As a result of ongoing fighting between armed groups and government forces in Eastern Ukraine, as well as the events in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in March 2014, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes and have become increasingly exposed to violence. Many left their homes with little or no belongings and are in need of shelter, food and non-food assistance. Savings are often meager, social benefits take time to be re-assigned, and livelihood options may be restricted. Those staying in the Donbas, the area particularly affected by fighting, face regular security threats.
IOM mobilized its humanitarian response in the summer of 2014 through the network of its long-term partners – specialized counter-trafficking NGOs. They provided non-food items, psychological assistance and other support measures to tens of thousands of IDPs, based on the assistance models previously applied to victims of trafficking. The response then evolved and involved other NGOs and implementing partners. In February 2016, the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine reached over 1.7 million, according to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine. To date, IOM has assisted over 100,000 vulnerable IDPs and conflict-affected people in 21 regions of Ukraine.
The initial emergency response also included a counter-trafficking response. Most of the national NGO partners had never operated during a humanitarian crisis before and had to quickly adapt and increase their capacities.
From the outset of the crisis in Ukraine, IOM and its local NGO partners faced various challenges common during the early stages of any humanitarian response. Most pressing of those was the need to prioritize beneficiaries in the face of high demand and very limited resources.
“When IDPs started calling, writing emails or messages on Facebook to IOM directly to ask for help, we made sure to respond to everyone. Even if we could not provide exactly what the people asked for or because they did not fit our project response criteria, we still tried to refer them to relevant services. Letting the persons in crisis know that someone has given them due consideration and cares about their situation is an important part of the psychological first aid and avoids causing further harm,” says IOM Ukraine’s Irina Titarenko. “Many IDPs told us and our local NGOs partners that we were the only ones to answer their pleas,” she added.
In March 2015, IOM Ukraine supported a four-day stress counseling session for the staff members of the NGOs who were mobilized to provide immediate assistance to IDPs, to prevent burnout and help them better prepare for future challenges of the humanitarian response.
In 2015, IOM also strengthened the emergency preparedness of its non-governmental partners by offering them intensive training on emergency response. As a continuation of these efforts, in 2016 IOM Ukraine organized a protection mainstreaming training for 30 of its local NGO partners from all over the country. This training will be replicated during 2016.
“After the training, I realized that a critical element in providing humanitarian assistance is to avoid any unintended consequences of our actions, to prioritize safety and dignity and to facilitate meaningful access to our services for the affected persons.” said one of the NGO staff who participated in the training.