Displaced people in Ukraine count on Red Cross support as they face their first winter away from home

Published: 4 November 2014 9:21 CET


By Andreea Anca/IFRC and Galina Poshtarenko/URCS


As winter settles in there is serious humanitarian concern for the health and lives of the Ukrainian people affected by the on-going unrest and violence in some parts of the country. The staff and volunteers of the Ukrainian Red Cross Society (URCS) are fully engaged in assisting the displaced population preparing for their first winter away from home.


"It is getting cold now and we have no heating in our room. My two-and-half years old daughter asks me why have we not packed her favourite bed when going to sleep," says Maria Sorokaum, a mother of two who fled her home in fear for the lives of her children.


"All our hopes, the warmth and comfort of our home which we have been building little by little, with great love and care, everything is gone now. But staying was not an option. It was too dangerous," says Maria who initially hoped she and her family would return home before long.  


The National Society mobilised all its resources - including the warehouse stocks of emergency supplies - to support the most vulnerable people who live in shelters ill-prepared for winter conditions, or with relatives whose resources are depleted and cannot continue to provide their support without additional help.


Since April, the organization assisted more than 144,600 displaced people across all oblasts (administrative units) of the country, including Kyiv city. The organization also provides support to those who returned to their homes in the safe areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions.


The conflict that started earlier in the year and is currently unfolding triggered a massive population movement. So far, an estimated 430.059 people of those who fled their homes stayed in Ukraine and numbers are expected to rise if the fighting continues.


More than 3,500 URCS staff and volunteers participate in relief distributions and provide First Aid training. They struggle to keep abreast of the urgent needs of the most vulnerable internally displaced people, focusing on older people living alone, people with disabilities, persons suffering from chronic diseases, women as heads of households and children.

"Food, clothing, shoes, hygiene stuff – we took all these for granted just a few months ago. Now everything has become extremely important: the roof above our heads, household items, moral and material support," says Maria for whom “humanitarian assistance” was always needed somewhere else before circumstances forced the family leave its own home.

Volunteer spirit


In September, the IFRC revised its appeal for Ukraine from CHF 1.36 million to CHF 2.29 million in order to help URCS in its efforts to meet the main needs of 4,000 families (some 16,000 individuals) as winter approaches.


Preliminary assessments indicated that the most urgent needs are hygiene items, shelter, blankets, heaters and non-food items.

Yana Mosnitska, a 22-year-old Ukrainian Red Cross volunteer and a school teacher by profession took sweets and delivered other relief items to children and their families in the village of Nikolaevka, in the Donetsk region. She was part of a team of volunteers who, through the Regional Social Service, organized entertainment programmes for children. "I know that by entertaining kids we will hugely help them get better psychologically. When I see children laugh I know why I am doing this," she says talking about her motivation for volunteering.


Tatiana Chuvaeva found a safe haven in Zaporozhie, where she arrived earlier in the year with her physically impaired husband. The difficult situation affected her health and with the help of the URCS she was hospitalized and received the right treatment.


When her condition improved Tatiana went back to thank the organization for its support, and when she saw only five Red Cross workers attending to hundreds of displaced people she found herself joining the Red Cross volunteers.

"I saw how much Red Cross was doing but they did not have enough people… I come to the Red Cross every day and I will be coming here for as long as my help is needed," says Tatiana who now often helps people with stories more tragic than hers.

"I received help too and I know that it sometimes is the last straw that helps us survive and stay sane."