Katya and her son . Photo:IOM

"Summer is here: Time to buy coal."

Katya is a single mother of two from Toretsk, Donetsk Region in Ukraine. Her very modest house is located only five kilometres from the contact line separating the two sides involved in the conflict; it was bought several years ago for a little more than USD 230 – an amount that Katya says took her a long time to save. After the conflict started in 2014, Toretsk was almost completely cut off from the main road system, leading to soaring prices for food and commodities — at least 20 per cent higher than elsewhere.

Currently, Katya’s monthly income is about USD 200, much of it coming from social security benefits that she receives for her two children. These payments are occasionally suspended, until social services can reconfirm the family's status, so Katya occasionally spends up to three months without an income. This spring she started receiving cash assistance from IOM, the UN Migration Agency. “[It] came just in time," she said. "I was able to buy food and clothing I needed for my children.”

While summer is the season in which many people are planning vacations and taking advantage of summer sales, it is a time in which conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine start thinking about the next winter. They have to purchase coal well in advance of the cold season — when temperatures will drop lower than -20 C°. Earlier this summer Katya started buying coal to stock up on fuel. Coal costs UAH 90 (USD 3.5) per package and in winter around five packages will be needed to heat the house. This will cost about USD 70 per month, or approximately one-third of Katya’s income. 

Katya's house is very cold in the winter, so last year she had to close two of its three rooms and move the family into the remaining space. Her stove only keeps the house warm for four hours maximum, at which time Katya needs to heat it up again. The same stove is also essential for cooking and  warming water for baths.

Many towns in the Donbas region lacked central heating systems even before the conflict. For over four years now, the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine has forced millions of civilians to make impossible choices, such as whether they can eat, buy medicine or purchase fuel. Critical civilian infrastructure is severely impacted as ceasefire agreements are consistently disregarded. Over 600,000 people, including 100,000 children, bear the brunt of the continuous armed clashes along the 457-km contact line. 

IOM, funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), has been providing multipurpose cash assistance to the most vulnerable residents of the areas along the contact line: single mothers like Katya, families with many children, elderly people and people with disabilities. 

From January to June this year, over 4,600 people received cash aid from IOM. According to beneficiaries, most of the money was spent on healthcare, food, and winterization, as well as on savings to buy coal and wood in winter.  

While the Humanitarian Response Plan in 2017 was funded to the tune of 37 per cent, only 26 per cent of the total requirements of the plan have been covered as of early July 2018. The international community’s support remains vital to fund urgently required assistance and protection activities for millions of conflict-affected Ukrainians.