Christian Aid’s Vanessa Maynard shares a glimpse into the devastation in Ukraine a year after the war began, and the vital aid that charities are providing.
It’s been a just over a year since the invasion in Ukraine, and the war has taken, and continues to take, a heavy toll on people. I recently received a text message back from our partner Alyona in Odessa who updates me that her family is temporarily separated but fine and the projects we’ve planned are going ahead. It always strikes me how tirelessly Alyona works amidst all the chaos - a humble reminder of the resilience needed to survive this.
During my last trip a few months ago, we made the six-hour drive from Kyiv to Odessa, passing through fields of bright golden sunflowers. Most of the road signs were covered making things look ambiguous in an attempt by the Ukrainian government to disorient and confuse Russian forces. Reaching the quiet port city, we were greeted by Alyona who was excited to tell me about how the distribution of support packages had gone well. We have been helping displaced families coming from Donestk, Mykolaiv, and Kharkiv who were forced to flee their homes.
Our partner Heritage Ukraine (through the Scottish charity, Blythswood) delivers weekly packages filled with supplies such as washing detergent, toiletries, and medicines; hot meals are also provided, with fresh bread from the nearby bakery. These packages have been a relief after people had to leave all their belongings behind. As a Christian organisation, faith is an important part of the Heritage team’s motivation. They’re committed to doing whatever it takes to bring hope and comfort to people.
The trauma of war has not only been physical. There have also been mental and emotional consequences.
As I’m talking to Alyona, an elderly woman – Svitlana, who fled with her husband from Mykolaiv - jumps up in excitement after receiving her package which included her medicine which she’s been desperately waiting for. This is a reminder to me of Christian Aid’s commitment in responding to the Ukraine crisis through local engagement by listening to what people on the ground tell us they need. Thanks to the solidarity and generosity of the British public we’ve been able to support Ukrainians providing them with much-needed basic items, supporting them in rebuilding their homes to protect from the harsh winter months, ensuring their safe evacuation from de-occupied areas.
The trauma of war has not only been physical. There have also been mental and emotional consequences. As such, many families have been appreciative of our psychosocial activities – especially using art and play to help children cope with the stress of war. In recent months our programme has evolved. We’ve been working closely with community groups which are taking an active role in designing and running projects. Alyona mentions one group is in the process of setting up a water pump, a wooden burner stove, and an electric charging station to ensure the displaced people in temporary homes are housed in liveable and respectable conditions even when faced with power outages.
She highlighted that this war has been the toughest on children and people with disabilities or health concerns who need extra support. Most of the response has been focused on immediate needs and it has only been lately that organisations have had the time address specific needs.
This war has been the toughest on children and people with disabilities or health concerns who need extra support.
I’m always struck at the calm demeanour of Alyona but realise that calm is contagious. She remains a strong and steadfast leader for her community to help in any way she can. Much like the sunflower that’s abundant in Ukraine, in the face of trials and strife, they stand their ground. They are a powerful symbol of resilience and perseverance, reminding us that even in the face of adversity we can still grow and thrive. That even through the darkest of times there is still hope and it’s a choice we make each day to believe and act on making a difference in the lives of others.
The invasion by Russian forces is destroying the homes and the freedom of Ukrainian people to lead their own lives. An estimated 15.7 million Ukrainians need humanitarian assistance. Millions are living in damaged homes or in buildings which are inappropriate for their needs and which do not provide sufficient protection from the harsh Ukrainian weather.
Christian Aid is working with five organisations - Alliance for Public Health, Blythswood Care, Hungarian Interchurch Aid, Swiss Church Aid, and Crown Agents - to provide hope and to ensure people survive and rebuild. Every prayer, every gift, every action brings hope to the people of Ukraine. By joining us, you can give hope to our neighbours in Ukraine.
You can find out more about Christian Aid’s work in Ukraine on their website - Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.