This is a summary of what was said by Karolina Lindholm Billing, UNHCR Representative in Ukraine – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
I have spent the last weeks in Kyiv, Poltava, Dnipro, Zaporizhia, and now in Vinnytsya, meeting internally displaced people, local authorities, emergency services and volunteers in the host communities.
The situation is very fluid, and the outlook for the innocent victims of this brutal and senseless war is fragile.
People are still fleeing fighting, others remain in the places they fled to in the last 100 days; some are already returning to rebuild their homes. I also met some people who had returned, then decided it was unsafe and had to flee again.
In Dnipro, I saw buses arriving with people who had evacuated from locations like Bakhmut. They were visibly weak and shaken. Most arrivals were elderly, had difficulty walking alone and needed help. These are people with next to nothing.
For some, this is the second time they have fled for their lives since 2014. They need immediate, emergency humanitarian support: somewhere to sleep, clothes, hygiene items, food, cash assistance and – importantly – psychological first aid and counselling.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has so far, with partners, assisted over 1.2 million people across Ukraine. That includes 233,000 reached with protection counselling and services; 500,000 with essential items such as mattresses, blankets and solar lamps in areas with no electricity; and 73,400 have received vital assistance through humanitarian convoys delivered to hard-hit areas
We have also scaled up the accommodation capacity of 182 reception and collective centres, so people who have just fled have a dignified and warm place to sleep for a short while.
This week, I spoke with many IDPs living in temporary reception facilities. Tonight, they have somewhere warm to sleep, but they don’t know about tomorrow or the months to come. As one elderly displaced woman I met yesterday in Koziatin, Vinnytsya oblast, said: “Our main question is – where to go now?” She knew their stay in that reception centre would be temporary.
In Dnipro, I met 60-year-old Iryna in the dormitory of the State Academy of Physical Education and Sports.
She had fled with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and their two children from the shelling in Kharkiv. They have been trying to find an apartment to rent in Dnipro, but are struggling to afford one.
Iryna said: “We all want to go home, but Kharkiv is still a dangerous area. And because of the children, we can’t go. One of my grandsons has already started to have neurological reactions to the stress – his face at times gets twisted.’’
At a dormitory in Poltava, I met people who had returned to Kharkiv, only to find that it was not yet possible to start rebuilding their homes or resume work, so they headed back – again – to Poltava.
As we continue trying to reach those cowering in bomb shelters in areas under heavy shelling with emergency assistance, we are also scaling up support to help the displaced in the medium to longer-term; to lay the ground for recovery and durable solutions.
Protection support must be at the centre of our response, as the risks and needs are mounting. Everyone is traumatized. Psychosocial counselling is essential for recovery. The needs are huge. Some have fled without their ID or civil documents and need help to receive new ones to access rights and services. Risks of exploitation, abuse and harmful coping strategies are also increasing, as destitution rises.
Several people I spoke with told of people returning to their homes, even in areas in Luhansk oblast, as they simply cannot afford the expense of displacement.
UNHCR is also ramping up programmes that will help people with damaged houses to repair roofs, windows, doors and walls. In Donetsk and Luhansk oblast, and in areas around Kyiv, we have provided emergency shelter kits to prevent the rain from pouring in. So far, 24,300 households have received shelter kits.
We are also working to support the refurbishment and repurposing of buildings that can be turned into medium-term collective centres, for people who need to move from temporary reception centres but cannot afford to rent an apartment.
But this will not be enough.
Winter is coming. And winters in Ukraine are brutal. Having somewhere warm, safe and dignified to stay will be lifesaving. So UNHCR, as the shelter and NFI cluster lead, is preparing with partners an overview of the specific types of support vulnerable families will need this winter, to complement the other assistance that the national authorities, the UN and our humanitarian partners are providing.
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