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On February 24 2022, the lives of millions of Ukrainians changed forever. Now, with winter fast approaching, the people of this embattled European country remain in desperate need of assistance.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, one-third of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes since the beginning of the crisis.
It is estimated that some 7 million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine itself, with 13 million people stranded in affected areas or unable to leave due to heightened security risks.
People’s lives and access to basic services have been endangered by ongoing attacks, particularly in the east and south of the country, and Concern is one of a number of international NGOs working in the country to help people affected by the crisis.
We recently spoke to Humanitarian Adviser Chiara Nava about Concern’s work in Ukraine, and about the latest threat facing people who are in the greatest need of relief.
Namely, the approaching winter months.
“This could be a major issue”
"For people that have just been forced to leave their homes, they need food and essential items, but I would say one area of priority for us at the moment is getting ready for winter,” Chiara explains.
"Many houses where people are now living, or being hosted, are without heating systems or in need of repair and resources to get fuel for the stoves. It's OK now because it's summer but what's going to happen over the winter? We really don't know.”
This is a situation exacerbated by the ongoing fuel crisis, as well as the fact that many Ukrainian men are currently fighting.
As a result, many women who would otherwise be in a position to work are unable to do so. They are looking after children and elderly relatives, leaving money and resources scarce as the freezing Ukrainian winter looms.
"Winter will be there in a month or two and is going to be very, very cold. The community centres [where people are turning for help] are not necessarily ready in terms of getting fuel for the stoves and heating systems because of the fuel crisis. This could be a major issue.”
Working with our Alliance2015 partners
Alliance2015 is a network of eight European relief organisations - including Concern Worldwide - that work together to relieve hunger and poverty across the world.
In Ukraine, the response is being led by the German aid agency Welthungerhilfe.
Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Concern has been working to build resources within a country that we were granted permission to enter for the first time earlier this year.
Other Alliance2015 members such as People in Need and ACTED had been active in Ukraine previously and, with that in mind, Concern transferred €2m to those organisations in order to ensure that cash and resources would go to those who needed it the most, and in a timely fashion.
"They had a large operation, so that was one of the easiest things to do in order to be effective, to channel our funds to those organisations,” Chiara explains.
Aid provided by Concern would see people arriving at collective centres receive essential non-food items, hot food, baby kits and also get access to washing machines and dryers. This was made possible thanks to private and public donations, Irish Aid funds and other generous contributions. We are also providing cash for people to be able to pay for food, for rent and for school items, where schools remain open.
Concern’s initial work centred mainly in the western regions – or oblasts – of Ternopil and Khmelnytskyi.
While these areas still represent a significant part of our intervention, we have since started to look at Eastern oblasts including Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhia.
A food crisis and its ‘massive impact’
As Chiara explains, the unpredictable nature of the crisis is one of the most challenging aspects of a humanitarian response.
“We don't really know what to expect. Conflict is going ahead in eastern parts of the country and an economic crisis has had a serious impact.
"The food crisis has also had a massive impact. Cereals and other flours and essential can either not reach the country at all or is very delayed. Ukraine used to be the bread basket for Europe and for many other countries."
The outlook for the future
As long as the crisis is ongoing and people need our help, Concern will stay to help the people of Ukraine as best we can.
For those within Ukraine, fear, fatigue and confusion remains.
"People are really very, very tired and concerned about winter,” says Chiara. “People are disoriented."
“Many people, especially those who are outside Ukraine, are concerned about what's happening inside the country.
"People are worried about their husbands, or about their families, sometimes they don't get news for days. Prices are going up and martial law is still in place. It's a situation that people cannot live with forever, they don't have answers about when this will be over and what will come next."
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