Dorcas Ukraine operates from the Transcarpathia region in Western Ukraine. The funds Dorcas will receive from the Dutch government can be used to help many people. ‘However, we need to prepare for that by quickly scaling up the organisation and expanding our staff and tools,’ says Heleen Berends. She is in Transcarpathia to help Dorcas Ukraine with the crisis response, and she also has a coordinating role in the Dutch Relief Alliance.
Many IDPs have come to this region of Western Ukraine. Dorcas’ initial focus was distributing food and non-food items to shelters, such as schools, churches and sports halls. However, it soon became clear that other items were also needed, such as kitchen utensils and washing machines. ‘Every shelter is different and has its own specific needs, so you can’t adopt a one size fits all approach. Providing what each shelter needs takes a lot of time and effort’, states Heleen.
Cash and mental health care
Now, a month later, the local economy is recovering on this side of Ukraine. Food and hygiene items are available in the shops, albeit at higher prices. So in this phase, Dorcas is giving cash to people in the shelters, which will be the approach for the foreseeable future. Many IDPs have experienced very traumatic situations and dealing with those is not easy if you are on the move. So Dorcas has started to focus on mental health care and psychosocial support. Partners have professional psychologists and social workers available who can start this vital task once suitable public buildings for the group meetings are found.
Regular projects continue
‘The regular projects of Dorcas mostly focus on community safety nets for marginalised groups, like older people, people with a disability and Roma people’, explains Heleen. All of the programmes have a community approach: how can the community help, include these people and form a safety net for them? Dorcas’ projects continue in the parts of Ukraine that are still safe. And fortunately, Dorcas sometimes succeed in sending trucks with supplies to the occupied areas where there is a desperate need for food and medicines.
Heleen also participates in cluster groups organised by the United Nations. ‘All organisations working in this area take part in groups that discuss a theme they’re involved in.’ Dorcas participates in the theme groups “cash”, “protection” and “mental healthcare”. The cash group discusses how much money IDPs need, the protection group considers legal rights and human trafficking, and the mental healthcare group explores how traumatised people can best be helped. These theme clusters therefore play a vital role in coordinating the work done by various parties.
Displaced staff from the East
Besides the IDPs in the shelters, Dorcas staff are also taking care of their colleagues from Eastern Ukraine. ‘They were stationed in Zaporizhzhia, a city at the front line. When it became really dangerous there, most of them fled to the other Dorcas office, here in the West, near the city of Uzhgorod’, says Heleen. Although it is safe here, the air raid sirens still go off regularly during the day and at night. If you’ve not experienced the bombings, you get used to it. You simply have to stay inside, remain calm and wait until everything is quiet again. But for our colleagues from the war zone that is a very different experience. The sound of sirens makes them restless and worried and reminds them that they are now refugees too.
28 March 2022