Since the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, Hungarian Interchurch Aid has been providing humanitarian assistance in 10 regions of the country. In Eastern Ukraine assistance is provided to internally displaced persons and ones living in the battles raged grey zones. In Zakarpattia Oblast large families and elderly people are supported who find themselves in difficulties because of the economic crisis. As a member of ACT Alliance – the umbrella organisation of HIA-Hungary – more than 50.000 people were given food and hygienic packages, winter fuel and household utensils. A special programme was launched to support children and expecting mothers. Besides psycho-social support, HIA-Hungary has started the rehabilitation of the fourth community housing for IDPs in Belozersky district in Kherson region. Gábor Bálint, the head of HIA-Hungary’s international programmes and János Gerevich, Ukrainian representative visited the region.
The war in Ukraine is far from over. In the past few weeks the intensity of the battles has slightly decreased, although in August 16 civilian died and 75 were wounded. The number of deaths is now approaching 10.000 and the number of IDPs exceeds 1.7 million. Besides several programmes, HIA-Hungary supports the rehabilitation of 150 houses in the battle-damaged settlements; we are visiting these during our stay.
The more we approach to the front line, the more checkpoints we see. They stop us everywhere, ask for our papers and study curiously the passengers and our car with Hungarian registration number bearing the logo of HIA-Hungary. Sometimes a truck carrying young soldiers passes by. Outside this, being a couple ten kilometres from the front line it is very hard to imagine that almost every day – especially in the evening hours – Ukrainian soldiers and separatists start shooting each other.
We arrive in Slavyansk, this is where the first serious clashes had started. There are still some abandoned, shot-up government and police buildings but apart from this traces of battles can be hardly seen. However, by talking with people the horrors revive. Natalia Alekseyevna lives in Seleznivka, near Slavyansk with her daughters aged 4 and 5 months. During the battles their house was hit, several times they fled to the cellar from the garden while bullets and shrapnel were storming around them. They started renovating their house but almost everything has ruined and the 30.000 HUF monthly income of the family is barely enough to survive.
We go to a neighbouring house where Tatyana Nikolayevna tells how they fled from the village when the battles have started. They found a brave taxi driver who undertook the hazardous trip for a sum corresponding to one month’s salary. Tatyana started with her four children. Their car was shot at several times, the hand of one of her daughters was shot through, a bullet got only the coat of another child. However, many people were not as lucky; during their flight several civilians were killed by sharpshooters.
In parallel with the front line we continue driving south. We drive slowly, it is advised to drive carefully and always be prepared even on the main roads because of the potholes. In Mariupol some adventurous youngsters are bathing in the sea, in the restaurant where we have our dinner a wedding is being held. The bride is sitting on the terrace, the well-dressed wedding guests are slowly arriving.
In Sartana we are invited to a village fair. The inhabitants of the beautiful settlement with Greek roots dance sirtaki, school choirs sing, bands perform in the evening, even though this is also a battle-scarred settlement. Seventeen died and 24 were wounded. As we enter Soborna Street Natalia Zilkina, one of the social workers, shows the houses that were hit. In one of them a child aged 9 orphaned, the inhabitants of another house were staying in the garden when a Grad rocket hit. Two people died, a girl lost one of her legs. Before the battles more than 1000 children went to school in the settlement, now the number is 800 but about 100 refugee families were received.
In the neighbouring Talakivka we are escorted by the mayor. We get out at one of the shot-up houses. The mayor warns us not to leave the road, otherwise we might step on a landmine. Because of the great number of landmines, parts of the land cannot be farmed. This summer three tractors blew up, one person died, two who were with larger machines survived the explosion.
Margarita Berezovska has been living here during the battles, she shows us the bullets that hit her house. One of the tanks was buried in their garden, it is no wonder that their house was directly hit several times. The family will not give up, they have started to renovate their house, though the front line is within viewing range.
In Hnutovo we are only two kilometres from the front line. Galina and her 14 years old daughter were sleeping when a mine hit. Fortunately the walls saved them from the shrapnel. Several years ago they fled local battles in Chechnya. Back then they did not think that the war would reach them again.
It is difficult to predict when battles will be over in Eastern Ukraine, the number of victims of both sides is increasing. HIA-Hungary continues the work, their help will be needed for a long time.
- HIA’s ACT Alliance supported emergency assistance program for IDPs has started in seven regions of Ukraine (Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Ivano Frankivsk, Lviv, Transcarpathia and Kyiv City) in January, 2015. Primarily large families with three or more children are receiving food, hygienic and baby packages.