Three months have passed since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, and the war rages on ever-so-fiercely. Even though now active combat is limited to the Donbass, missile attacks and aerial raids create a constant danger for the population all over Ukraine. The war has caused immense pain and devastation, leaving millions of people without food, potable water and electricity. Fighting has disrupted critical services like healthcare, and prevents farmers from accessing their fields for agricultural activities which are essential for food supply in the country and the world alike. Since February, about 6.6 million refugees have left the country, and 8 million have become internally displaced.
Thankfully, the international community of humanitarians has come together as one to support the suffering population of Ukraine. When news broke that forces of the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine on 24 February, also Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) started to prepare its response. Thanks to our partners in the ACT Alliance and our 25-year presence in Ukraine, our reaction was swift and decisive. As a sign of solidarity, ACT has launched a $21.5 million appeal to support the people displaced by the war in Ukraine, from which $9 million is dedicated to HIA operations. The Government of Hungary also provided $1.4 million to HIA’s efforts, which was supplemented by our domestic fundraiser campaign of solidarity for the people fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Our help in numbers
Our humanitarian operations now stretch from the extreme west of the country to the Dnieper bend and Kharkiv in the east, encompassing 12 regions of Ukraine. Until 24 May, the HIA/ACT Alliance response has reached 98,944 people by delivering 676 tons of aid into Ukraine. We have been able to provide emergency access to basic food and non-food items, health & hygiene products, protection and links to transportation services. HIA started handing out flexible small grants to selected groups working with people in need, helping over 10,000 people in Ukraine alone through the communities and congregations involved. Apart from material and financial aid, together with our partners we are also able to provide psychosocial assistance to the traumatised people fleeing the horrors of war.
With the imminent refugee crisis in mind, HIA in close cooperation with ACT Alliance members decided to deliver a two-pronged approach to assist those suffering from the effects of war. In the war-torn country our response was helped by our long-standing regional office in Berehove. Three days after the invasion, we established a refugee support point in Astei on the border. Today, the Berehove centre supplies over 225 community shelters for IDPs in Zakkarpattia arriving from all over the country with all kinds of aid. To cover growing needs, a new regional office was set up in Lviv in March. From here, HIA coordinates all of its humanitarian operations in the country. The Lviv warehouse plays an instrumental role in supplying our partners further east and north in close proximity to the frontlines. Thanks to them, we are able to help where help is needed most.
In these three months, we have been able to continuously expand our assistance to new geographical regions and new methods. As military operations shifted from the Kyiv area, we immediately started working in the areas recently liberated. For this reason we established a new humanitarian centre in Kyiv currently housing HIA and Finn Church Aid, which can later also be home to all ACT Alliance members working in Ukraine. Looking for a way to reach even more people deprived by the war, HIA launched an initiative called flexible small grants. Through the power of community, our organisation aims to empower groups and congregations helping their surroundings to cope with the horrors of war.
The support of HIA and ACT Alliance is felt even where all but hope is lost to the cruelties of war. We were the first international aid organisation to provide humanitarian relief to the population of Bucha, Borodyanka and Irpin on Easter. During the evacuation of Mariupol, it was HIA that helped the families of bus drivers – often kidnapped and held in custody for days – sharing their meals with evacuees. But in these situations, material aid alone is insufficient. Together with our partner organisations, we support refugees with psychosocial help in several locations throughout Ukraine.
In Hungary, our efforts are focused on offering both short- and long-term accommodation to the refugees arriving. Our institutions in Debrecen, Miskolc and Budapest welcome refugee families in need and supply them with food, shelter and psychosocial support, and are expanding our shelter capacities even further. For those arriving by train to Budapest, together with 5 other Hungarian charitable organisations we operate the refugee transit station in the BOK Sports Hall. Through flexible small grants, we also fund 13 host communities, lacking resources for their work with refugees after 3 months of extensive help. Furthermore, HIA has partnered up with several initiatives that provide education for refugee children.
As the war drags on with no end in sight, Hungarian Interchurch Aid has long-term plans for its humanitarian work in both Ukraine and Hungary. In Ukraine our efforts to empower large masses of people at once will be fueled by multi-purpose cash assistance allowing for a more people-centred relief, and granting beneficiaries freedom of choice while returning a degree of dignity into their lives. In the areas north of Kyiv where fighting has previously inhibited humanitarian work HIA and Finn Church Aid (FCA) starts cooperation revolving around education: HIA by renovating schools, FCA by training of teachers and providing psychosocial assistance for the children.
For Ukrainian refugees staying long-term in Hungary, thanks to the support of the Taipei Representative Office we are able to open a refugee support centre in downtown Budapest in June. Giving a helping hand to refugees trying to access education, healthcare and the labour market, HIA staff will also assist them with vocational training for adults, childcare and language learning programmes where special attention will be paid to the needs of unaccompanied minors, people with disabilities and the elderly. This centre will also be home to various community building activities. Thanks to our partners, donors and the community of Hungarian Interchurch Aid we are able to continue this work – our help here is needed, and we will support the victims of war as long as needed.