12 September 2014

SOS Children's Villages Responds to Urgent Needs in Eastern Ukraine

SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine will move to the northern part of the Lugansk region to help the more than 1,000 internally displaced children and their families who have escaped from the war zone.

“We are trying to find a place in the region that will be safe enough to open our office, so that we can help the families who have left Lugansk,” said Lyudmila*, the director of the SOS Children’s Village Lugansk.

“Some of the families just barely escaped with their lives and have neither money nor documents with them. We will set up our office in the Starobilsk district and provide additional support in the Novopskovsky and Bilokurakinsky regions, where many refugees are currently living.”

Help for families at risk who decided to stay in Lugansk had to be suspended because for the last two months mobile phone connections have been unavailable in the city.

“We understand that 65 families decided to remain in Lugansk – more than we had originally thought,” said Lyudmila. “Of the families we were helping in Lugansk, 51 fled to Russia or Crimea. And currently, we are able to speak by phone only with the 37 families who have left the city but remain either in the region or within the Ukraine.

More than 1,000 children in the Lugansk region need help

Lyudmila and her team analyzed the northern districts in the region to determine where the most refugees were living, and found that approximately 632 families and 1,073 children had registered as refugees across three districts.

“These are the ones who have registered,” Lyudmila explained. “We believe though that there are additional people from Lugansk living in those three districts. The local social service organizations are unable to meet all the needs of the refugees, and very much need our help.”

The three districts are primarily agricultural and are not prepared to provide for so many people. People desperately need everything from financial aid, housing, medicine and school materials, to jobs and psychological support. Many of the refugees are children, some of whom suffer from diabetes and require medicine.

Lyudmila said, “People are living in various places. Those who can afford it rent a flat; some live in dormitories, and some live in children´s summer camps. There is a complex set of problems to be addressed. Soon it will be cold and people will need warm clothes, for example.”

According to a UN report published at the end of August, more than one million people have become refugees since the conflict began – with 260,000 within the Ukraine, and some 814,000 who may have crossed the border to Russia.

Wanting to go home

Lyudmila’s team is also looking for houses for SOS families who live closer to the battle zone. “One of the six families is quite close to what had recently become the frontline. Just today the frontline moved again and it’s more or less quiet at their home. Currently, it’s challenging to find houses for our big families, but we very much want to bring them closer to each other so that it will be easier to help them, and so that they can help each other.”

“We call each other often and learn what’s going on. The SOS families were evacuated from their homes two months ago. They’ve settled in – some parents are already working, and the children will go to new schools. They are getting used to the new situation; they have a roof over their heads and food on the table, but everyone wishes they could go home.”

For the last two months, SOS Children´s Villages Ukraine has provided the SOS families with cash payments, because the normal state child support of 2,500 Hryvnia (approximately 150 euros per child per month) is no longer being paid to people in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. The families relied on these social benefits for their survival.

“We can pay the SOS families via bank transfers,” Lyudmila said. “It’s good that the banking system still works and that families can receive the funds in their own town or in a neighboring town. Other families in the region seriously struggle – they survive only by virtue of humanitarian aid.”

The wish for stability unites

Lyudmila continued, “We cannot plan anything; we don’t know how long this will go on. The only thing we know is that there are a lot of families who need help.”

“We are all shattered – we are tired, so tired of this situation. On our team we have both Ukrainians and Russians, and we often talk about the situation. We all want stability. All we want is to go home to Lugansk.”

*Please note: We have omitted the last name of the SOS Children’s Village Lugansk director for safety reasons. She still has family in Lugansk.