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“We had nowhere to go”: Stories of displaced Ukrainians at our humanitarian hubs

“We had nowhere to go”: Stories of displaced Ukrainians at our humanitarian hubs
Story27 May 2022Emma Kelly

It has been over three months since conflict broke out in Ukraine, resulting in massive humanitarian efforts and an outpouring of generosity from the public.

Over 6 million Ukrainians - most of them women and children - fled the country for neighbouring countries including Poland, Romania, Hungary and Moldova, as well as travelling further afield through Europe. A further 7.7 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine, forced to flee their homes in the east as conflict hit their neighbourhoods in search of safety.

Following assessments carried out from the end of February, Concern Worldwide determined that the need was greatest inside Ukraine, and are currently working with our Alliance2015 partners Welthungerhilfe and CESVI, as well as cooperating with local organisations and authorities, in Ternopil and Khmelnytski. 

Here, we are supporting eight humanitarian hubs across two oblasts, or regions, of western Ukraine, which provide food, hygiene supplies, baby kits, bedding and other household essentials to those who need it. We are also supporting collective centres to provide accommodation to internally displaced people (IDPs), providing psychosocial care, and setting up cash transfers for those in need, with this phase of our response running until July 2022. 

Concern staff member speaking to group
Concern's Program Manager in Ukraine Charlie Acland meets with a family displaced by war from their home in the Donbas. They are living in a college dormitory in the rural west of the country. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide
Women sorting through many boxes in cinema
A Concern-supported humanitarian hub, based in a converted cinema in a city in Western Ukraine. Here displaced families can register for food, accommodation, and other supports. It is operated by the city council and staffed by volunteers. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide
Two men pulling cardboard boxes
Humanitarian aid supplies arriving at a warehouse in Khmelnytski, ready for distribution as part of the Ukraine emergency response. Concern Worldwide and its Alliance 2015 partners are supporting displaced families in Western Ukraine through humanitarian hubs and collective centres. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide
Family sorting through bags and boxes
Concern is providing food, hygiene supplies, and bedding through eight local humanitarian hubs across two oblasts (regions) of Western Ukraine. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide
Two women in aprons in kitchen doling food into bowls
Concern is providing food, hygiene supplies, and bedding through eight local humanitarian hubs across two oblasts (regions) of Western Ukraine. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

At these humanitarian hubs, we met displaced Ukrainians who shared their stories of fleeing their homes and seeking safety, as well as their hopes for the future. 

*Names have been changed for security reasons

Veronika*

Woman smiling with young daughter on her lap
Veronika* and 6-year-old Sofiya* at a Concern-supported humanitarian hub in Western Ukraine. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

Veronika was eight months pregnant when she and her husband decided to flee their home in eastern Ukraine in March 2022. Conflict had yet to hit their neighbourhood when they left, with Veronika saying it was “reasonably calm”, but they were worried about what was to come. Sadly, their fears would come true, as their neighbourhood has since been hit by missiles. 

Heavily pregnant, Veronika fled with her husband and their six-year-old daughter Sofiya*, who dreams of being a gymnast. Thankfully, they found refuge in western Ukraine, where Veronika gave birth to a healthy baby boy called Nazar, and sourced local accommodation. 

“Of course we would prefer to be at home and hopefully we will have a home to go to when the war is over,” Veronika said. “For now, our house is ok, but a missile landed on a petrol station on our street, so who knows what will happen?”

Baby sleeping in pram
Veronika's baby boy at a Concern-supported humanitarian hub in Western Ukraine. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

Veronika’s husband has found some work, but their financial situation is difficult. We met Veronika at a local humanitarian hub supported by Concern Worldwide, which is helping to bridge the gap for displaced people like Veronika and her family.

These hubs provide assistance, food, hygiene supplies, bedding and household essentials free of charge for displaced people. Veronika was at the hub to collect food for the week and nappies for her newborn son, and called the service “really helpful for us”. 

Katya*

Woman sitting on couch and holding plastic bag of food
Katya* is from the Donbas area of Eastern Ukraine. Her city has been heavily bombarded for months, and the situation is now critical. She is pictured collecting some supplies for her extended family from a Concern-supported humanitarian hub in the Western Ukrainian city to which they fled. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

“People are dying every day. I am almost speechless with anxiety. I cry all the time.”

Katya’s home in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine has been heavily bombarded for months, and now, the situation is critical. She is unable to communicate with those who have remained there, as mobile phone networks are down, and they have been left without electricity and water. 

Along with her extended family, including three young children aged two, five and seven, Katya fled her home and found refuge in western Ukraine. She tries to shield the children from what is happening, but still, one of her granddaughters often wakes in the night shouting “Grandma, save me”, which Katya says breaks her heart.

The family has managed to rent an apartment but due to huge demand for local accommodation, the rent nearly costs them everything they get in government subsidies, leaving them unable to buy household essentials or equip their apartment with furniture or proper beds. “We are lucky to be here and grateful for the support we get, but it is really difficult,” she explained. “Money is very tight.” Katya and her family have been able to avail of the free supplies distributed at the local humanitarian hub. 

She is hoping that one day they will be able to return home, but is thankful that they are far from the conflict and are getting the help they need. “One day we will go home, but for now we are in the best place.”

Mykhailo*

10 adults and one child standing outside building
Mykhailo* and his extended family from the Donbas area of Eastern Ukraine have been displaced from their home since mid-March. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

Mykhailo is also from the Donbas region of Ukraine, and he and his extended family spent a lot of time in shelters as their city came under destruction and bombardment, described by Mykhailo as “terrible”.

As the situation in their city got worse, Mykhailo and his family made the decision to leave. In a group of around 30 people, they struggled to find accommodation and lived like “nomads”, moving from place to place until they at last found sanctuary in a college dormitory in a rural area of Khmelnytski. 

Kitchen facilities in college dormitory
The kitchen facilities at a college dormitory in rural Western Ukraine which has become home to families displaced by fighting. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

“We had nowhere to go, so we were lucky to find this place,” Mykhailo - a university student who was pursuing a degree in international relations prior to the conflict - said. He added that while their living conditions are basic, it “could be worse”, and he and his family are among 750 displaced people accessing services and supplies via a humanitarian hub at the town hall.

Their hope is to eventually return home, but Mykhailo knows that their exile could be prolonged. “Who knows what the future will bring?”

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