C4C: Internal Displacement in a Conflict Zone: Lessons Learned from Ukraine

As a result of the conflict in the east of Ukraine, many people had to leave their home regions. Currently, approximately 1,400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are registered in Ukraine. This poses great challenges for the hosting municipalities, which often lack capacities to address the needs of the local population and face extra tasks such as providing accommodation, employment and social aid to IDPs. Besides, due to forced displacement, IDPs face psychological as well as social difficulties and need to live in a new work and life environment.

On 15 May, GIZ, politicians and practitioners exchanged about the current situation of IDPs in the region and shared best practices. GIZ for example, implements a number of projects in Eastern Ukraine to address the named challenges on behalf of the German Government. The Capacity4Change format took place in the context of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership (EaP), a political initiative which aims to strengthen relations between the European Union (EU), its Member States and six Eastern neighbours, including Ukraine.

Opening the event with a key-note speech, MEP Rebecca Harms (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) referred to the EaP. She reminded the audience that countries such as Ukraine thrive for a social market economy model as it is present in all EU countries and that this ambition is only natural and should be supported by all member states.  

Creating social bonds in Eastern Ukraine 

Taking the word after her, Mykola Baksheiev, Mayor of the Urkrainian town of Pervomaiskyi shared his experiences and gave insights into the situation in Eastern Ukraine. His town with 30,000 inhabitants welcomed 1300 IDPs. He told the audience that integration was difficult at the beginning and that shared infrastructures led to tensions with the locals. However, he highlighted the supporting role of organisations such as GIZ which engage all people in town, locals as well as IDPs. It was possible to create social bonds through joint projects such as the refurbishment of a school. Technical assistance provided to the staff of the Townhall also ensured that “soft skills” such as strategic planning or project conception would remain after the end of the project assistance.

Three experts then described how they work in the region to ensure good living conditions. One of the programmes implemented by GIZ in Ukraine since 2015 is the Infrastructure Programme for Ukraine (IIPU). Uwe Stumpf, Head of the Programme, highlighted as well that promising projects always need to include IDPs and the local population in the concerned municipalities to avoid tensions. IIPU therefore supports a variety of activities together with local partners to ensure ownership and empowerment of the local administrations. These are tailored approaches according to the needs of each municipality, for example the work with therapy dogs helping IDPs to overcome their trauma.

Christian Poschmann, GIZ, described the difficulties of providing capacity support to the Ukrainian State in the field of Disaster Risk Reduction. He recalled how the equipment of the partner organisation, the State Agency for Extraordinary Situations, was insufficient and that a concept for preventing disasters was missing. The project therefore supported the procurement of material, provided advice to communities – for example by establishing communal emergency services – and emergency aid to face extraordinary situations. Now, amongst others, new ambulances are in use fitting to the needs of the communities.

These experiences were completed by Dragan Aleksoski, Senior Regional Emergency and Post-Crisis Specialist from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). In Ukraine, IOM monitors where IDPs are registered and follows up on their movements and their challenges, such as unemployment, low salaries, lack of housing or expensive housing. The lack of cash as well as weak access to health services and transportation are also among the most pressing challenges for their everyday life. IOM therefore provides humanitarian assistance in form of cash-based interventions, shelter and programmes in the Water Sanitation and Hygiene field (WASH). In addition, it implements stability and recovery measures in the field of livelihoods and social cohesion. Aleksoski observed a slow economic recovery in the Government Controlled Area of the country and appealed to the participants not to give up on Ukraine and to maintain the high level of assistance.

Conclusions and outlook on the panel

The named speakers were then joined by Nadyia Vertebna from the Support Group to Ukraine in the European Commission´s DG NEAR. She described the high level of support the EU is providing to Ukraine in terms of financial assistance and in implementing reforms for example in the sectors of education or decentralization in the Government Controlled Area. She highlighted, that the EU remains committed to all engagements made under the Association Agreement and was supported by Rebecca Harms, who also underlined the importance of the EU´s assistance for Ukraine. She mentioned, that the association agreement could only become a success with the engagement of the Ukrainians and raised in addition, that it is difficult to provide humanitarian assistance for Eastern Ukraine when some Member States are looking to strengthen their ties with Russia.

To conclude, Mayor Baksheiev agreed that as next steps it is important that the Ukrainians stop relying on foreign financial assistance and start to stem the heavy reforms their country has to go through. He hopes, that once these reforms will be implemented, people now living and working abroad will come back to bring in their experience. 

Mykola Baksheiev, Mayor of Pervomaiskyi
Uwe Stumpf, GIZ explaining IIPU
Christian Poschmann, GIZ on Disaster Risk Reduction
Dragan Aleksoski, IOM in exchange with Jörn Grävingholt, Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik. Pictures: GIZ

Capacity4Change is an event series in Brussels organised by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in cooperation with selected partner institutions and organisations. C4C aims to enrich Brussel’s policy debate with practical know-how and implementation experiences. It features innovative approaches, challenging analyses, interesting publications and thought-provoking ideas.