June 27 2016

SOS Ukraine: Helping children on all sides of a conflict

Andriy Chuprikov has been National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine since 2008. In 2014, SOS Ukraine launched an emergency programme to help children and families affected by the conflict and dislocation in eastern Lugansk and Donetsk.

SOS Children’s Villages is in a unique position, says Mr Chuprikov. It is the only international organisation providing child care, protection and humanitarian help on both sides of the conflict and in a “grey zone” between areas under Ukrainian government control and the self-declared government in Lugansk. SOS Ukraine has no programmes in Donetsk but does provide assistance to families displaced since the conflict erupted in 2014.
SOS Ukraine has three families in Lugansk, which is under independent control, and seven in Starobilsk, in the area controlled by the Ukrainian government, with a total 29 children. In addition, 350 children in the two areas benefit from family strengthening programmes and hundreds more are provided with humanitarian help, emotional and health care and educational support through a project with UNICEF. The mobile response teams operate in the grey zone.
Mr Chuprikov discusses SOS Ukraine’s work caring for vulnerable children.

It has been more than two years since the outbreak of the conflict, and sporadic fighting continues today. How does this affect children and families?

We have around 1.7 million people displaced by this conflict, and more than 200 children have been killed and almost 500 injured. Thousands of children are affected both psychologically and physically.
We started to work in the Lugansk region in 2012, two years before the conflict started. In October 2013 we had the official inauguration of the integrated children’s village in Lugansk and we never stopped operations there.
Just two months ago, we started working in the grey zone and our co-workers have reported to me the really bad psychological situation of kids because of the conflict. They are suffering from trauma and post-trauma syndrome, and if we don’t work with these children, they will face major problems in the future. There are other problems, too – poverty, physical abuse, sexual abuse and of course parents who have been killed in the conflict.

How many other international organisations are straddling the front lines the way you are?

SOS Ukraine is the single international organisation which operates on both sides, providing not only emergency assistance but also holistic assistance to children and families.

It must be very difficult to operate in this environment. 

It’s not easy. But from the very beginning our decision was to stay out of any politics, religion or other differences. We told everybody that we came to Ukraine and Lugansk region to protect children’s rights and it doesn’t matter what their parents’ political opinions are. For us it’s more important to protect children’s rights on any territory, and at any place.
Fortunately, with our strong position on the protection of children’s rights, we received support from the Ukrainian government and the independent areas. The people and the municipality in Lugansk town are very thankful that we did not [leave] and especially the families who receive support.

What needs to be done to help these children – what’s the priority? 

This conflict has already become a frozen conflict, and nobody knows how long it will last. In the government-controlled area, where there are almost 2 million IDPs [Internally Displaced People], we need long-term development projects which will give possibilities for settlement and economic empowerment. And because it is mostly women caring for children in many of these families, we need economic empowerment programmes for women.
Also very important is post-trauma healing for families, adults and children.

Has SOS Ukraine suffered any casualties during the conflict?

Fortunately nobody from our staff and none of our families have been lost or wounded. Not all of our partners and contractors were so fortunate. For instance, one of our contractors, the owner and general director of the construction company which renovated our apartments, was killed by a bomb. 

Did you ever expect a situation like this when you became director?

We even didn’t expect this situation in October 2013 when we had an official inauguration of the Lugansk village programme. In fact, we had a lot of long-term development plans, not an emergency project. We never expected an emergency project in our country or in eastern Ukraine.
SOS Ukraine has helped children and families in Lugansk throughout the conflict. SOS file photo by Maria Nedilko/March 2015.