On February 24, 2022, Russia launched its troops in Ukraine. Three weeks later, the toll of the offensive is already very heavy: several hundred dead and wounded, and millions of others have had to flee their towns and villages to find shelter from the fighting. Numerous buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed, basic public services have been severely disrupted and supply chains have been cut.
Humanitarian needs assessment
Based on its experience in conflict zones, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL decided to quickly dispatch two missions to assess the humanitarian needs of the affected populations: the first to Ukraine and the second to Moldova.
The findings are alarming. “Hundreds of thousands of people have left everything behind overnight. They find themselves in absolute destitution and are faced with very difficult living conditions, without access to water and heating. No one is spared. We meet many elderly people who have to face the cold, hunger, thirst and lack of hygiene,” says Philippe Bonnet, head of the Emergency mission for SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL.
The situation is particularly critical at the borders. “The road from Lviv to the Polish border is very congested. When our team arrived, there were between 25 and 30 km of traffic jams. People arrive with their families, but the men have to turn back because they are not allowed to leave the country [editor’s note: since the general mobilization decreed on February 24, Ukrainians between the ages of 18 and 60 are forbidden to leave their country]. It is really heartbreaking for these families who know that the men will probably be called to fight. So, women, children and elderly people get out of their cars and walk across the border while the men go back the other way. The border crossing is particularly harsh: people have to wait for hours in the cold and they lack water and food,” continues the mission leader.
Our teams also visited the cities of Lviv and Uman, which has become “hot spots” for displaced people since the war began. “Many people are leaving the eastern part of Ukraine and Kiev for the west and Poland in particular,” explains the head of mission.
The city of Lviv, located 70 km from the Polish border, is full of displaced people who wander from one place to another in search of accommodation for the night or a means of transportation to reach a border country. These searches are particularly complicated: there is no longer any accommodation available in Lviv and car rental companies refuse to rent their vehicles for fear that they will go abroad or end up in a combat zone. Many have no choice but to take refuge in makeshift shelters, such as the Arena stadium, which hosts nearly 6,000 people each week. “The improvised reception centres are facing enormous needs that are increasing as the conflict continues. The city is saturated and local authorities are asking for help.”, observes Philippe Bonnet.
The town of Uman is also an important crossroads: every day, thousands of displaced people arrive there from Kiev, Kharkiv, Mariupol or Dnipro. They stay for the night in abandoned places before “taking the road again”. “We met Lila, who had just arrived from Soumy after several days of travelling. She had initially chosen to stay in her town where the fighting was raging. But after 3 days of living hidden in her cellar with her children, without water, electricity or heating, she decided to leave,” reports Philippe Bonnet.
Our teams have finally estimated the needs in Moldova, which has received the second largest number of people from Ukraine since the conflict began. “People passing through Moldova need to be accompanied during their transit. A response is in place by the government and civil society that is completely dedicated to the emergency response and is exhausted. The majority of the aid is done through voluntary work by Moldovans who have given up all their free time to respond to the emergency. However, Moldovan society is having to return to its normal functioning and is rapidly disengaging from the response.
Thus, NGOs such as SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL have to take over the accompaniment of people waiting for transport or when they arrive too exhausted to continue their journey directly – Moldova is not a major destination country for Ukrainians – by ensuring access to shelter, water, toilets, hot meals, etc. More and more women and children are arriving on foot, without transport and sometimes without a clear destination. In a state of shock because of the war, the abandonment of their daily lives overnight, the lack of news from relatives who are sometimes unreachable and the men who have remained in Ukraine, these people often need rest in dignified and protected spaces to enable them to recover physically and emotionally. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is distributing hot meals from 17 March 2022 and is positioning itself to take over the management of transit centres globally.
The host populations of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, are extremely affected by their commitment but also by the reception of the refugees in their homes. It is therefore essential to strengthen and support this solidarity, which is why our teams provide financial support to the most vulnerable families who have opened their doors to enable them to meet the needs of the people they are hosting.
To meet the urgent needs identified, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL quickly helped to distribute drinking water and thousands of hot meals in the cities of Lviv and Uman.
At the same time, our NGO is organising the departure of an exceptional convoy of 38-tonne lorries to provide essential items to displaced people in transit in Ukraine and at the Moldovan border: non-perishable food, baby milk, bottles, bottled water, nappies, sanitary products, first aid items, cots, mattresses, etc.
These items will be made available to the local reception centres. “We want to support the relief efforts that have been set up urgently and that are struggling to cope with this exponential demand. We are acting in coordination with local associations and authorities,” explains Philippe Bonnet.
Finally, the “Emergency” mission plans to provide latrines and showers in the near future to enable the displaced population to maintain a decent level of hygiene and to relieve themselves in a safe and dignified manner.
In order to carry out its operations, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is asking for financial support from as many people as possible.
« The challenge that we face is immense and risks worsening dramatically; it is essential to immediately bring the most vulnerable people to safety and to prepare to support many others in the future. Diagnostics are underway in other areas, closer to the fighting. The needs there are certainly considerable”, concludes the head of mission.
© Michael Bunel