Interview with Sabine Müller, GIZ Country Director Ukraine
Ms Müller, more than four million people are affected by the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine. One and a half million people have had to leave their homes and are registered as internally displaced persons – in other words, refugees in their own country. What is the situation like in Ukraine today?
In contrast to other countries, the internally displaced people in Ukraine have not gathered together in large camps at a central location: instead, they are distributed between a large number of towns and communities in what are more likely to be small groups. This has created considerable challenges for the communities. They have to register the new arrivals, find them accommodation, provide places in kindergartens, schools and senior citizen residential homes and also make sure that health care is available. Furthermore, it was not easy for the local population in the towns and communities to suddenly have to integrate so many new people into their familiar surroundings. Although solidarity was generally strong, conflicts also occurred when, for instance, there was competition for the limited residential accommodation or where funds were needed to renovate a school and local parents also had to cover the share for internally displaced pupils. In any case, the towns and communities have very limited capacity. The conflict in eastern Ukraine is laying bare existing problems and bringing them to the fore.
The communities are therefore at the limits of their capabilities. Where does GIZ's work come in – how can the communities be supported?
GIZ is working, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), with more than one hundred communities in the regions of Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia and the part of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions controlled by the government. Around 300,000 internally displaced persons have settled in these areas. Our activities help the communities to look after their own population and the internally displaced persons better. An example is the provision of IT equipment for citizen’s offices, furniture for residential hostels and medical personnel. Pupils are taught in better conditions and patients receive better medical care because we are renovating and modernising schools, kindergartens and hospitals. The Ukrainian disaster relief authorities can provide the population with better protection in the event of, say, fires or accidents because GIZ has provided protective clothing, technical equipment and vehicles and trained the emergency services to use these. In addition to assisting communities and institutions, GIZ is also providing direct help to the people. For example, we promote football schools and theatre and video projects where people from the local population and internally displaced persons can meet and get to know each other. This is the only way that integration – and thus a shared future – will be possible at all.
The work currently carried out by GIZ is targeted at overcoming an emergency situation. What is needed in the medium to long term to achieve a lasting impact and allow integration to succeed?
It is true that a large part of our current activities provide as transitional assistance. However, this does not prevent a long-term effect from evolving in spite of this. If we train psychologists today to broaden the range of therapies for traumatised people, it will also change the training for more psychology students. Civil society will be strengthened in the medium to long term if we equip committed volunteers with the knowledge to plan and implement their social projects. However, greater attention must now be paid to employment. Integration of internally displaced persons can be successful only if they have an opportunity to earn a living for themselves. Since late 2017, GIZ has been implementing a new project on behalf of the German Government to assist in this process. The aim is to provide internally displaced persons with training of a practical nature that will qualify them in project management or IT use and thus assist them to return to the world of work.