In 2014, a conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian government and armed opposition groups. There have been over 10,000 civilian casualties in the last five years – with as many as 3,000 deaths and 7,000 persons injured. Today, 3.5 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. REACH’s enumerators in eastern Ukraine regularly find themselves on the frontline as part of their role in reaching out to conflict-affected Ukrainians to learn more about the day-to-day challenges they face as a means to shape ongoing humanitarian action.
Despite repeated attempts at establishing a lasting ceasefire and the provisions of the Minsk Protocol, an average of 30 conflict-related incidents take place every day in eastern Ukraine. The majority occur within 5 kilometres of the contact line, a de-facto border which runs along 420km and splits Donbas into government-controlled areas (GCA) and non-government controlled areas (NGCA).
ACTED and its sister organization IMPACT first deployed in Ukraine in 2015 through the REACH Initiative to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The conflict has inflicted a wide range of hardships on those living in proximity to the contact line. This includes widespread damage to shelters and utility networks through shelling; reduced access to healthcare facilities; chronic disruption to livelihoods; and severe safety risks stemming from the presence of landmines and explosive remnants of war. Eastern Ukraine is now one of the most mine-contaminated areas in the world.
REACH Initiative was created in 2010 to facilitate the development of information tools and products that enhance the humanitarian community’s decision-making and planning capacity.
Enumerators are responsible for compiling accurate and up-to-date information on the situation in eastern Ukraine through in-person interviews with people living in conflict-affected villages and cities. This information is used to assess the most urgent humanitarian needs and support humanitarian actors in addressing them. Results are made available to the Ukrainian government, INGOs (including ACTED), UN agencies, and other humanitarian actors, in order to support them in the delivery of relevant and targeted aid to the affected populations most in need.
All of REACH’s enumerators in Ukraine are people who have one way or another been affected by the conflict, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) from NGCA. Their personal links to the affected communities, courage, and ability to cope in the face of immense stress, all contribute to what makes them the heart of the REACH team in Ukraine.
To conduct assessments, enumerators visit the most remote locations along the contact line, including those where fighting is still ongoing. In the most isolated areas, enumerators can be the only people who visit a settlement in the course of several days, thus residents develop good relationships with REACH staff. Through building trust with the target communities, enumerators ensure that there is space to discuss the concerns, worries, fears and hopes of those whom the humanitarian community seeks to assist.
When REACH began its work in Ukraine, people were reluctant to talk to enumerators; they were afraid of scams. Now however, as the conflict continues, this has changed: people living in conflict-affected areas know of REACH, their work, and how these surveys can improve their lives. This is in great part due to the impactful work of the enumerators, who show a great deal of empathy, helping people to feel comfortable when disclosing what can be sensitive or sad information.
Once, we heard the case when a person returned from the shop nearby and found that his house was hit by a shell and his whole family had died.
During interviews, enumerators also share information about fundamental rights and available humanitarian programmes in the area, so that people can ask for the help they may need and are entitled to.
Undoubtedly, this work requires dedication to carry on despite difficulties and obstacles: in addition to regularly going to the frontline, enumerators often face adverse weather conditions, long trips and damaged roads.
By canvassing towns and villages close to the contact line to conduct REACH assessments, enumerators meet people who are otherwise isolated from the rest of their community. Their needs are often invisible to local authorities due to limited access. As a result, they are not referred to humanitarian organizations and do not receive assistance, despite being in need.
Enumerators have discovered a lot of these people through their work: in these cases, they provide information on how to contact humanitarian organizations to see whether they are eligible for assistance (e.g. phone numbers, emails). During the winter of 2019, REACH enumerators conducted a protection assessment in hard-to-reach and isolated areas along the contact line. Enumerators were trained to recognize people in urgent need of protection assistance, and fill in a form listing key information about the protection concerns they observed. The forms were then shared with UNHCR, who evaluated the cases and passed these on to specialized NGOs for further action.
Unfortunately, there is currently no end of the conflict in sight. In the meantime, enumerators help make sure that no one is left behind or forgotten.
In Eastern Ukraine, the most frequent question people ask when we talk to them is: “When there will be peace?”
REACH assessments in Ukraine are currently (as of April 2019) 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).
*NB: REACH team leaders manage teams of enumerators in the field.