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Ukraine: New windows and water supply — DRC improves living conditions in western Ukraine shelters for IDPs

From Maria who stays in a geriatric centre in Truskavets, to Liudmyla at a shelter in Peremozhne village — millions of Ukrainians had to flee their homes due to the ongoing war. Thousands fled to the west of the country hoping to find temporary refuge but had to stay in shelters for months having no clue what to do next.

©DRC Ukraine, Lviv Oblast, Peremozhne village, 2023, Olena Vysokolian.

Posted on 29 Nov 2023

“It is one of the largest geriatric centres in Ukraine. People from all over the country come here if they have no other place to live and the majority stays till the last of their days,” Andrii, Shelter Programme Specialist, describes one of the centres supported by DRC. This sanatorium, as it is officially called, became one of the shelters for IDPs in western Ukraine after last year's Russian Federation military offensive outbreak. Its doors are open for the elderly and people with disabilities. Here they are provided with meals and medical support equally to the other residents. 

Maria*, 62, is one of the IDP residents. She wears a bob haircut and smiles genuinely when she sees new visitors to the sanatorium. She came here from Lysychansk, a town in eastern Ukraine that is now beyond the Ukrainian government's control. Maria left a newly refurbished and fully equipped house of 82 square meters. In a shelter, she lives in a small-scale room sharing it with another IDP woman. 

“My house is huge and modern. The yard is 100 square metres, with a garage, a gazebo, and a vegetable garden. I have everything there,” says Maria. Now she is completely unaware if her property is intact. Maria has no contact with anyone in the non-government-controlled territory of Ukraine.

She worked as a children's psychologist until January 2022. Then, she was told there were no children to support so she left the job and sought a pension. In March 2022, she fled her hometown.

“We saw that Russian soldiers were in Sievierodonetsk already and we decided to leave,” adds Maria. “I pray that God will allow me to return. But I see that we probably won't have this opportunity, even if my house is fine. Perhaps we will have to look for another home here. I want my own home; I don't want to be in a "suspended state" when everything is temporary.”

As she says this, Maria looks out the window opposite. It is an old wooden window with a shabby frame that has been painted white many times. The gaps between the frame and the window are plugged with foam and taped shut. Maria has been living in this shelter since the summer of 2022 and says that last winter, there was a cold wind coming through the cracks in the window frames.

DRC will solve this problem for over 100 shelter residents by replacing the windows in their rooms with new ones. In addition, as part of the renovation programme, the power cable supplying the entire facility will be replaced, as the administration is currently using a backup cable that could fail at any time, leaving residents without electricity. To improve energy efficiency, 1,000 energy-saving lamps were also purchased for the sanatorium.

“Previously, they used ordinary incandescent lamps, so now they can use 4 times less electricity for lighting,” adds Andrii.

Geriatric centre/shelter for IDPs in Truskavets. A grant from DRC allowed the administration of the centre to install 100 new windows, replace the power cable and change the old light bulbs with energy-saving ones. ©DRC Ukraine, Lviv Oblast, Truskavets, 2023, Olena Vysokolian.

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“We thought the bus was being hit by pebbles but it was bullets”

A Caritas geriatric centre in Kovalivka hosts 26 internally displaced persons. Olena* came here from Bakhmut in June 2022 with her son who has a disability. Her other son is in a non-government-controlled area—he could not find a way to leave it. Despite she finds the conditions in the centre comfortable, she misses her apartment and her town.

“This is my home. Whole the high-rise is gone. And no one knows what will happen next,” says Olena showing the photos of the black charred ruins of the multistore building where her flat was. She heard on the grapevine that her house was bombed twice by a plane.

Olena left the town in October 2022. She stayed in Bakhmut as long as she could hoping the battles would end. “We were leaving under fire. We didn't even realise it, we thought the bus was being hit by pebbles but it was bullets,” she says.

DRC helped the geriatric centre in Kovalivka to host more IDPs providing them with a grant for renovation.

“We rented another part of the building and with a grant could renovate it for residents’ needs. It was completely refurbished, from levelling the floor to installing doors. The bathrooms were also equipped to meet the needs of people with disabilities,” explains Marta, director of the geriatric centre in Kovalivka.

In total, DRC's assistance made it possible to accommodate 19 more people in the centre. At present, this centre can accommodate up to 50 individuals.

Shelter in Kovalivka where DRC helped to renovate a part of the building.©DRC Ukraine, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Kovalivka village, 2023, Olena Vysokolian.

Shelter in Kovalivka where DRC helped to renovate a part of the building. ©DRC Ukraine, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, Kovalivka village, 2023, Olena Vysokolian.

A huge farm left behind

Not the cold or lack of space but the water supply was a problem in another shelter for IDPs in Peremozhne village. Back in the 1930s, this building was a Polish parish school that became a carpentry workshop in the Soviet Union and a couple of years ago it was again handed over to the local church.

“The house was in poor condition; part of the roof had collapsed. The house was handed over to the church community, but it was difficult to maintain such a large building. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Caritas offered to set up a shelter for IDPs here. We renovated the building, and, in a year and a half, we could provide temporary shelter to almost 200 people. Now 47 people live here on a permanent basis,” says Roman the priest.

Liudmyla* is one of the shelter residents. She left her home in Ukraine’s South Kherson Oblast, in a part that is now a non-government-controlled area.

“The trip to the western Ukraine was hard and scary but we decided to flee,” she says. “We left a big farm there. We had just started to expand the cultivated land and were engaged in animal husbandry. It was heartbreaking to leave everything earned by years of hard work.”

Today, Liudmyla, her husband and her child live mostly on benefits from the state. Last year, they also were selling pigs from their farm remotely to earn extra income. Even though accommodation in the shelter is free of charge, they have to pay for their meal and other needs.

The rooms of this shelter have bunk beds, and each room is home to 3-4 families, who are separated from each other by thin partitions. A few months ago, the shelter could be without water for 4 days at a time—the village is the last in the supply system and due to the low pressure, water often does not reach the house. On such days, residents had to go to village wells to get water, but there was enough water only for 10-15 buckets.

“To solve this problem, we improved the pumping system and installed a water storage station with a capacity of four cubic metres. Even if there is no water in the system or in the wells, this supply should be enough for 2-3 days to cover shelter residents’ needs,” says Andriy. In addition to solving the water issue, the DRC grant was also used to purchase briquettes for heating. They will help the residents to keep the shelter warm during winter. Moreover, Roman also plans to renovate the attic floor of the building so families who live here on a permanent basis will have more space.

“We know that the conditions in other shelters can be times worse, so we are grateful that international organisations help to make this shelter comfortable,” says Liudmyla.

She admits that she dreams about the end of the war and the time when she will be able to go back home. Nonetheless, such a possibility is blurred, and her family does not yet understand how to overcome all the difficulties caused by the war and displacement. They simply live as it is, appreciating the possibility of being together in a place far away from the frontline.

The assistance in Kovalivka and Peremozhne is possible thanks to the generous support of the American people through the USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. The Shelter programme in Ukraine is supported as well through means donated by private foundations and individuals primarily in Denmark.

*Names were changed for confidentiality purposes.

Shelter for IDPs in Peremozhne village where DRC helped to solve the water supply problem. ©DRC Ukraine, Lviv Oblast, Peremozhne village, 2023, Olena Vysokolian.

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