human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Ukraine’s humanitarian crisis

The crisis in Ukraine is the biggest humanitarian crisis Europe has seen since the Second World War in terms of numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and persons who have left the country. More than 1.7 million IDPs are registered with the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, while more than 1.3 million have left Ukraine to neighbouring countries. More than 5 million people have been affected by the conflict, which is now in its third year. Since 2014, 9,553 people have lost their lives due to shelling and fighting and 22,137 people have been wounded.

The situation is particularly difficult in the non-governmental controlled areas (NGCAs), where 2.7 million people in need reside. According to the United Nations (UN) [1], humanitarian access beyond the government controlled areas (GCAs) remains a major concern. Humanitarian aid and recovery action is desperately needed as damages to the infrastructure, the deteriorating economic situation, high inflation, rampant unemployment, increased poverty and limited access to agricultural land, markets, social payments and health care plague the population.

Ceasefire agreements have been continuously violated and fighting continues along the 420 km contact line that separates the GCAs from the NGCAs. People living in the 30 km wide buffer zone that runs along this line are particularly vulnerable. Here, mostly elderly and sick people have been left behind. A further problem in this zone is the limited access to education experienced by about 400,000 children. In addition, many of the children suffer from severe psychosocial stress. Providing the population in the buffer zone with food, medicines and non-food items is very restricted due to damaged infrastructure, shelling, landmines and unexploded ordnance. Commercial and subsistence agricultural production in this area, which provided a large part of the population with food, have declined significantly.

IDPs throughout Ukraine experience problems in finding new jobs and in making a living on their own. Social payments, which were already too low to meet the increased cost of living, have been partially suspended by the state due to alleged fraud schemes. The biggest problem for IDPs is financing accommodation, food and medicines, particularly because access to the labour market is limited.

Given these facts, the necessity to provide humanitarian assistance remains urgent, even in this third year of the conflict. The UN’s 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for Ukraine, which calls for 298 million USD of assistance, has, as of July, only been funded by 23 per cent.

At the same time, all parties must give humanitarian actors unhindered access to the people in need in the NGCAs. For political stability, it is important to not only provide funds for humanitarian assistance, but to also fund programmes which enable people to get jobs and secure their livelihoods. There is a need for projects to boost small-scale business development and improve community-based agriculture. It is also necessary to enlarge peace-building activities as well as psychosocial assistance to traumatised people. And civil society actors need to be included into the response.

Since 2014, Caritas Ukraine, with the support of the international Caritas network, has helped more than 280,000 people affected by the war. Caritas has supported households with psychosocial support, cash assistance, food, medicines, heating materials, shelters, shelter repairs and other non-food items. In 10 cities, Caritas established Child-Friendly Spaces to help traumatised children to cope and to integrate into their new environment. In 2015 alone Caritas Ukraine provided 13 million EUR for humanitarian assistance. In 2016, Caritas wants to assist more than 100,000 war-affected persons in Ukraine with the help of international partners.

As the situation evolves, Caritas is constantly adjusting its work to best respond to the needs of the people. After two years of the crisis, the key focus is now on livelihoods and IDPs’ integration. That is why new projects aim to help IDPs renew their small businesses in various areas and get a proper education to find a job, and to encourage local businesses to hire IDPs. “Some IDPs cannot find a job as there is no demand for their professional qualifications in the local labour market. We offer them an opportunity to use our grants for education. This is a chance to get a profession that is in demand and to start a new career in the new place”, tells Natalia Maliutina, Employment Project Manager in Caritas Ukraine.

The first wave of this project has already proved to be a success. A grant can change a person’s attitude to the forced displacement and motivate to find a dream job. Christine from Donetsk is the perfect example. She has many professional skills: she can establish productive relationships, analyse, organise and follow up working processes, and at the same time be in a good mood and inspire others. In Donetsk, Christine was a commodity expert for many years. Having moved to Kharkiv, she was trying to find a job, but without success. That is why she took a training course in accounting. Then Christine learned about the employment project in Caritas. She applied, and in a short period was employed as a manager of consulting services in “Gravitation” training centre.

More articles on Ukraine

[1] Humanitarian Bulletin Ukraine, Issue 12 | 1-31 July 2016