Ukraine: Journeys of Resilience

IOM Ukraine Chief of Mission Anh Nguyen and IOM Vienna Regional Director Manfred Profazi by a destroyed building in Mykolaiv. Photo: IOM

  • Manfred Profazi | Regional Director, IOM Vienna

Travelling in Ukraine these days isn’t easy. When I served as the IOM Chief of Mission here from 2010 to 2017, it was possible to fly, or take one of the modern trains across the length and breadth of this vast country.

Now flying is completely impossible, and travel by train still fraught.

My journey this week, from Odesa and Mykolaiv in the south, Dnipro in the East, up to capital Kyiv and again west to Lviv was, for security reasons, by road. It gave me ample time to reflect on the millions of Ukrainians that have taken the same roads to escape the danger and destruction since the start of the war.

Millions of people are in a state of flux, caught between being displaced in their own land, or with their families torn apart. Some stay in Ukraine because they cannot afford to leave, for some because leaving is simply not an option.

Over 8 million Ukrainians have fled the country, another 5.3 million are internally displaced. Many people have been displaced several times. Some have travelled abroad, come back, settled, and left again as the front line changes.

Regional Director Manfred Profazi visited Mykolaiv's water plant to see improvement works and meet local staff. Access to heating and energy, supported by IOM are two of the main issues for IDPs and local people. Photo: IOM

This feeling of dislocation even affects communities and people that have not relocated. Communities have been crushed, unsettled, scattered. The damage in places like Mykolaiv, and countless small towns and villages I passed through this week scars the landscape and the emotions. Mykolaiv has been under daily shelling for more than 250 days. Water pipes have been heavily hit. We see people queueing up for drinking water at public distribution points, some of them established by IOM, as we pass through the city.

The living conditions are very hard for locals and IDPs alike. And yet, people stay. People are returning. More than 5.6 million. People are adapting to being in new host communities, and are bringing their skills and their experience to help rebuild their new home.

Of course, rebuilding and reconstruction in the middle of a war is challenging, to put it mildly, but everywhere I went I saw new infrastructure rising from the rubble. Much of it, I am proud and humbled to say, has been installed by IOM and by organizations working with us, and with local authorities, who have done so much to keep hope alive.

Regional Director Manfred Profazi was on hand as IOM donated a solid fuel mobile boiler room to a children’s hospital in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. Photo: IOM

One of many examples is the mobile heating plant we provided, essentially the hangar of a 40-ton truck, specially adapted to provide heat to a children’s hospital, where hundreds of children – local and displaced – can receive uninterrupted treatment. Blackouts caused by the shelling brought the heating system down and for several days the young patients stayed in freezing conditions.

I was lucky enough to be able to hear first-person accounts of survival, of resilience and even optimism from young and old alike. These stories, and the dedication of our staff, keep all of us motivated and focused on what we need to do, and on facilitating recovering without fostering dependency.

Valeriia comes from the destroyed city of Bakhmut, She told IOM Regional Director Manfred Profazi about her new life as a resident in an IOM dormitory in Dnipro. Photo: IOM

Looking back, I am thinking of Valeriia and her son, who fled the destruction of Bahkmut and are now finally in decent accommodation thanks to IOM-organized repair works to a dormitory in Dnipro.

She showed me photos of her home, now completely destroyed, and spoke wistfully of her market garden. Now she grows a few greens in a window box. Similarly her son, a diligent student, now follows his lessons on a mobile phone, as he doesn’t even have a laptop. They have not given up; they do whatever it takes to retain a simulacrum of normal life.

IOM's integrated approach allows us to support displaced people and host communities on multiple levels and provide them with a full range of services from infrastructure to income-generation.

We will continue our efforts to support these people as long as needed in all the ways we can.

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions