Picking up the pieces in Ukraine

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Liudmyla Shemendiuk, 68, and Mykola Shemendiuk, 73, in their home in Chernihiv, Ukraine, waiting for new windows from the Anika community foundation, an Oxfam partner. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Oxfam's partners are rebuilding damaged homes and restoring a sense of normalcy for people displaced by the war.

After spending nine days in her basement, sheltering from bombs, Ukrainian Ana Gendmalo had a strong feeling that she needed to get out of her house. She and her son, Serhiy,* now age 2, went to a friend’s shelter. Her intuition was correct: her home was destroyed the very next morning.

“…When I saw the house, it was as if I had died, but was still here,” she told Oxfam staff.

Three days later, Liudmyla and Mykola Shemendiuk—who had been sheltering in their basement for three weeks—were forced out of their home in Chernihiv in northern Ukraine. A series of bombs damaged their house, set others in the neighborhood ablaze, and killed one of their neighbors. The next day they were taken to a shelter, where they stayed until they felt it was safe to return home.

One year of war

February 24 marks one year since the start of the war in Ukraine. Since then, about one-third of all Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. Eight million Ukrainians have sought refuge in Europe. In Romania alone, between 8,000 and 10,000 refugees enter the country each day because of the crisis.

The UN estimates that as of January 2023, 18 million people in Ukraine are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 6 million are displaced from their homes, seeking shelter elsewhere in the country. The majority of those who have been displaced have been homeless for at least six months. Without homes and livelihoods, Ukrainians are watching their savings dwindle. Families have been separated and critical infrastructure, such as water supplies, medical facilities, and schools, have been destroyed.

Destruction to buildings caused by ongoing shelling in Chernihiv, Ukraine. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Oxfam’s response in Ukraine and neighboring countries

Oxfam is currently working with 10 local organizations in northern and southern Ukraine to provide cash to cover essential needs, access to protection services, and safe modes of transportation for people fleeing within Ukraine and to neighboring countries. We are also supporting partners to deliver mobile consultation and hotline services, legal and psychosocial services, and assistance for accommodation and resettlement.

To meet people’s immediate needs, your support has gone toward cash and hygiene kit distributions for people on the move, meals for people at transit centers, legal assistance, and clean water, toilets, and showers for people at border crossings. In emergencies, in addition to providing lifesaving aid, Oxfam works with local partners to create long-term solutions for affected communities. We are channeling our expertise in humanitarian response, technical support, and funding through 29 partner organizations in Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, and Romania who are already working directly with displaced people and communities that host them, helping these organizations expand their own capacities and impact. Thanks to our Oxfam supporters, we have reached 800,000 people across the four countries, including 140,000 in Ukraine.

Gordana Vucinic, Oxfam area manager for north and east Ukraine, explains Oxfam’s approach: “We supported [organizations] already doing certain activities just to make it quicker and to be able to have a higher outreach to the most vulnerable people.... When it's the partner who knows the local contacts, they know the needs. They know what the aid supports in their community. They're the ones who know the priorities for a certain period of time.”

Restoring homes, building hope

Anika, one of Oxfam’s partners in Ukraine, is a community-based organization in Chernihiv. Its focus moving into the winter months has been restoring damaged homes by installing windows and balcony frames. Many people, like the Shemendiuks, had returned to their homes and were living without windows, using temporary materials to block out the cold. With temperatures dipping below zero and disruptions to the electricity supply and heating systems in most of the country, the improvements Anika made on their homes have helped people survive the harsh winter.

Ana Gendmalo and Serhiy* 2, in their home in Chernihiv, Ukraine. They received new windows and a door from Oxfam's partner, Anika. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

At the start of its response Anika helped people with items for day-to-day living: pots, pans, stoves, even kitchen utensils to replace the ones that had been destroyed. “We used to bring truckloads, distributing products from the vehicle, and there were queues of hundreds of people waiting to get those products,” said Anna Kulyeva, Anika’s founder and director. “Some asked for a stove, some asked for a pot, others asked for a basin, some people asked for gloves to clear the rubble, or a hammer. Those who did not have electricity at the time asked for lanterns, then they started asking for tools to clear the rubble.”

As time went on, Kulyeva said Anika looked to help people on a larger scale, to move from basics to offering long-term solutions. “Feeding people is one thing, and restoring household appliances is another thing,” she said, “but when you have no place to put it all in, nowhere to live, this is a more important issue.”

Anika helped make Gendmalo’s home habitable again and is making windows and doors for the Shemendiuks. “We are back home now thanks to Anika,” Gendmalo reported. “They helped with new windows and a door. It’s amazing to be back home.”

While she is happy to be home again, the relief is only temporary. With no end to the war in sight, she worries that her home could be destroyed again. For now, thanks to the generosity of our donors, Oxfam will continue to support her and others affected by the war through our local partner organizations.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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