Estonian donation helps the most vulnerable internally displaced people in Ukraine get humanitarian assistance

Ukraine has one of the largest populations of internally displaced people in the world but the crisis remains chronically underfunded. A USD 218,000 contribution from Estonia will support UNHCR’s humanitarian work in the country.

96-year old Ukrainian Vira Opanasiva was facing serious problems when her bank card used for pension payments expired in March. This meant that Vira Opanasiva – already impacted severely by the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, forcing her to flee her home in Miusynsk – could not buy the vital medicine she needed for her high blood pressure.

Vira, who is today living with her son and daughter-in-law in Svitlodarsk in eastern Ukraine, has a very low income, and the whole family mainly relies on modest pensions of around USD 350 per month. After having received cash assistance from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, Vira was able to purchase her medicine as well as an electric tonometer to ensure that her family could monitor her blood pressure. UNHCR and partners also provided social support to the family, liaising with state and bank offices in order to renew the lost document that Vira needed to re-establish her pension payments. This had been impossible for the family to take care of, due to the national COVID19-quarantine.

Despite her senior age and being uprooted for the past six years, Vira still dreams of returning to her own apartment in Miusynsk: “I have already lived through a century of wars and disasters, and then recently I had to leave my home again because of shelling in East Ukraine. I think all I tried to do in my life has been to survive.”

Vira Opanasiva is one of 1,4 million internally displaced people in Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian authorities. Since the conflict broke out in 2014, shellings due to regular ceasefire violations have taken place in Eastern Ukraine. In February alone, 20,300 ceasefire violations were recorded, resulting in civilian casualties as well as damaging and destroying houses.

Estonia has been an important and frequent donor to the chronically underfunded and too often overlooked displacement crisis in Ukraine. The latest Estonian contribution of USD 218,000 will help strengthen UNHCR’s protection and humanitarian work in the country.

UNHCR provides cash-based assistance to displaced or other conflict-affected people in eastern Ukraine, just like Vira Opanasiva. This individual assistance is supporting some of the most vulnerable, including a large elderly population, preventing them from being exposed to further risk, and allowing them to buy food, medicine, and more essential items.

Besides financial assistance, UNHCR and its partners provide items such as blankets, kitchen sets, clothing as well as legal and protection assistance to make sure that the elderly and other vulnerable groups have access to social services such as their pensions. In the first three months of 2020, 3,971 internally displaced and others affected by the conflict received legal assistance, and 373 received psychosocial support. Almost 40 percent of the people living in the non-government-controlled areas of Donetska and Luhanska have experienced trauma resulting in stress, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the violence.

“Ukraine has one of the largest populations of internally displaced people in the world. Many of them are extremely vulnerable and in need of material, social and financial support. With the donation from Estonia UNHCR is able to continue and strengthen our work in Ukraine and make sure that the most vulnerable get the humanitarian assistance they need,” says Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative for Northern Europe.

On top of the conflict in eastern Ukraine the country is now faced with another crisis: The threat from COVID-19. An estimated 21 million people in the country could be impacted by the virus, making the situation even more dire. UNHCR is stepping up the COVID-19 response in Ukraine, including by supporting local authorities and medical facilities with e.g. shelters and medical supplies.

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“I have already lived through a century of wars and disasters, and then recently I had to leave my home again because of shelling in East Ukraine. I think all I tried to do in my life has been to survive,” says Vira Opanasiva. © UNHCR/Victoria Andrievska

Ukraine. Family relocated away from conflict zone by UNHCR

Five years of conflict in eastern Ukraine has uprooted around 1.4 million people, while many more endure cold, hunger, hardship and the threat of sudden death at home. In all, 3.4 million people need humanitarian assistance and protection. © UNHCR/Oksana Parafeniuk

Estonia as a donor to UNHCR

Estonia is a consistent donor to UNHCR and its operations in Ukraine. In 2019, Estonia contributed a total of USD 477,547 to UNHCR, and USD 225,479 of this sum, went to Ukraine.

Estonia has also been a regular supporter of UNHCR efforts in the Middle East, Bangladesh and Myanmar.