human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Conflict and COVID-19

the story of a double emergency in Ukraine

While the coronavirus is keeping the world in suspense, Ukraine is facing a double emergency: the pandemic and the war in Donbass. Caritas Ukraine had to adapt all of its regular activities to the recent restrictions imposed after the virus reached Ukraine on 3 March, but the persons living in the East of the country have already been living with the military conflict since 2014.

In this difficult context, Caritas Ukraine does its best to prepare as much as possible for what is to come and to ensure the continuity of its work. Several contingency plans have been developed. They include different scenarios on the evolution of the pandemic and its longer-term impact on Ukraine. The longer the pandemic will last, the worse the impact on vulnerable people will be.

All psychosocial, peacebuilding, and educational activities for communities affected by the conflict in the buffer zone have been suspended, or, whenever possible, shifted online. The individual psychosocial face-to-face consultations for example have been replaced by sessions conducted by phone. This means that the staff is working from home whenever they can, but this is not always possible. In other cases, travel has been reduced to a minimum.

Up to now, vulnerable persons living in the buffer zone in the east of Ukraine could benefit from cash and voucher assistance provided by Caritas staff. This assistance did not stop but is now being provided by local activists. The project staff dedicated to cash assistance have adopted verification and selection processes to continue their services while working remotely. A scoring system allowing for the selection of the most vulnerable persons is incorporated into database. This helps to ensure the quality of the cash programme.

Distribution of food and hygiene products was temporarily stopped during first week of the quarantine. Taking into account the principle Do No Harm, the distribution approach has changed to a case by case basis, avoiding direct social contact with beneficiaries. In addition, most suppliers have frozen their offers due to COVID-19 related panic in the food markets. However, by sourcing food locally, the necessary amount of food supplies was successfully gathered in four local centres. Prices on food, medicines, hygiene and individual protection items remain unpredictable.

Other vital assistance needs to continue despite the circumstances. Caritas Ukraine works in close collaboration with the state medical institutions and does not stop delivering medicines to sick people near the contact line between government-controlled and non-government controlled areas. The mobile teams of local centres operating along the contact line have adopted new security protocols and continue to provide this assistance.

The national Caritas Ukraine office is coordinating the work of the different diocesan Caritas organisations across the country. Caritas Ukraine has set-up an online platform to collect information from the field and created a channel to alert the local coordinators on major developments. The aim is to provide them with updates from national and international levels, to make sure they receive accurate information, and to help them manage this COVID-19 crisis to the best of their availabilities.