As the conflict in Ukraine drags on, those living along the frontline in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions endure both the perils of life under shelling, as well as the ensuing hardships fortified with each attack.
Often choosing to remain within their homes, windows blown out and water leaking in through bomb-damaged roofing, residents are cut off from electricity, gas and water networks. The scale of the damage is too widespread for the existing civil protection system to cope. It is with this in mind that in eastern Ukraine, humanitarian organizations like ACTED are organising meetings directly with members of the affected communities. This allows a better understanding of their most pressing needs and assists humanitarian actors in adapting their approaches.
To inform efforts to increase the resilience of civilians affected by the conflict, ACTED held 16 focus group discussions (FGDs) in frontline communities in 2018. Findings from these discussions provided insights into the affected populations’ needs and priorities in the civil protection sector. FDGs also shed light on the resilience of frontline communities while allowing humanitarian actors to better understand the capacities of local authorities to respond to conflict-related emergencies.
Participants of the discussions noted the lack of bomb-shelters as a key concern. Not only is there a shortage of shelters, but those available often do not meet safety requirements. As a result, locals take cover in simple basements of their houses which do not provide the necessary level of protection against artillery shells.
We were hiding in the basement of our houses. The neighbour had a direct hit into their basement. Thank God they were not there.
Based on this feedback, the construction, reconstruction and equipping of bomb-shelters should be considered a top priority.
After more than four years of protracted conflict, residents living close to the frontline are feeling the effects of unrelenting stress on their physical and mental well-being.
As a direct result of the continuous anxiety arising from proximity to conflict, the overwhelming majority of participants spoke of the need for better provision of psychological support. At present, there are very few training programmes for psycho-social counsellors or opportunities for community members to attend group therapy sessions. Participants expressed willingness to take part in various trainings, including mine risk education, first aid and training on how to behave in various types of conflict-related emergencies.
People are morally exhausted; their hands shake after every shelling. We mostly help ourselves through anti-anxiety medications.
Based on these discussions, ACTED is actively looking for ways to integrate training programmes into future programming which increase awareness of life-saving measures which can be taken in an emergency. Such efforts will help to build community resilience.
While the concerns discussed in the FGDs differed from one area to the next, participants broadly agreed that the state evacuation system is insufficient. For those who have had to evacuate in the past, the experience was marked by poor organisation, a lack of financial resources, and more importantly, uncertainty concerning the evacuation itself due to lack of preparation and communication. Furthermore, many evacuees were victims of looting.
Since the early stages of the conflict, the state has faced challenges in providing comprehensive support to conflict affected persons. This included insufficient capacity to give advice or provide resources to protect the property of evacuees. Despite some progress, it remains essential to further improve the evacuation process, for instance through providing emergency housing for evacuees and promoting greater awareness of the evacuation process.
Once a house has been abandoned, only the walls are left standing.
In its next rounds of programming, ACTED will be looking to enhance evacuation measures by means of close collaboration with authorities in both the areas of displacement and areas of reception.
By integrating information gathered through discussing challenges faced by the population on a daily basis, ACTED endeavors to provide humanitarian assistance that can, in the long-term, strengthen the preparedness and resilience of conflict-affected communities, and improve local capacities to respond to adversity and stress. With this in mind, future ACTED programming in Ukraine will seek to engage both frontline communities and local authorities in trainings, consultations, technical and material support, stakeholder coordination and other capacity-enhancing activities.
In addition, a full report containing the conclusions of the ACTED-led FGDs was shared with UN clusters, NGOs and local authorities to inform humanitarian response more broadly.
This activity was implemented with support from the European Union/EU through its Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations (ECHO) and from the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).