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Growing needs for protection and shelter in Ukraine

Vsevolod Borovets – or Seva as he is called by friends and colleagues – is a young doctor from Ukraine who has recently joined DRC. He is now part of a DRC Protection team that offers services and guidance to people displaced by the ongoing crisis.

Posted on 17 Aug 2022

Written by Alexandra Strand Holm

"There are millions of people by now here in Ukraine who are traumatised and need psycho-social counseling. We meet some of them at key locations and places like this - Lviv Railway Station – for example when people arrive on evacuation trains from the east or return from places abroad or within the country where they have been seeking refuge so far," tells Vsevolod Borovets.  

Since he completed his medical education as a psychiatrist in 2018, Vsevolod worked at psychiatric hospitals in Lviv in western Ukraine, and later in 2021, added a specialisation in Public Health.  

Martial Law and new duties 

But everything changed in Ukraine with the blink of an eye on 24 February 2022 – a Thursday morning at 05:00, when the Russian Federation, Ukraine’s neighbour to the north and east, launched a so-called ‘special military operation’, an offensive that goes on till this day, and now, marking six months duration during which thousands have been killed and millions displaced.

On 25 February 2022, the day after the Russian Federation offensive was launched in Ukraine, Vsevolod was part of the workforce for whom the Martial Law in Ukraine meant a change of duties.  

"My brother and I went to the local authorities on 25 February to see how to best offer our time - and being a doctor, I was immediately referred to other service," tells Vsevolod. 

In his case, he could continue practicing as a psychiatrist, but was requested to volunteer to also conduct first aid trainings. 

I wanted to help 

Vsevolod continued to practice both as a psychiatrist and to also deliver trainings in first aid. But as days went by, he saw the suffering of people around him, met more displaced women and children, and learned about the increasing number of cases of gender-based violence. He then decided to make different use of his education and skills.   

"I wanted to do something to help. At first, I conducted trainings in first aid for people with health responsibilities in areas closer to the frontline. Eventually, I decided to find a job where I could play another role, use myself better and be more efficient."

DRC’s Protection teams count medical staff like Vsevolod as well as a growing number of lawyers who are offering critical services and guidance to people in need of urgent assistance.  

‘We meet men, women and children who have suffered a lot, talk to them and try to help as best as we can. Whenever we can help directly, we do so and if need be, refer to other organisations or institutions to direct them to the right type of assistance.’  

Needs growing by the day   

Sometimes, it is hard to comprehend the level of trauma that people are going through and to accept that it is not always possible to help here and now, tells Vsevolod. 

‘There was recently a 40-year-old man who arrived here in Lviv alone from the east with an evacuation train and came to us for help. This man had lost his daughter, his wife, his home, and had no place to go, no shelter, no money – nothing. He was desperate,’ remembers Vsevolod.

‘He turned to us because he did not have any documents – a type of problem where we are usually able to assist people in applying for new papers. He was also looking for shelter. Unfortunately, we couldn't help him then. There was simply no shelter left that day from among the places we refer to. Even hospitals are evacuated now and turned into emergency use only. We recorded his details to later refer this case to the (governmental) multi-purpose cash department. So at least he got some help. As far as I remember, he couldn't even find shelter. I think he lives on the street now.’ 

Not enough emergency shelter 

Abandoned buildings are currently turned into shelter and basic refurbishing is badly needed to make them functional. DRC is among the NGO that works to improve access to emergency shelter and has supported multiple projects across Ukraine in the past months thereby creating room for more people. But needs a growing by the day, and Vsevolod Borovets and his colleagues in DRC’s mobile Protection teams regularly comes across similar cases.

Olha Sydorova

Olha Sydorova

"We have a lot of such cases and yes, luckily, we are often able to help – but sometimes not, and then people are quickly moving on. This is the reality right now. Many people are lost and have no other options than to live on the street in Lviv," tells Vsevolod. 

Winter approaching - crisis deepens and spreads 

For each day passing, the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is deepening. It is by now affecting the entire country and its population of 44 million people, having displaced more than every third Ukrainian, creating the largest displacement crisis since World War II.

As homelessness increase by the day in Ukraine and shelter spaces are far from enough, people continue to search for options wherever possible – in parks, abandoned houses and public buildings. The summer season and temperatures still being warm at least for another couple of months, is likely to trigger even more displaced people to attempt to get by on their own by living outdoor.  

This, however, will soon change as winter and freezing temperatures are approaching. Ukraine is known for its cold winters with harsh weather conditions and minus degrees that will challenge the needs for shelter and protection and make life in the streets even more dangerous.  

Back at Lviv Railway station, Vsevolod and the DRC Protection team are getting ready to receive the next train coming in. They know that there will be people whom they can help in the search for new documents, shelter, and access to emergency cash distribution points, but they also know that help will still be far from enough for the people seeking refuge in Lviv.

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