Bob Wouda, stable person for help in Eastern Ukraine.

Photo: private archive SPSN-O 

Concerns an older interview with the current chairman; shortly after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. By Geert Jan Hahn, Slavist, journalist and Eastern Europe commentator. 

Winter has arrived and is causing "life-threatening conditions" in eastern Ukraine, according to the United Nations. The Dutchman Bob Wouda sees it with sorrow and offers the Ukrainians a helping hand. 

INTERVIEW – Bob Wouda has been coming to Ukraine as an aid worker for more than ten years. The reason? He wants to do something for Ukrainian youth and, in particular, orphans. But this year everything changed. Ukraine is now a country at war, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Suddenly it is no longer about the future, but about survival. 

Also for Wouda himself. The Dutchman, a former cavalry officer who retired early from service in 2003, now commutes between Limburg and Kiev. But his life revolves around Ukraine. The country of his wife, son and Ukrainian family. 

Moreover, Wouda has made many friends in recent years and has committed himself to numerous projects. He does not want to turn his back on the Ukrainians now. "I only live for them, the rest can be stolen from me. I have little business in the Netherlands anymore." 


Wouda does not shy away from the unrest in Eastern Ukraine. He recently traveled by train from Kiev to Luhansk, a region he knows well through his work with orphans. He was looked at strangely on the train because Luhansk fell into the hands of pro-Russian rebels earlier this year. They proclaimed the city and region of the same name a people's republic. What was a Dutch person supposed to do in such an area? But Wouda had no choice, or so he thought. He wanted to get medical supplies into the area and needed stamped hospital documents from the region. 

Bureaucracy is decisive in Ukraine, even in wartime. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving in Luhansk, Wouda was thrown off the train by concerned bystanders. "You have to leave; It's too dangerous here!" A friend eventually picked him up by car. but unfortunately the care provider did not have the necessary stamps. 

False responses and threats 

Wouda has a strong opinion about the situation in Ukraine: it is the Kremlin's fault, Putin's. He regularly posts on Facebook about this. In this way he hopes to reach Dutch people, among others. Why are tougher measures against Russia not being taken? Why don't we help Ukraine more? This is incomprehensible to Wouda. He also finds the false reactions and sometimes threats he receives from the pro-Russian camp shocking. Reason to temporarily stop using social media. 

Although, after numerous requests, the care provider has now become active on the web again. Ukrainian powerlessness Wouda has not put aside assistance either. On the contrary. Together with a Finnish volunteer, he arranges relief transports. Wouda is always happy when it works. When all the papers are finally ready and large trucks full of sleeping bags, clothing and shoes can leave. And the aid worker is completely happy when the transport safely reaches the refugee camps in Eastern Ukraine. 

Wouda: "There are plenty of examples of rebels hijacking transport." And the Ukrainian government? It does little or nothing, 

Wouda explains. Powerlessness. Kiev has no money. The state is struggling with a bankrupt economy and is on life support from the International Monetary Fund. Billions are spent on the war and the soldiers in the East are still without winter clothing. The citizens are doing their best, raising money on masse. But sometimes it seems like mopping with the tap open. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are left without a roof over their heads in their own country. They hang out at train stations or are housed in snow-covered tents. 

Threatening winter cold Recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of "life-threatening conditions" in eastern Ukraine. A humanitarian crisis is looming. No food, no infrastructure and barely functioning hospitals. 

Wouda has only been able to arrange transport for forty orphans. Away from the eastern area, to the safe west of Ukraine. However, he also knows young women who fell into the hands of the rebels and did not survive after being abused. Or as he puts it, "have disappeared". 

Wouda has not been to Luhansk recently. Only when there is peace will Wouda consider moving in that direction again. Although that will also be a sad meeting. His friends' houses are either occupied or in ruins. "But if I can help people who are left there, then I won't hesitate."