Born Displaced: IOM Supports Conflict-Affected People in Ukraine

Only weeks after she had to flee from Crimea, Niyara* gave birth to her ninth child. The boy was born in the Western-Ukraine city of Vinnytsia in late July, on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Uraza-Bayram (Eid al-Fitr). An economist and child psychologist by education, Niyara, her husband and her other eight children are some of the 270,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Eastern Ukraine and Crimea who had to look for refuge within other parts of Ukraine. Meeting her at the maternity hospital in front of her room, she suggested: “Let’s stay here in case the baby wakes up.” The young woman seemed to be quite satisfied with the hospital, the nurses, the city of Vinnytsia and the steamy weather.

With the support of Norway and Switzerland IOM has provided non-food items, medicine and psycho-social support for approximately 1,500 of the most vulnerable amongst the displaced. IOM coordinates its interventions with all UN partners and the government, both on the central and local levels, and provides direct assistance through its partner NGOs to help people like Niyara and her family who IOM provided with a baby carriage, school utensils and a microwave.

A Crimean Tatar, Niyara was born in exile in Uzbekistan and she and her parents could only return to their Crimean homeland in 2001. Unlike her, her parents refused to leave Crimea again, as they felt they had to protect their property.

Niyara says that childbirth has provided the most vivid moments in her life. Back home, she and her husband Mustafa always dreamt about their own big house and almost managed to finish the works on it. “I’ve always been fond of people, liked to have guests, cooked for them and was never tired,” recalls Niyara. But life was turned upside down when Niyara and her husband had to leave Crimea after the outbreak of the crisis. To make things worse, her husband was diagnosed with a rare disease last year which requires expensive care and treatment. As a result of the stress and the fear when the situation in Crimea became more and more unbearable for them, his health condition started to rapidly deteriorate.

Niyara’s five elder children were able to enroll in school in Vinnytsia and teachers and new classmates helped them to adapt. But the boys and girls do miss Crimea and summertime with their grandparents.

“I was expecting to face many challenges, but people’s attitudes in Vinnytsia were a pleasant surprise,” says Niyara. “Passers-by stopped to tell us something nice, and a market vendor gave us potatoes and raspberries for free.”

Despite Niyara’s optimism, the community’s capacity to help IDPs has been stretched. The church that provided shelter for Niyara’s family and other IDPs needs the premises back. More and more IDPs from Eastern Ukraine are arriving in Vinnytsia, and as in other parts of Ukraine, all of them are in desperate need of accommodation, food, medicine, winter clothes and other assistance. Niyara and other IDPs staying in Vinnytsia agree that finding a suitable place to stay for winter is their most pressing need. The issue of employment is also far from being solved. As displaced persons’ basic needs are not yet fully covered, the ability to integrate them remains vague.

“Following the humanitarian situation and especially the plight of the IDPs since the outbreak of the crisis in March, we see the need for more immediate assistance for the most vulnerable as well as long-term support for their economic and social integration in host communities or successful return home,” says IOM Ukraine’s Chief of Mission Manfred Profazi. Winter is approaching fast and when the temperatures drop, the needs will rise. We are ready to scale up our assistance as the needs grow.”

Talking to another group of IDPs from Crimea, they beam when we ask them about Niyara: “She is an example for all of us, as she never complains and is never depressed,” says Aishe, one of the women staying with their husbands and children in a remote village an hour’s drive outside of Vinnytsia. Since the end of May, they have been living in a former technical school, with old gauze beds and one lavatory for almost 100 women and children. IOM supported them with refrigerators, microwaves, washing and sewing machines, ovens and other much-needed items.

For Elmira, another displaced Crimean Tatar woman who IOM has provided with a sewing machine, the first orders came from her own community, as she creates traditional Muslim head-covers which are difficult to buy in much of Ukraine. Elmira’s main concern is her son’s health. The six-year-old boy has autism and needs special schooling.

Many children are amongst the IDPs and Niyara’s youngest is not the only newcomer: “Six babies were born in Vinnytsia from our community’s women,” counts Aishe proudly, “Six little Ukrainians.”

*All names have been changed to protect privacy