During last few years, UNHCR Ukraine supported 86 communities to establish sustainable Community Centres in an effort to promote protection and durable solutions for internally displaced persons.
The day started early at 6 am for activists working in KvARTal, a community center on the outskirts of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Today, they facilitated something pivotal—a meeting between local people and State Social Department officials. They would go on to discuss providing internally displaced pensioners with access to social benefits and civil documentation.
Whether its arranging meetings between local people and state officials, or hosting soccer games for youth, KvARTal has helped the people of Bakhmut improve their quality of life. Since the war between militias and the Ukrainian military broke out five years ago, approximately 42,000 IDPs fled to the town. Many citizens of Bakhmut face immense financial and social challenges.
To better support the town, the UNHCR in Ukraine built KvARTal in 2017 with funding support from the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit gmbh) and local authorities. It was aptly named KvARTal, meaning “the neighbourhood” and “the art,” two pillars of what the centre is all about—creating community, finding social renewal in art and sport, and accessing social services.
Activists who run KvARTal have made a difference in thousands of lives. Ludmyla, a 68-year-old native from Bakhmut, is affectionately called “mother of the displaced” for her unwavering support and optimism.
“I believe that the most powerful way for displaced persons to feel at home and get support in their new home town is to communicate, meet local people, and actively participate in community events. This is why together with other volunteers we created this centre two years ago. Today we not only organize cultural events but also help our visitors with solving very practical issues”, – says Liudmyla.
A visitor of the centre, Valentyna (63), can contest that the Liudmyla’s assistance and the benefits of KvARTal. After losing her home, she found it difficult to acquire the proper documents needed to receive her pension. The bureaucratic process in applying for civil documents was long and inefficient. Thanks to the centre, she was able to connect with a social worker from the State Social Department and received her pension in a timely manner.
“With the displacement and loss of my home and friends, there are many stressors in my life,” Valentyna said. “But here in the centre, there are people who can help me. This makes me feel at home and surrounded by supportive people.”
Young couple Benda and Artem have been living in Bakhmut with their three children ever since they had been displaced from Svetlodarsk, a village near the contact line.
“In Svetlodarsk, we resisted rains of bullets and artillery fire for over a month,” Benda said. It was the fear of losing their lives that prompted the family to flee.
KvARTal was able to help the family before it was even open—Artem was given a job to help construct the center. After it was built, KvARTal connected them with governmental services to update their civil documents, access medical care for their children, and pay their electricity and water bills. Their eldest child also participates in the art programs KvARTal has to offer.
Art program facilitator Svitlana, 54, has noticed the way art has brought joy back into people’s lives. “The lessons are so appreciated, sometimes even the parents join in,” she said.
An art-lover, Svetlana used to enjoy visiting the Opera in Donetsk—something she cannot do anymore because of the conflict. She says that the centre brought art back into her life. Despite the pain of displacement and conflict, today she enjoys her life again.
Visitors like Valentyna believe there should be more community centres like KvARTal in Ukraine.
“Here, we are all united—local people and IDPs. If we support the community center, we will be able to create relations with each other. We lost our social lives because of the conflict, and now they can be reinstated.”
In 2015 to 2017, UNHCR Ukraine supported 86 communities to establish sustainable community centres in an effort to promote protection and durable solutions for internally displaced persons.
In 2017, UNHCR implemented 24 Quick Impact Projects (QIPs) funded by the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit gmbh) in the government-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine. The projects were funded under the auspices of GIZ’s initiative strengthening social infrastructure for the absorption of internally displaced persons. The QIPs covered a diverse range of works including renovations, repairs, and equipping of community centres, schools, and other institutions assisting both IDPs and IDP host communities. The projects focus its assistance on vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities, older people, and children. The projects deliver a range of impacts such as promoting peaceful coexistence and social cohesion between IDPs and host communities, supporting access to education, inclusiveness of disabled persons, and psychological relief.