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Localizing Humanitarian Assistance to Help Meet Needs of Marginalized Groups in Ukraine
Published 01/10/2024 by Global Communities
By Tania Dudnyk
“For the first time in my life working in the public sector, we as an organization not only provide assistance but receive it,” says Zhanna Derii, who is part of an association of teachers from Chernihiv Polytechnic National University that make up the civil society organization (CSO) known as Chernihiv European.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Chernihiv European was implementing university youth initiatives and education projects with support from Global Communities and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded DOBRE program. However, like many institutions in the region, the university suffered extensive damage from a bombing in the early days of the conflict and life abruptly changed overnight.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, nearly 10% of Chernihiv Oblast’s infrastructure has been damaged or completely destroyed as a result of the ongoing Russian invasion, including more than 300 hospitals, schools, social protection facilities and cultural sites.
When repairs began at Chernihiv Polytechnic and the university’s teachers started returning to the city, Zhanna says members of Chernihiv European wanted to shift the CSO’s focus to providing humanitarian assistance to people in the recently liberated area.
“It seemed to us that we had the desire and resources to help others, but it turned out that humanitarian response is a highly complicated activity,” she said. “You can even cause harm if you don’t know how to maintain [it].”
If we didn’t receive CLEAR’s support, we would have made many mistakes.”Zhanna Derii, Chernihiv European CSO member
To help Chernihiv European and 12 other local Ukrainian partner organizations effectively move forward with war recovery efforts, Global Communities partnered with USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance to implement the Community-Led Emergency Action and Response (CLEAR) program. From providing home repairs and winterization cash assistance to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) kits and psychosocial support, CLEAR offers lifesaving emergency relief while helping adults and children alike heal from the trauma of war in 23 communities of Chernihiv and Chernivtsi oblasts.
“CLEAR prioritizes working in smaller and remote communities through local CSOs to secure better humanitarian access to vulnerable populations,” said Dubravka Latinac Pem, CLEAR Program Director. “Local actors know the needs of people in their communities and how to work with them better than anyone else.”
When Chernihiv European joined the CLEAR program as a local partner organization, Global Communities provided the CSO’s members with training on humanitarian standards, volunteer management, distribution, monitoring, cash assistance, protection activities, hygiene promotion, safeguarding, burnout prevention and resilience development, among other key topics.
“If we didn’t receive CLEAR’s support, we would have made many mistakes,” Zhanna says.
Instead, the CSO was able to confidently provide humanitarian assistance to two community groups that might otherwise have been overlooked by larger projects.
For Vulyk, which means “Hive” in Ukrainian, Chernihiv European organized a training on psychosocial support for parents of children with disabilities and provided materials for the group to conduct art therapy sessions. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainian children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, with potentially lasting effects, due to their exposure to war and conflict. The children who are part of Vulyk have the added challenge of often being excluded from social activities due to their disabilities. Art therapy provided them with an opportunity to be in community, express their emotions and ultimately begin healing from the stress they have experienced over the past two years.
“There are many different vulnerable categories, but people with disabilities are the most vulnerable among them,” Zhanna says. “… In times of war, their needs become even more complicated.”
With support from CLEAR, Chernihiv European also assisted a local organization that works with people who are blind. Although the government provided the group with a space to conduct social activities, it had no amenities in place for members to meet comfortably. Chernihiv European helped them to obtain tables, chairs, sofas and a laptop with an audio system to listen to movies.
“When people have nothing and suddenly get support, they can’t believe their luck. All the time, they have been asking if all these things will be left to them,” Zhanna says. “… Of course, we can’t provide stable cash assistance to each of them, but we can help them create a space where they can gather, support each other and develop their community.”
Over the life of the program, CLEAR aims to address the urgent protection, shelter and WASH needs of 22,580 people who have been affected by the war in Ukraine. A total of 13 local partner organizations are supporting implementation efforts. By layering lifesaving humanitarian interventions with long-term development assistance, Global Communities is working with Ukrainian communities to respond to the crisis, set the stage for post-war reconstruction and foster lasting resilience to shocks and stresses.