Three ways DEC charities’ work in Ukraine has changed

In February 2022, people across Ukraine left their homes in the cold after a major escalation of the conflict with Russia. Some headed for the subway stations and shelters; others gathered their children and family members, starting long journeys to the borders of neighbouring countries - all with no idea when they would be able to return home.

Two years later, many elements of the conflict feel the same. Fighting continues to drive people from their homes and attacks on infrastructure affect people’s access to heating, electricity and water.

However for many displaced people in Ukraine and refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries, their situation looks very different. This is why DEC charities and their local partners are continually assessing the needs and using the DEC’s flexible funding to adapt their programmes to meet new and emerging needs.

While some areas of DEC charities’ work, such as providing food, clean water and cash payments to the most vulnerable, have remained constant, other parts of the response have changed over time.

Here are three ways people’s needs are changing, and how DEC charities are adapting their programmes to meet them. 

Social worker Aliona plays with Trympka toys, special toys designed to support families, at a refugee centre in Chisinau, Moldova, supported by DEC charity Plan International. Photo: Andreea Câmpeanu/DEC

From shelters to homes

There are around 3.6 million internally displaced people in Ukraine (as of September 2023), and 5.8 million Ukrainian refugees living in other countries (as of October 2023).  People fleeing airstrikes, missiles and fighting. Quickly after the escalation, ‘collective centres’ were set up across the country by local organisations and civil society to provide shared temporary accommodation. These were often in community and government buildings, schools, university dorms or business centres.

DEC charities supported some of these centres such as one Kristina* and her family found themselves in in Lviv after fleeing their home in the early days of the conflict.

“We came to Lviv and the railway volunteers helped us find accommodation. They directed us to the shelter in a sports hall,”  - Kristina

Kristina* in the shelter in the sport department of an education establishment in Lviv, Ukraine. Photo: Kasia Strek/DEC

Now, DEC charities are focusing more on helping to provide accommodation more suitable for the longer term. Within Ukraine, a major project has provided cash payments for hosts living in safer areas of the country who are willing to take in people who have fled the fighting, to help cover the costs of hosting extra people in their home.  

Between September 2022 and August 2023, the project provided 260,000 hosts with payments to help provide 722,000 people with accommodation.

Long-term needs of refugees

At the beginning of the response, DEC funds were used to help the millions of refugees streaming over Ukraine’s borders to meet their basic needs. Many had left their homes with only a few personal belongings and charities used donations to provide food, water and shelter.

As time has gone on, many refugees have started to settle in their host countries as children have started schools and some people have found work.

DEC charities now are looking at people’s longer-term needs. For example in Poland, DEC funds have been used to support a Ukrainian language school, where children are able to continue learning the Ukrainian curriculum at school, as well as helped to integrate into their new host country.

“We are all very passionate about it and we’ve been able to create our own mini family here,” - Yevheniia,* one of the refugees attending the school.

Yevheniia,* 16, a refugee from Ukraine living in Poland, attends school setup by the Unbreakable Ukraine Foundation on 5th October, 2022. Photo: Paul Wu/DEC

DEC funds are also being used to set up specialist centres, where refugees can access various kinds of support, including mental health services, language courses and childcare. In the year to September 2023, across Ukraine and neighbouring countries DEC charities and their local partners have provided 84,900 children with education support including language courses and educational trips.

Supporting mental health

When the conflict escalated, DEC charities were focused on meeting people’s immediate needs, including access to emergency medical care. Many were injured in the conflict or were unable to see a doctor to get treatment or medication. DEC charities worked with the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to provide medical equipment and supplies, and set up mobile clinics in places where healthcare wasn’t available.

Living with the conflict has also had an enormous impact on people’s mental health. Between August 2022 and September 2023, 125,000 people received mental health or psychosocial support using DEC funds.

The conflict has been especially hard on children, who may have experienced airstrikes, hidden in bomb shelters, been forced to leave their homes, been separated from a parent.

For example, in Poland, DEC charity Plan International provided helpline counselling to over 4,200 children, and in Moldova, three mobile teams visited refugee accommodation centres in local host communities to offer mental health and psychosocial support to over 2,500 children and their caregivers. This includes activities like art therapy and games, which give children the chance to express themselves and process what they’ve experienced.

Silvia and her daughter, Yana, aged 6, at a summer camp repurposed for refugee accommodation in Moldova. Photo: Andreea Câmpeanu

Silvia, a beneficiary of the project, fled to Moldova with her two children when her hometown became too dangerous. When she arrived, she was reluctant to see a psychologist, but was worried her children were becoming withdrawn.

“I look forward to Mondays when, at 11:30, we'll have this session, And it helps us so much in life it’s the same for the children. The children have changed. The children became different, more sociable. I thank God for the people who sheltered us here,” - Silvia

Over the next year, DEC charities will continue to adapt to people’s changing needs, working both directly and through local partners in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Moldova.