Ukraine – The Persistence of Hope: IOM Director General António Vitorino
Geneva – One year ago, destruction and human suffering swept across Ukraine on a scale unseen in Europe in three generations. Towns and cities have been obliterated; tight-knit communities scattered by gunfire, missiles, and bombs.
Today, children and elderly people freeze in basements, doctors operate by candlelight and without anaesthetics, while time and time again vital civilian infrastructure – heating plants, power stations, hospitals – are destroyed.
Since visiting Ukraine in September I have found it hard to forget the extent of the damage, but also the courage of those displaced by conflict. The dedication of IOM staff and our colleagues across the humanitarian community, of which I am deeply proud, reflects the resilience of the Ukrainian people themselves.
The escalation of the war has made living conditions increasingly difficult but for many, it is harder to stay away. While 13.4 million were displaced in Ukraine and abroad, some 5.5 million have returned, many to find their homes damaged or destroyed.
I, and my colleagues, are committed to staying the course; committed to the belief that the actions we take today will build the foundations for a better tomorrow.
We will continue to provide aid to the people of Ukraine, and particularly the most vulnerable, including shelter, food, water, medicines and medical equipment, warm clothes, home repairs, fuel and much more. We will continue to fund the repairing of infrastructure, refurbish schools, offices, and factories, and create jobs. We will continue to put people at the heart of our action, because we know that people want to – and should be – in charge of their own recovery.
However, a year of war has seriously affected access to crucial services throughout Ukraine and disproportionately impacted the lives of those displaced. The needs are staggering, and increasing.
While most of us celebrated the holidays to start the new year, Ukrainian celebrations were modest. The war has shattered families and communities, and there is simply no money for luxuries; almost half (43 per cent) of families have completely exhausted their savings.
The war has stifled Ukraine’s economy, so IOM is doing all it can to invest in local businesses, particularly micro- and small enterprises. With the support of our donors, we are providing grants of between EUR 4,500 and EUR 20,000 to 700 such firms; already, over 2,300 jobs have been created or retained.
Losing one’s home and the sense of safety it provides has far-reaching implications on a person’s life. In light of this, I am especially proud to report that IOM has become one of the most important providers of shelter in Ukraine. In frontline locations, IOM has reached over 140,000 families with immediate aid, while repairing over 200 structures like schools and public buildings where more than 51,000 internally displaced people across Ukraine have found temporary shelter.
Access to other areas is limited due to active fighting and the lack of security guarantees impeding the ability of humanitarians to render assistance in an impartial and neutral manner.
Mass displacement and the breakdown of community structures that are the inevitable consequence of war increased the risk of trafficking in persons, gender-based violence, and the exploitation and abuse of the most vulnerable. We have worked closely with our partners to assist in a holistic, targeted and coordinated manner.
Sadly, an estimated 15 million people – one third of the population – struggle with deteriorating mental health. In a country that has been so resolute in the face of unimaginable difficulties, it is imperative that we reinforce our Mental Health and Psychosocial Support programmes which are providing a much-needed springboard to community recovery.
The steps we have taken, delivering humanitarian assistance in an impartial manner to address the immediate needs of the most vulnerable, investing in private sector initiatives, and providing psychosocial and protection assistance to a war-weary population, bring comfort today, while investing in the future. Most importantly, these steps provide an essential intangible: hope.