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UMN Carlson School of Management alum leads Ukraine humanitarian effort

Dorota Serafin, who is involved in the Polish Humanitarian Action organization, is currently providing aid to people leaving Ukraine.
Photo courtesy of Dorota Serafin.

An alum of the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management is helping to distribute cash vouchers, groceries and medicine as part of humanitarian relief efforts to support people impacted by the war in Ukraine.

Dorota Serafin is the executive director of Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH), or Polska Akcja Humanitarna, based in Warsaw, Poland. Its mission is to help people impacted by armed conflicts or natural disasters by providing access to food, water, shelter and education, according to their website. 

The organization supports people outside of Poland and they are also providing aid to refugees entering the country from Ukraine. Serafin said their focus is on supporting “the most vulnerable people,” like children and the elderly, who may not be able to sustain themselves. 

PAH also supported regions of Ukraine before the Russian invasion on Feb. 24. “So we would help with groceries, medicine and also provide care for those stricken by the presence of war in their area,” Serafin said. “We will support local centers that organize different types of activities for these people.”

The organization also offers support at border crossings that connect Ukraine and Poland. Resources and food are available at refugee reception centers in towns and cities located along the border, Serafin said. 

“This is also where we provide information for people crossing over, sometimes their first hot meal after several days, the place to rest, gather your thoughts before you go anywhere into Poland,” Serafin said. 

PAH also runs a multi-purpose cash assistance program for people displaced by the war, Serafin said.  

“We hand out pre-charge cards for people so that they can decide what’s the most need they have, and they can just buy whatever they want with it,” Serafin said. ”Our goal initially is to hand these cards to 20,000 people, we’ll see where we go from there”.

Serafin became more aware of nonprofit organizations through her Master of Business Administration program at the Carlson School before graduating in 2006. Originally from Warsaw, Poland, she said she considers Minnesota to be a second home. 

PAH has been supporting people in Ukraine since 2014, mainly in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. 

PAH has offices in Ukrainian cities Lviv, Kyiv and Kramatorsk, the latter of which was hit by a Russian missile attack on April 8. Although there were casualties reported, Serafin said no one from her team was injured.

The PAH organization has offered social and legal services for people in the area since fighting in Ukraine began in 2014. Serafin said she thought this steady fighting has been forgotten by much of the world, especially since Russia executed a larger invasion of Ukraine in February.  

Serafin said she thinks the general public’s concern and enthusiasm to help support people impacted by the war will wear out or that it will be a forgotten war, like those ongoing in Yemen or Somalia.

Serafin said she is concerned the number of volunteers from humanitarian organizations may decrease in the future. 

“We will play our role, but we cannot replace the [Polish] state in it,” Serafin said. “My worry is that this will become a forgotten conflict and forgotten problem.”

Correction: A previous version of this story contained multiple errors, most of which were in regards to the Polish Humanitarian Action’s functions and missions. These errors have since been corrected.

The previous version misstated who the PAH works to support and when. The PAH mostly supports people from outside Poland. The PAH also supports people in Ukraine, mainly in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The PAH helped local centers in Ukraine with groceries, medicine and other activities before Feb. 24. The PAH also has a Pajacyk program that focuses on nutrition and support for children. 

Additionally, the previous version misstated the organization’s locations in Ukraine. The PAH has offices in three Ukrainian cities: Lviv, Kyiv and Kramatorsk.

A previous version also misstated Serafin’s background in nonprofit organizations. Serafin became interested in nonprofit organizations while at the University’s Carlson School.

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