The State’s support in helping the refugees is indispensable, but it has been the NGOs (and regular citizens) who have been carrying out much of the work up until now.
To find out more about what is the situation right now in the countries neighboring Ukraine, what are the current challenges, but also what has worked when it comes to helping refugees settle in new realities, watch a discussion with these amazing activists:
Myroslava Keryk - Ukrainka w Warszawie from Ukraiński Dom w Warszawie / Український дім у Варшаві, Fundacja "Nasz Wybór" / Фонд "Наш вибір" (Poland),
Flavius Ilioni Loga from LOGS Grup de Inițiative Sociale (Romania),
Adela Tihláriková from Mareena (Slovakia),
Svetlana Jioară from Centrul de Drept al Avocaţilor (Moldova).
The discussion started with a quick update about the situation in each of the neighboring countries (as of mid-May 2022):
LOGS Association - Group of Social Initiatives works on education, migration and the prevention of human trafficking
Since March 8, 2022, they’ve been coordinating together with Social Services of Timisoara (third largest city in Romania, one through which most of the refugees from Ukraine crossing the boarded pass through) the Timisoara Support Center for Ukraine (a type of one-stop-shop center where people can get assistance), where so far over 3,000 Ukrainians, who have settled in Timisoara, have received housing, direct financial aid, Romanian language courses, access to work places, health care, and most importantly a welcoming community.
LOGS is also piloting a programme through which refugees are given direct cash transfers so they can take care of their own needs, be independent and have a sense of empowerment in this new and difficult situation.
Outpouring of support from the Romanian citizens as well as citizens from other European countries has been a source of great joy and hope for everyone working on the aid efforts.
Mareena is a Slovak NGO that provides guidance and support to refugees, people in need of international protection, and foreigners living in Slovakia. Since the break out of the war has been running a help center at the border crossing between Slovakia and Ukraine in Vysne Nemecke.
The situation at the border has changed quite significantly - initially there were from 10,000 to 15,000 people coming to Slovakiaevery day. Refugees during those first few days were shocked, confused, some weren't even sure where they were or where they have arrived. In mid May 2022 the situation has become much calmer, with about 2,000 people coming through the border crossing daily. Those who are coming now are much better informed about their options in Slovakia, they usually have a clear idea about where they want to go, and that is the only assistance they need.
Team from Centrul de Drept al Avocaţilor (CDA) was one of the first responders who rushed to the border with Ukraine after February 24th.
It’s assessed that more than 460,000 people have entered Moldova by mid-May 2022 and with the country’s population of 2.7 million it means that Moldova has been accepting more refugees per capita than any other country.
In the first days of the war there were around 50,000 pedestrians coming through the border as well as refugees coming in cars (queue on the Ukrainian side was more than 40 km long). Luckily, the government instantly waved all the formalities and allowed all the refugees to enter the country even without proper documents. Initially the refugees were housed in special refugee centers but now they can also rent their own accommodation.
It is estimated that as for mid-May 2022 there is about 100,000 Ukrainian refugees living in Moldova and that group, as Svetlana Jioară says, are people that settled here and theirintention is to remain in Moldova to find a job, send kids to school and to continue their life here.
CDA provides legal counseling and assistance, support on the identification of vulnerabilities - gender based violence, child protection, documentation, airlifts to the EU countries, and cash assistance.
Since the escalation of the Russian war against Ukraine, Ukraiński Dom w Warszawie / Український дім у Варшаві, Fundacja "Nasz Wybór" / Фонд "Наш вибір" has transformed from a cultural and research facility into a crisis response center offering food, shelter, providing legal and vocational advice, school for children, cultural programmes and much more for the Ukrainians coming to Warsaw.
Poland has become a destination for the largest group of Ukrainian refugees. Currently, the number of those who have crossed Polish borders is estimated at around 3 million, but in the early days of the Russian aggression the speed with which they were coming was unprecedented – an influx for which no country was prepared for.
Because of the pace and numbers in which the Ukrainians were coming in but also thanks to an amazing response from regular citizens and CSOs the refugees were finding shelter in people’s private homes, rented hotel rooms etc. Even now there are very few refugee centers for Ukrainians in Poland – most of those who stayed are stationed with families or in private housing.
Since the first days after 24th February, when around 140,000 people were crossing the border every day, the situation has calmed down and in mid-May the trend has reversed – more people are returning to than leaving their home country.
As the war marks its third month, the speakers mentioned some of the challenges their organizations and their home countries are facing. For better or for worse it turns out that the problems are very similar in Romania, Moldova, Poland and Slovakia – it gives a sense of being in it together, and at the same time require systemic solutions , difficult to implement in each of the country.
Different profile and needs of the refugees
All the speakers mentioned that the first wave of Ukrainians fleeing their country, despite the fact that they had much less information and were in a state of shock, was in a better financial situation (with some savings or resources available) or in terms of having friends and/or family aboard to whom they were going to. The ones that are coming now are often in a worse predicament, some with disabilities or medical conditions that require specialist care, they do not have relatives in other countries and the majority of them plan to stay in countries they directly migrated to (for some only until the war ends). That type of comprehensive and at times very specialized help that is required now poses a big challenge to the welcoming countries.
Svetlana: people with special needs, people that do not have saving, refugees that lots everything in Ukraine and do not know where to go. We’re helping people who don’t even have a bottle of water, who have just lost everything, and this is the most challenging thing now.
Given the changing military situation (with Russian troops withdrawing from the central Ukraine) and with parts of the country being liberated refugees are facing a difficult situation – most declare that they want to go back as quickly as possible and start rebuilding their homeland, but at the same time they’re also hesitant to do so given the unstable situation. However, the longer they stay in the neighboring countries, the more pressing it becomes to find jobs, schools and care for the children. The state of suspension poses real problems when it comes to job market. Due to the uncertainty about how long they will stay in Poland, Slovakia, Romania or Moldova, they are able to get only low-level jobs as employers are apprehensive to hire people who might leave in a month or two.
The longer the war continues, the bigger the need for psychological support becomes. Everyone we spoke with said that there’s not enough professionals who can help such number of people .
Education for the kids
Challenges linked to opening the education systems to Ukrainian kids are another thing the neighboring countries have in common. The Ukrainian Ministry of Education allowed kids to finish the school year either in online mode or while attending schools aboard (provided they follow the Ukrainian curriculum). Governments of the neighboring countries responded very quickly, allowing Ukrainian kids to attend local schools. The issue is obviously the language, and lack of teachers or teacher assistants who could support the kids in the first months of transition. As for younger children – there are not enough places in kindergartens and pre-schools, which apart from negative effects on children’s integration with the new environment, poses a problem for the mothers as they cannot look for work while taking care of their little ones.
Coordination at a national level
Despite a lot of efforts from the public administration in each of the countries, coordination of help at a national level remains very much of a problem. Our speakers mentioned that they realize what a huge task it is but there is no other actor that could coordinate the work of citizens, NGOs, local authorities, and central administration . And without that, massive amounts of resources including people’s energy is being wasted.
Fatigue and burnout
The speakers also mentioned the issue of fatigue, in some cases exhaustion and burnout, among the volunteers as well as the employees of the organization working on the front line, providing support. Now that we’re encroaching the fourth month of the war some of them have been working nonstop and are starting to feel the consequences of that. That translates into more and more people simply quitting and with lower number of volunteers signing up to help. That puts even more burden on those who have been engaged for months now.
Flavius: Our staff is tired. We're also finding challenges in hiring new people, who need to be ready to work right away
Fatigue is also present among host families in many countries – while welcoming someone for a month seems doable and the right thing to do, after three months living together starts to pose challenges for both the host families as well as the refugees. The help centers that spung up everywhere, now are slowly closing as there’s less and less products that people bring to stock them up with.
Dwindling energy, fatigue, uncertainty about the future and long-term challenges related to y millions of displaced people, provides fertile ground for rise of nationalists and anti-Ukrainian sentiments. Challenge of addressing that phenomenon has also been mentioned by one of our speakers.
Flavius: Nationalist all over Europe may start having their voice heard louder, so I think we should also address that issue. Planning for long-term assistance should probably be the focus now, no matter how complex that might be. I think we should increase our assistance rather than downsizing it to address these complex challenges.
Management in the NGOs
The speakers also mentioned a giant growth of their organizations - over the span of 2 months their organizations grew even up to 10 times. Still, given the amount of work , finding qualified employees who can start working almost immediately remains a big challenge. Volunteers who signed up to help have been both - blessing and challenge Channeling their enthusiasm in a meaningful way, training them and making sure their time is spent in the most efficient way possible is another thing to manage for the regular employees.
The needs that the speakers mentioned are of course very intricately linked to the challenges and they include:
1. The need for systematic policy on a national level that would include issues related to:
work provisions and counseling,
childcare & schools,
provisioning (direct cash transfers),
legal and financial council,
psychological support (for dedicated groups: children, grown-ups, victims of gender-based violence, etc.)
2. Financial support for organizations that are helping at the front lines of helping and know what resources and where are most urgently needed: We could obviously always use, money, because as much as we’re driven by passion, we always joke when we say the cards do not run passion (Adela)
3. Support for volunteers – either financial or personal: getting new people to sign up for help or finding methods for re-energizing those who are exhausted: I mean we are exhausted but we're getting paid, and this is a job for us. For volunteers, who are also having school or jobs it's even more exhausting. I think we need some kind of a wake-up call or tp find a way to bring the passion back into the people who are still here, who haven't left. (Flavius)
Reassessing the current needs and adjusting the interventions accordingly – as the war situation evolves, some adjustments need to be made: This is particularly important - identification of the needs and adjusting the programs, redesigning them - this is what we expect to do by the end of the year. (Svetlana)
Inspiration and good practices guidelines. Our speakers mentioned that it would be very useful to hear about things that have worked out in other countries facing similar challenges - ideas that could inspire new solutions or help implement the proven one to work in new context: I would love to hear what works for other countries (…), to have a platform or a space to talk about success stories, or what was surprising, what worked well in other countries, and to inspire each other to implement new approaches. (Adela)
HOPE AND PRIDE
Considering the tragic context of the brave man and women of Ukraine fighting for their freedom, we asked our speakers what they are proud of, what give them a glimmer of hope in these difficult months. What they mentioned is:
how emotional it has been for them to see other people’s readiness to help, the warmth and empathy with which common citizens have been accepting refugees and sharing with them what they had.
They echoed each other’s praise for their colleagues – the staff, who despite extremely difficult circumstances managed to rally and provide invaluable help to thousands of people.
Finally, they mentioned how amazing it is to see their work reflected in the happy faces of the refugees and see that thanks to them these people can have at least some resemblance of normality.
This has been again a very tiring process, but also very emotional and encouraging seeing all these acts of kindness. You know all the people coming and donating money and saying, “I brought 20 euros, because I know how terrible it means to leave your country and your apartment”. This all keeps us motivated, knowing that this is such a big opportunity for us to show who we really are as Europe, and we really hope that this will continue, we will pray we send good wishes everywhere that people will continue to to welcome people who are running from war again, not only from Ukraine. (Flavius)
(…) and when we speak about supporting 1000 refugees, this means individual cases when family managed to reunite, cases when children were able to meet their parents. (…) I'm very proud of the team, we have people who dedicated their time - more than 12 hours per day - to help refugees, and they are still with us, they're still willing to help and to provide their support. (Svetlana)
From a small organization we became managers of a big organization. And to be a good organization, one that provides professional help, but is also empathetic - I think we managed that as well. (..) We organized the Easter breakfast and when you have 1,000 people in one place, and you know that, actually, these are the people you’ve somehow helped, e.g., found accommodation, or in some other way - it gives you this purpose in life. It makes all the sleepless nights or days and health matters worth it, and it really needs to continue. (Myroslava)
Our individual kindness and empathy towards the refugees need to continue and so does our support for those proving that support directly. It won’t be a sprint; it won’t be a marathon either – it will be a relay, so we need to keep taking care of each other.
Resources for Nonprofits Affected by the War in Ukraine
If you are an organisation representative, or an activist willing to help Ukraine and you are in need of technological or educational tools or resources, please, visit TechSoup Europe's website and see what we've got in store for you.
Among other things, you will find there our free, online self-paced courses, e.g., on such topics, as: Countering Disinformation or Building Positive Narratives. You can also register here: