Maria Klimchak remembers what customers would say when they bought all the miniature Ukraine flags she could sell during the first days of the war with Russia.
“’Today, we are Ukrainian,’” she recalled them telling her.
Klimchak is a curator at Chicago’s Ukrainian National Museum, where the number of visitors spiked in the first month after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. Since then, museum attendance has fallen 40%.
Today, there are plenty of blue and yellow Ukraine flags on the shelves available for purchase. Klimchak is worried that support for the country where she was born is evaporating. “We have to help Ukraine right now,” Klimchak told Forbes“because tomorrow will be too late.”
From Klimchak’s two-story brick museum in a tree-lined neighborhood to philanthropic organizations that span the globe, financial support for Ukraine has slid from enthusiastic to underwhelming in just four months. Supporters of Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelensky worry that Russia’s unprovoked war will slowly fade from worldwide attention. People were so eager to return Ukraine in the early days of the conflict but now are distracted by any number of goings-on in a world brimming with news.
“There are always new and more shocking things that keep happening even from Ukraine and the US,” Avril Benoit, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, told Forbes. “We have a domestic news cycle that can become very consuming, whether it’s around the loss of access to safe abortion care, mass shootings in schools, you name it, there’s always something.”
Benoit’s organization, known internationally as Medecins Sans Frontieres, has raised over $13 million for Ukraine. Still, the early surge of more than 70,000 individual donations in March dropped to 21,000 in May.
Direct Relief, a charitable organization in Southern California that provides emergency medical aid across the globe, brought in over 80,000 individual donations from businesses and individuals in March. It saw a 90% decrease in them since April. “Individual donations have kind of gone back to normal,” spokesperson Tony Morain said. The International Red Cross, too, said contributions earmarked for Ukraine have decreased, but was unable to report specific numbers.
Even while humanitarian giving fades, military aid continues. The US announced this week it will send another $1 billion to Ukraine, making $5 billion in total commitments.
A 2021 report by The Center of Disaster Philanthropy found that after a sudden disaster, people’s charitable giving can level off after anywhere between four weeks to six months, and most of what they’ll donate is given within the first eight weeks.
It’s a mistake, however, to equate caring with donating money, said Martin Scott, an associate professor at the University of East Anglia in the UK Staying informed, helping refugees or taking them in, are examples of support that aren’t easily quantified, he said.
“It’s assumed that money is a proxy for caring,” Scott told Forbes. “That’s not true for lots of reasons.”
One of those reasons includes pierogy, borsch, varenyky and holubtsi, or stuffed cabbage. At least, those are the most important ways that diners can show Dmytro Kovalenko that they care. Kovalenko fled violence in eastern Ukraine in 2014, during Russia’s previous invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Today he runs Streecha, a hole-in-the-wall Ukrainian restaurant tucked into the basement of a church in New York City’s East Village.
“We were overwhelmed with customers for the first six weeks of the invasion,” Kovalenko told Forbes. “There was so much support, we barely had enough food to give them.”
More than 400 customers would line up to eat Streecha’s four featured menu items in March. Today, Kovalenko said he may only get 200 weekend diners.
“It’s a normal thing,” he said. “When something happens, people try to share their support and then people go back to their normal life.”