Disaster tourism and useless donations: What charities are getting wrong about the Ukraine war

Ukrainian refugees crossing into Poland in March 2022. (Photo courtesy the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine/Wikimedia Commons)

It’s been a month since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, forcing 10 million Ukrainians to leave their homes, including nearly four million refugees. Many have fled to neighbouring Poland, which is where a number of Canadian Jewish community and non-profit leaders have flown to personally engage with and witness the tragedy unfold. Back on Canadian soil, numerous charities and NGOs, including Jewish ones such as B’nai Brith, continue to hold donation drives where they accept old clothing, blankets, shampoo, personal hygiene products, flashlights and more.

These are understandable reactions to a global crisis. But they may not be helping as much as people think.

It’s become evident that refugees in Poland have ready access to many items being donated, and flying boxes of old clothing from Canada to Europe may not be the best use of anyone’s time, money or resources. Goods can be purchased in Europe and transported much more efficiently, affordably and with less of a carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the abundance of rabbis and community leaders travelling to the border has been criticized as mere “disaster tourism.”

To dig into these issues, The CJN’s weekly current affairs podcast, Bonjour Chai, is joined by Kate Bahen, the managing director of Charity intelligence Canada, a watchdog organization that provides transparency and resources for Canadians looking for the smartest ways to donate their dollars.

Plus, our resident rabbi explains to David what it means that he’s a kohen in the modern world, we catch up on updates from past episodes, and the hosts discuss an age-old question: is daylight saving time good for the Jews?

Listen and subscribe to Bonjour Chai above.

Relevant links

  • Listen to Linda Frum and Adam Minsky discuss flying to the Ukrainian border on The CJN Daily
  • Read an essay by three Canadian rabbis who travelled to the border at The CJN
  • Read “Jewish leaders are flocking to Ukraine’s border. Some question the trips” at The Forward
  • Listen to the All Things Considered episode about clothing donations at NPR
  • View the Kickstarter for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Chametz!


Bonjour Chai is hosted by Avi Finegold, Ilana Zackon and David Sklar. Michael Fraiman is the producer. Andre Goulet is the technical producer. Our theme music is by Socalled. The show is a co-production from The Jewish Learning Lab and The CJN, and is distributed by The CJN Podcast Network. To learn how to support the show by subscribing to this podcast, please watch this video.