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Credit unions’ Ukrainian aid campaigns focus on farming, technology

Against the backdrop of missile barrages and waves of fleeing residents, Ukrainian credit unions are working nonstop to continue operations in any capacity.

“In some cases, [credit unions are] missing doors to their brick-and-mortar locations, and despite that they’re still concerned that they want to get in their regulatory quarterly filings so that they can continue to exist and support their local constituents. … In the face of all this adversity, they’re still trying to do the right thing,” said Andrew Horbachevsky, who chairs the Ukrainian American Credit Union. 

Credit unions from across the world are doing their own part, not only to keep their Ukrainian counterparts operational but to keep key components of the nation’s economy running. 

The Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions, which operates as the official engagement and fundraising arm of the World Council for Credit Unions in Madison, Wisconsin, donated more than 17,000 gallons of fuel to Ukrainian farmers and other agricultural producers in October. The WFCU’s Fuel Disbursement Program purchased roughly $100,000 worth of diesel from the Ukrainian fuel chain OKKO, using backing from its Ukrainian Credit Union Displacement Fund.

In cooperation with WOCCU’s existing Credit for Agriculture Producers project, or CAP, the philanthropic organization began developing the initiative in spring of this year and reached out to credit unions in Ukraine to gather information about medium-sized agribusinesses most in need of fuel, explained Mike Reuter, executive director of the WFCU.

“In early October, many Ukrainian crop producers harvest soya and sow winter grains, like winter wheat or barley. … Fuel is what every farmer needs for their business, whatever type of agri-production they are engaged in, but it is of course most viable for crop producers,” Reuter said. 

Ukrainian credit unions that are partnered with the WFCU’s CAP project distributed 1,329 coupons — each allotting 13 gallons of pre-paid fuel — to 163 farmers that took out agricultural loans during the beginning of the war. Depending on the size of the loan, members received varying amounts of coupons.

Volodymyr Sidorovsky (left), chief executive of Credit Union Anisia in Lviv, Ukraine, presenting a member with sheets of fuel coupons to be redeemed at various OKKO gas stations.

WFCU

“A major exporter [of grain] like Ukraine dropping out [of the world market] can have serious consequences for global food security. … That’s why supporting Ukrainian farmers is vital not only to help Ukraine and Ukrainians, but also people of other countries (especially African countries) and ensure they have food,” Reuter said.

Prior to its recent fuel-based relief campaign, the WFCU launched a similar initiative this year to bolster the agricultural market in the country by covering 10% of the agricultural loan principal payments for 585 farmers. 

Examples of other aid programs that stretch beyond the farmlands include the WFCU’s initial $50,000 disbursement of funds at the start of the war and the Polish American Credit Union Support Fund launched this year through a partnership between Bruce K. Foulke, president and chief executive of American Heritage Credit Union, a $4.3 billion-asset institution in Philadelphia; and Brian Branch, former president and CEO of the WOCCU.

With persistent attacks posing an ongoing threat to the rural landscape of Ukraine and its inhabitants, the impact on crop production could harm both farmers and the world at large, as statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service found that the country is the top exporter of sunflower seeds, sunflower oil and sunflower meal in the global market for the 2022-2023 marketing year.

“Credit unions, by nature, help maintain a thriving and prosperous economy for their members. … The recent donation of [more than] 17,000 gallons of fuel made by the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions to Ukrainian farmers proves that credit unions put people above profits,” said Greg Mesack, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions. “It is imperative that we continue to support and uplift credit unions across the world.”

For some U.S. credit union groups connected to Ukrainians, the issue hits closer to home.

The Ukrainian American Credit Union Association came about as a result of the increased number of refugees who emigrated to the U.S. after World War II. It now has 12 member organizations that have a combined 100,000 members and roughly $4 billion of assets. WIthin the first few weeks of the war, the UACUA raised more than $700,000 in financial relief.

Horbachevsky, the group’s chair, explained how the organization is continuing its fundraising efforts through various partnerships with the WOCCU and organizing donations of internet servers, printers and other necessities to support credit union infrastructure.

“First aid kits, tourniquets and even medical drones to deliver medical supplies to the front, all of that continues [as] we saw that initially as the immediate requirement. … In order for a credit union to continue to exist, there’s still regulatory filings that they had to,” and they were still managing those filings despite the war, Horbachevsky said.

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