Gertjan de Jong, a recently married couple who just returned from an OEZ mission journey, about the situation of the hospital in the Ukrainian town of Vinogradiv, near Hungary.
Project leader Edwin Brokaar was quoted as saying, "There are so many clothes dumped in the depot, enough to dress the babies for another ten years."
Doctors and nurses claim they are reluctant to use the goods because they must for them if items are stolen by colleagues or others, BosNewsLife learned. "That’s nonsense because the products are delivered totally free-of-charge," countered Willemine and Gertjan de Jong in their letter to close friends and supporters.
A head sister, who was not identified, allegedly said the goods were not opened "because we think about tomorrow" as there could be shortages, concerns apparently fuelled by decades of mismanagement when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.
Problems also occurred at the Ukrainian border, the OEZ volunteers said. "We set off with 16 people in two mini busses carrying goods…Everything went fine till we reached Ukrainian customs officials who complained about one missing stamp in our car papers. We were forced to abandon the vehicles at the Hungarian site of the border."
It came at a harrowing moment for the hospital, where aid workers eventually arrived and discovered dozens of babies, many of them "weak and malnourished," the letter said. Among the babies Maxim, "a white Gypsy boy" of 10 months. "He looked like a child from Africa suffering hunger, except that he was white," the De Jongs claimed.
Another baby, identified as 16-month-old Victor "could not yet sit" and was suffering because "his head was not straight because he was always laying wrong."
The team managed to bring "70 banana boxes" of which "11 were full of care products" including special soaps, baby lotion and baby oil, according to the letter. It was not immediately clear if all products arrived at the intended destination.
The problems of OEZ in Ukraine are no isolated incidents, BosNewsLife established. An official with the Budapest-based Hungarian Maltese Charity Service told BosNewsLife his Catholic oriented aid group had similar troubles in Ukraine’s Trans-Carpathian region, where several Christian aid groups are active.
He said staff members were threatened in Uzhhorod, the main town in the area bordering Hungary. "When we parked our bus in a parking lot there, we were told we had to pay 500 dollars or otherwise they couldn’t guarantee the vehicle would not be stolen. Our driver was forced to stay the night in the bus," explained Maltese spokesman Istvan Kuzmanyi.
Christians in Uzhhorod have linked these cases to a climate of rampant corruption, with the apparent involvement of local officials. In an open letter published earlier by BosNewsLife alleged victims of corruption urged President Viktor Yushchenko to start realizing the ideals of the Orange Revolution, which helped sweep him to power, nearly three years ago.
"Mr. President, we dream with you of a different Ukraine. A Ukraine where the rule of law is respected. A Ukraine that will find its rightful place in Europe as a full fledged member of the European Union," ‘The Concerned Citizens of Uzhhorod-Zakarpatskaya’ region wrote.
Yet, with winter approaching, Dutch and other Christian organizations remain uncertain how to tackle human misery in a region where local authorities seem unable, or unwilling, to improve the free-flow of apparently desperately needed aid. Gertjan de Jong, a Dutch journalist, and his wife Willemine said they may abandon their comforts at home and base themselves as full-time missionaries in Ukraine to oversee aid deliveries, "if that’s Gods calling." (With additional reporting by Agnes R. Bos and Stefan J. Bos).