Anastasiia Karpilianska from NRC and Oleksii Tsylikovsky, 72, who is taking part in the Food for asset project in Hirske town. The project is focusing on rehabilitation  of community infrastructure and the beneficiaries are doing repair works on the worn-out water supply system in the main street in Hirske in return for monthly cash assistance. 

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption We assist conflict-affected Ukrainians with cash and construction materials so that they can repair their houses and buy fuel and food to get through the long, cold winter months. Here is NRC's Anastasiya Karpilyanska together with Oleksii Tsylikovsky, 72, who lives in a town near the contact line. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC

Ukraine: How we help those affected by conflict survive the winter

Anastasiya Karpilyanska|Published 04. Apr 2019
The conflict in eastern Ukraine is approaching its fifth year, and hostilities, isolation and depletion of resources continue to affect civilians along the frontlines. During the harsh winter months, they need to find means to buy costly fuel and basic goods, which have tripled in price in recent years.

Close to 35,000 families residing near the contact line have insufficient heating. Gas and electricity supplies have not been restored because of damaged infrastructure and ongoing fighting, and many people lack a sustainable income.

For some, the only way to survive is through humanitarian aid. We assist them with cash and construction materials so that they can repair their houses and buy fuel and food to get through the long, cold winter months.

An NRC car on its way to Popasna in a beautiful winter landscape.

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC
Read caption NRC has been providing winter assistance in eastern Ukraine since 2014. In 2018, we assisted over 10,700 people through distribution of cash for fuel and food, equipment for production of environmentally friendly briquettes and housing insulation. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC


Freezing homes and costly fuel

"Protracted conflict, poor infrastructure and costly fuel put people in eastern Ukraine in a very difficult situation, especially those living along the contact line," says Goran Zuber, the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) area manager in Ukraine.

Read more about the conflict in eastern Ukraine here.

"During winter, families are forced to spend less money on food because they need to spend more on fuel to heat their houses."

The prices for heating and basic goods are constantly increasing. According to UN OCHA, around 1.1 million people living on both sides of the contact line don’t have enough to eat.

Oleksandra Zahvodska, 32, lives in the frontline Popasna town in Luhansk oblast, she is a mother of 3 minor children. “My husband has passed away two months ago. Now I am the only breadwinner in a family. But I cannot work as my youngest daughter is only 6 months,” says Oleksandra. She looks into winter with fear and uncertainty, with quite small childcare allowance  she should provide for her children and heat her house. Her house does not have central heating, she uses firewood to warm it. “For a season I need nearly 8 cub. meters of firewood, which is also costly for my family”. Recently Zahvodska received cash assistance from NRC, which will cover her family food needs for cold season, and she will spend her savings for the fuel. 
Photo: Anastasiia Karpilianska/ Norwegian Refugee Council
Read caption With only a small childcare allowance, single mother Oleksandra Zahvodska, 32, must provide for her children and heat their home. Her house does not have central heating, so she uses firewood to heat it. Photo: Anastasiya Karpilyanskaya/NRC


Can barely afford wood

Oleksandra Zahvodska, 32, and her three children live in the frontline town of Popasna. "My husband passed away two months ago. Now, I am the family’s only source of income," she says.

The winter is tough. With only a small childcare allowance, the single mother must provide for her children and heat their home. Her house does not have central heating, so she uses firewood to heat it.

"I need nearly eight cubic meters of wood for the winter season, and it’s extremely costly."

Since mid-October she has received cash assistance from NRC, which covers the family’s basic food needs for the winter. Now, she can afford to spend more money on fuel.

Read caption "During winter, families are forced to spend less money on food because they need to spend more on fuel to heat their houses," says Goran Zuber, NRC’s area manager in Ukraine. Here's an example of what a small family might be able to afford in one week. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC


Increasing needs

In 2018, NRC assisted 7,417 people with cash for food.

Over the past years, humanitarian organisations providing assistance in eastern Ukraine have received less and less funding. "The needs are not disappearing, they are increasing, and we need more funding for our winter projects," says Goran Zuber.

NRC has been providing winter assistance in eastern Ukraine since 2014. In 2018, we assisted over 10,700 people through distribution of cash for fuel and food, equipment for production of environmentally friendly briquettes and housing insulation, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union and the US Agency for International Development.

 

How we assist conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine
  • We help conflict-affected people to repair their houses, damaged or destroyed by the hostilities.
  • We support families during the winter season with fuel, food and housing insulation.
  • We help eastern Ukrainians become self-sufficient through business grants, professional training and development projects.
  • We provide legal services to displaced and conflict-affected people, enabling them to exercise their rights and improve access to justice.
  • In 2018, we assisted over 43,000 people in eastern Ukraine through various projects.
Liudmyla, 51 and Yurii Poleshko, 55, lives in the frontline village Zaitseve in Donetsk region. For the last three years they have been unable to find jobs and survive only owing to humanitarian assistance and relatives’ support. 

“We used to have levelled life. We did our own business. My wife owned a hairdressing salon, I was the owner of ventilation system control enterprise in nearby Horlivka (currently non-government controlled area). We were providing our services in several regions – from Luhansk to Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine. However, the conflict, which came to our country in 2014, turned our life upside down. Initially, when the hostilities started, we tried to continue our work, but when the crossing point was set up in our village, we were urged to shut down all our business, because of limited access to that area. It was in August 2014. ”, - says Yurii Poleshko. 

Since the conflict outbreak, Zaitseve has become one of the hot spots of crossfire between conflicting parties. One part of the village is under Ukrainian Government control, another under de-facto authorities.  Despite the ceasefire agreement, the hostilities are still ongoing., Usually the shelling starts there, when it gets dark, sometimes the incidents happen in the daytime. At the streets you can hardly find its residents, people try not to come out unless it is absolutely necessary. Most of the windows in the houses are closed with plywood, firewood and shields. People use all possible means to protect themselves. Many residents left the settlement, mostly the elderly people remained. 

 “We felt abandoned. For a while it was no man’s land. In 2014 it was even difficult to bury someone in the settlement, because administratively the settlement was subordinating to non-government-controlled Horlivka”, recalls Yurii. 

“Initially we left the settlement in December 2014 after very heavy shelling, the whole night we were sitting in the basement. It was too stressful for us. For 8 months we were staying with relatives and friends.  Our friend even proposed to buy a house for us in Russia, but we refused, because there is nothing like home”, - says Yurii. 
“We cannot explain why we returned. We are probably too attached to the house. How could we leave all this? Yes, it is scary to hide in the basement. But when you come out from it you are home”, says Liudmyla. 

In 2016 Poleshko’s house was damaged by shrapnels. They could enter the house only through the window, because the door was curved by the explosion and could not open. The family repaired the house. However, when you enter the house, you can still see the shelling traces; holes in the windows, ceilings and walls.  
“I have nine years to wait before I can receive my pension. For three years we haven’t had any income. Now we are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance and our relatives”, - says Liudmyla. 

Recently, the Poleshko family started receiving cash for foodstuff from NRC. Thus, the family will be secure with food for five months during the cold season. 

“It is better to receive cash than to get in-kind assistance, because sometimes what you need is to buy the gas bottle before you can cook the food. Some people are on diet due to health issues, so they can buy food according to their own needs. For us such assistance is crucial. We are not pensioners yet. But we are vulnerable, because we cannot find the way to earn money. Psychologically it is difficult to depend on humanitarian assistance, as we used to be self-sufficient in the past”, - says Yurii.

Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/Norwegian Refugee Council
Read caption In 2018, NRC assisted 7,417 people with cash for food. Over the past years, humanitarian organisations providing assistance in eastern Ukraine have received less and less funding. "The needs are not disappearing, they are increasing, and we need more funding for our winter projects," says Goran Zuber. Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC