26 November 2014

Help for children displaced by violence in Eastern Ukraine

Child's drawing of Ukraine

Violence and tensions in Eastern Ukraine have forced thousands to seek safety in other communities, leaving homes, jobs, schools and friends behind. They struggle to survive, while their arrival in large numbers is straining resources and economies in their new communities. Here is how SOS Children’s Villages is working to help internally displaced children and their families in Ukraine.

26 November 2014 - In Starobilsk, about 90 km north of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, the situation is relatively peaceful now. The ongoing armed clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces are about 85 km away.

Many families from Lugansk, where the violence has been strongest, have relocated here, to Starobilsk, where hospitals, local authorities, shops and international organisations are still operating. This is also where SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine moved its operations after fighting intensified, in order to help displaced children and their parents survive the crisis.

But the economic situation in Starobilsk is more disturbing. This mainly agricultural area is now overpopulated due to the influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) escaping from the war zone; unemployment and poverty are becoming serious problems.

SOS Children´s Villages is helping the families make ends meet, with food, medicine, clothes – even with heaters, as some families’ residences lack central heating.

Lugansk: SOS Children´s Villages Ukraine witnesses growing need

The situation in Lugansk is much worse, because the city has been affected by shelling, amid ongoing clashes. Even now, some battles continue outside the city. About half of the original population of 420,000 people have stayed in Lugansk. They suffer for lack of heating, electricity, gas, and even water and food.

SOS Children´s Villages Lugansk Programme Director Lyudmila Harchenko says: “There is extreme poverty. We have heard of cases of starvation in Lugansk. Humanitarian aid is insufficient and no big humanitarian agencies are permanently working there due to security concerns. Only the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is visiting Lugansk regularly on monitoring missions. Nonetheless, at the moment it is safer in the city of Lugansk than on the outskirts of the city.”

SOS Children’s Villages weighs return to Lugansk to provide aid

Harchenko adds: “Dozens of families we have been supporting still live in the city – or have returned. We are in constant contact with 43 families and 92 children, who urgently need food, warm clothes and heaters. The winters in Lugansk can be very cold. Temperatures are dropping to freezing point. Maybe half of the houses have no functioning heating. Since there is a big need, we are looking for ways to return to Lugansk to respond. Luckily our office there has not suffered any damage. We hope to start our work in the city again as soon as possible.”

According to Harchenko about half of the medical facilities in Lugansk are working, as well as some schools and other services.

“It is really hard to predict what could happen in the next months,” Harchenko says. “In any case we all hope for a stabilisation. What is important to us is to look for ways to continue our work, however the situation develops, because so many people here are in need of our help."

Despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, in September, fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed an average of 13 people every day since, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. At least 4,317 people have been killed and 9,921 wounded since the conflict erupted in April and pro-Russian separatists began to seek greater independence from Kiev, establishing autonomous areas under their control.