Renovating shelters and homes in Ukraine’s war-ravaged South

Blue jackets in the governor’s office: HIA Emergency Response Director Barnabás Szatmári met with Oleksandr Prokudin, head of Kherson Regional Military Administration to discuss results, ongoing projects and possibilities of further assistance. On their trip to Southern Ukraine the HIA team assessed the state of public infrastructure such as schools, public institutions and their shelters as well as residential homes, looking for ways to help restart life in the region. During their stay, the delegation has also revisited previous project sites that received generators as part of HIA’s emergency response in the region.

Ukraine’s south has seen intense fighting during autumn, which resulted in the liberation of the right bank of the Dnipro river. Here, Hungarian Interchurch Aid’s support goes back to 2015, the start of the cooperation with its local partners. In the meeting with the governor of Kherson oblast Mr. Prokudin thanked Hungarian Interchurch Aid for the continuous support of the suffering population. After all, HIA was also among the first to bring aid to the liberated city: just 20 days after the Russian forces left, HIA has already started distributing 52 tons of emergency aid, which was then followed by a consignment of 66 electric generators used to restore critical infrastructure of the region. 

HIA was one of the first international NGOs to bring aid to Kherson - food, hygiene kits & electric generators

Even though life has slowly but surely started anew, residents of Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts still face continuous hardships due to the constant artillery barrage and frequent missile strikes the region receives. Empirical evidence was gathered by HIA’s field team, when a Russian rocket struck just 400 meters from their accommodation in Mykolaiv. This is almost normal here, but the improvement vis-á-vis November is palpable. Back then, there was no water and no electricity, and barely any shops were open – while today even if there are interruptions of service due to the aforementioned attacks on the infrastructure, they are restored without hesitation.

This wouldn’t be possible without the HIA-donated generators: when there’s a blackout, they run the water pumps providing water to 20 thousand people in the region, and the smaller ones are used to carry out repairs in the system. Since the administration is also targeted by the Russian military, they frequently need to change their locations, moving 500 people at times. The electricity they need for their operations is also generated by the engines donated by HIA.

Regional waterworks in Kherson run on HIA-donated generators when there are blackouts

After the meeting, the HIA field team also assessed the shelter situation of schools and social institutions throughout the region. Funded by OCHA’s Ukraine Humanitarian Fund (UHF), Hungarian Interchurch Aid and its local partner will be renovating 20 of them. The renovated shelters will also be equipped with all kinds of necessary tools and protective gear:  chargers, flashlights, fire extinguishers, water containers, sleeping pads, blankets, first aid kits, fire masks, radios, self-rescue tools (shovel, pickaxe, spade etc) and generators along with fuel canisters.

Shelters are essential under current circumstances. Schools are still closed due to the artillery attacks, and most of them lack a dedicated bomb shelter, or a basement fitted for such purposes – this is a requirement for offline education to recommence. However, the people who’ve already returned are confident that the frontline soon moves further east and normalcy returns to the region that has suffered so much.

If this happens, offline education can recommence right away, enabling children and youth to return to the city. Until the frontline stays as it is, these shelters will be used by the general population in case of air raids, and HIA as well as a sheltered place to provide aid for those in need. Distributions, humanitarian offices are regularly shelled, which speaks volumes about the state of affairs in Kherson and its surroundings.

HIA staff assesses damages of households to be provided with building material vouchers

In the current situation, it is no wonder the city once home to 300 thousand people today barely hosts a fifth of its original population. The constant shelling has damaged many residential buildings, a significant amount of them only suffering light damages. While these can be repaired, owners rarely have the necessary funds to do so as most of them lost their livelihoods due to intensive mining of the arable land. No windows also mean that houses are impossible to heat efficiently, which in turn cause these buildings to be uninhabitable once temperatures drop below 10 degrees. HIA’s project attempts to solve the situation through the distribution of vouchers for building materials for 230 households throughout the summer months.

Hungarian Interchurch Aid’s complex and multi-sectoral aid programme aims to return life into depopulated Southern Ukraine. This of course is not only dependent on the organisation’s efforts, but the significance of the programme can be understood by the laudations it receives from local government actors. Through thick and thin – Hungarian Interchurch Aid supports Ukraine’s war-ravaged south, and will continue to do so as long assistance is necessary.

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