Six Months: Delivery, Impact, and Challenges

HelpAge International’s Ukraine Humanitarian Response Manager, Orla Murphy, reflects on the past six months of full-scale war in Ukraine and the plans ahead to respond to the longer-term needs of those embroiled in a protracted war.

By Orla Murphy, Ukraine Humanitarian Response Manager

Just before February 24, everybody was preparing but nobody thought that an invasion was going to happen. Then it did.

This had a direct impact on our staff and volunteers who were mostly located in eastern Ukraine, where HelpAge International has supported older people since the conflict with Russia started in 2014.

They and millions of others became displaced. They moved to Lviv, to Dnipro, left the country. Some had no option but to leave older relatives behind.

The impact on them, as people and as humanitarians, was colossal. But they picked up what they could, crammed onto trains, and started working in new, areas: meeting different authorities, reaching out to other organizations to help those needing support, while also finding accommodation and getting up four times a night for the bomb shelter.

Their courage and determination enabled us to open two new offices – in Dnipro and Lviv – in a relatively short space of time. Through them, we distributed 35,000 food kits in the oblasts of Dnipropetrovska and Lviviska, and Chernivetska further west.
Meanwhile, the volunteers who remained in the east helped coordinate food distributions and have continued to provide phone support to more than 2,600 of the older people we worked with before, helping them face the trauma of war so precariously close.
It is largely down to our national staff and these volunteers that we have achieved what we have, and I remain in awe of what they have done.

An Unprecedented Response

The wider response has been extraordinary. The volume of volunteers is changing the face of humanitarian action at a scale I have never seen before. They are setting up new organizations, providing food, clothes, shelter, and support.

I’ve never before experienced so much public generosity. Support has come from governments and people everywhere, including the more than £350m raised by the UK’s DEC appeal and over €226m from the public appeal in Germany.
This funding is very much needed. Ukraine is different and more complicated than most emergencies in that a functioning government and systems are still in place. This requires a different approach, which has been challenging, especially with the pace of change and uncertainty.
Ukraine is also in Europe so it’s expensive. Rent, for example, can be prohibitively high for those who have fled their homes and lost almost everything, including their income. How can they also afford to buy food, fuel, and other basic needs for an unknown length of time?
With so many people who are older or with disabilities remaining at home, rolling out our home-based care in the four oblasts where we work – Dnipropetrovska, Lviviska, Chernivetska, and Kharkivska – is central to our work. We are training volunteers who are often older themselves to help.
We have registered 4,000 displaced people, who need support and have set up a scheme so that they can receive a payment of one lump sum from the Ukraine Post Office to enable them to purchase what they need over three months. 
Our work to establish community safe spaces for older people to be heard and to access services also continues.
Six months into the war, thousands of displaced people are still living in collective centers. We are providing small grants to 38 centers. The people living in the center together with those running them decided on the most urgent needs. They have bought beds, built urgently needed bathrooms, purchased food, or simply paid bills.
At the same time, we must start looking at longer-term needs, helping people who know they are not going to be going home because of the protracted nature of this war. They need support to adapt in this new future that they couldn’t have imagined this time last year.
We aim to help older people and people with disabilities regain a sense of control in their lives, despite the unpredictable situation they live in – and we’re committed to doing the best we can.
This article was originally published by HelpAge International
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