Six faces of the forcibly displaced in Ukraine
The city of Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine, has become a new home for many people forced from nearby towns and villages by the fighting.
In Dnipro and throughout Dnipropetrovska Oblast region UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is delivering humanitarian assistance in response to the pressing needs of internally displaced people and people who remain in areas heavily impacted by the hostilities. To do so, UNHCR works in close collaboration with local authorities and NGO partners, such as Proliska, a Ukrainian humanitarian organization whose staff include many who themselves have been displaced and personally affected by the war.
UNHCR’s support includes essential protection services such as help replacing lost documents, psychosocial therapy, legal advice and social support, as well as shelter, cash and emergency relief assistance.
As the war in Ukraine continues into a second year, no one is left untouched; neither the displaced nor the people working to help them. Here are six people moving on with courage to survive and rebuild their lives in Dnipro.
For the first time in her long life, 89-year-old grandmother Tamara, fled her home in January. As a young girl, even the Second World War did not force her to leave the town of Chasiv Yar, where her parents and grandparents are buried, but Russia’s invasion proved to be too much.
“It became almost impossible to live,” she says of the constant gunfire and shelling, the lack of electricity, water, and food, and the constant fear and danger. “It was unbearable. We would sit in a room, always afraid and shaking with the cold. A shell broke through a wall in our house. We barely survived.”
Tamara left everything behind, including her personal documentation and belongings, and was evacuated to Dnipro, where she is staying with her 60-year-old son Volodymyr in a centre for older displaced people. “Here, at least, it is warm when I sleep,” she says.
UNHCR’s partner Proliska is helping to restore her personal documents so she can access her pension.
Anastasiya was in her apartment on the fifth floor while her young son was playing outside in the winter sunshine when a rocket hit their apartment building in Dnipro in January, ripping the high-rise in two and killing dozens of her neighbours. After the explosion, “my only thought was to see my son,” says the 33-year-old. She rushed through the ruins and found him alive and unharmed.
Thanks to the kindness of strangers Anastasiya has moved into another apartment in the city. “We have clothes, we have food,” she says, and with counselling and psychological support she is beginning again to think of the future. “Our hopes are to come back to our apartment, to rebuild so that the children can again play loudly in the yard, and we can hear them laugh under peaceful and blue skies.”
Olena, aged 33, was evacuated to Dnipro from the besieged city of Mariupol with her 5-year-old son Mykyta in March 2022, after enduring weeks of Russian artillery bombardment. It was not the first time she had fled, having endured conflict in the Donbas eight years earlier, but this time was worse.
“It was so loud outside. We covered our children in blankets because they were still sleeping, and we left,” Olena recalls. “We heard everything, all the rocket attacks, the shelling, and we saw tanks approaching the city.”
Together they are taking art therapy classes organized by UNHCR partner Proliska to help process the trauma of their ordeal, and their narrow escape. “We have enough support and help,” Olena says. “The only thing missing is inner security and harmony.”
The Recovering Man
A missile explosion in June blew 51-year-old Volodymyr out of the second-floor window of his house in Sloviansk, in Donetsk. “I broke my hip and suffered a stroke,” he says. Volodymyr found himself unable to talk and thought he might never walk again.
Rescuers took him for medical treatment, but Volodymyr had lost everything: his home, his personal possessions, and his identity documents, arriving in Dnipro with nothing but the shirt and shorts he was wearing. “I was picked up without anything.”
Months later, the damage is gradually being repaired. Rehabilitation sessions mean Volodymyr has regained his ability to speak and walk, while social workers have helped him restore his lost documents, and with them, his identity.
Iryna knows the trauma she seeks to heal, because she has suffered it herself. The 37-year-old psychologist was forced to flee her home in 2014, and again last year. She understands what it means to lose everything and wants to help and support people in need.
Working with Proliska, Iryna organizes group therapy sessions where adults and children can work through their trauma and begin to recover. “People start speaking with each other and become more open and less stressed. They tell stories about what they saw, and how they felt,” she says.
The “immediate positive impact” she sees the sessions have each day motivates her to carry on.
The UNHCR Officer
Power cuts, air raid sirens, and missile attacks are the daily realities for Viktoriia, a 28-year-old protection officer in Dnipro, who joined UNHCR in April 2022 after being forced from her home by the fighting in Donetsk.
Viktoriia is living through the same hardships and dangers as the people she is helping, but her first thought is always for them. “My fear is that I will not have time to help someone. My motivation is the need to get people out of this difficult situation as fast as possible,” she says. “If I do something good, or bring even partial joy to people and show that they are not alone and forgotten, then it fills my life with meaning.”
For the war-displaced, safety and security are just the start. “People do not know where and how to get help,” Viktoriia says. “The biggest basic needs are money, food, housing, and medicine. My role is to help them to solve these problems.”