We met Yulia in Druzhkivka, a small industrial town in Donbas. She’s wearing a pink t-shirt, big earrings in her ears, and her hair is pulled back in a ponytail.
She now lives in a centre for IDPs, where she sleeps in a bunk bed. Hers is the top bunk.
Yulia is from Spartak, a once-peaceful village near the Donetsk airport. Today the town is nearly completely destroyed, as is Yulia’s house.
When, in August 2014, the first shots were fired in Spartak, her parents sent her away from the village; the few belongings she hastily grabbed as she left, “fit into one bag.” As for her parents, they stayed another five days in their home.
“One of our neighbours was killed by shrapnel as he closed his basement doors. In the evening before the incident my parents spoke with him. And in the morning we heard he was dead.” The next day her parents left the village. “The only means of transportation they had were bicycles.”
“When I finished the academic year in the spring and said ‘goodbye’ to my classmates, they said a phrase I remembered: ‘we’ll meet in September, everything will be fine.’ But I didn’t end up seeing any of them,” Yulia says.
Today Yulia lives in the centre for IDPs in Druzhkivka, a two-storey building on Liberty Street. The building was repaired by two volunteers: Vasylyna, who was held captive for 120 hours by separatists, and her colleague Larysa. Now international organisations, particularly the UNHCR and EU, support the centre. As a result of these efforts, IDPs have a place to live and receive humanitarian aid when they need it including food, household cleaning products, and clothing.
But now it is becoming clear that humanitarian aid cannot solve all the problems IDPs face. It will never be enough for everyone. An international organisation may distribute several hundred blankets, but 3000 IDPs need them; it can give out diapers for one hundred children, but in Kramatorsk alone there are about 1000 displaced children under one year old.
That is why there is a dire need for new solutions, including supporting IDPs in finding employment. There are few job opportunities to go around and it is very difficult to find job in a new place, especially for IDPs living in centres far from big cities.
In April Yulia participated in a training opportunity organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the NGO, “Ukrainski rubezhi” with the support of the EU. The training is designed to help IDPs acquire new the skills and knowledge they need to get into a new profession or launch a start-up.
“We put together training sessions on how to find oneself,” says Iryna Drozd, one of the instructors. “It was a short course on business management and product promotion.” There was also training on how to change specialisation and acquire new a profession.
Iryna’s training sessions took place in three Donbas towns: Druzhkivka, Kostyantynivka, and Svyatogorsk. On average each of the sessions had 25-30 participants.
The European Union supported this IDP education on a large scale all across Ukraine. Overall, 66 training sessions took place in 25 cities, from Zaporizhya to Lysychansk, from Novoaydar to Druzhkivka, and from Odesa to Pavlograd. More than 1400 IDPs took part and the EU allocated about €850,000 to the project out of the larger EU-funded project on support to IDPs and crisis-affected people in Ukraine.
“The added value of this project is that it not only provides knowledge and material support for IDPs looking to launch their own businesses, but it also creates the opportunity for IDPs to believe in themselves and gain confidence in the future,” explains Maksym Osavolyuk, an expert with the IOM office in Ukraine. He says that the training sessions and support to IDP start-ups will continue: the IOM can take on these projects thanks to the support of the EU and the governments of Norway, Japan, and Canada.
After their training is complete, IDPs present a proposal for either a business start-up or professional requalification. If the commission of the trainings supports a project, the IDPs receive either €650 (for business development), or €500 (for requalification courses).
Iryna Drozd says that about 50% of the people who participated in her training have successfully defended their projects, and are now in the process of applying for grants to buy equipment for their business ideas or remuneration of courses.
We met Sasha, Oleksa and Hennadiy in Kramatorsk. They work with SOS-Kramatorsk, a volunteer organisation that does a lot to support IDPs.
They believe that Ukrainians should help IDPs improve themselves and that IDPs need to rid themselves of “sanitarian syndrome” and stop being “professional refugees”. Because it is so difficult to find jobs, they need to start thinking of themselves as self-employed.
The three volunteers also participated in the IOM/EU trainings. Hennadiy submitted a project proposal to launch a design services business. Oleksa submitted a proposal for computer repair services. The training sessions “systematise knowledge and provide a roadmap for the development of a business,” they say.
It isn’t easy to put in the effort to develop and launch a business in the frontline towns of Donbas. No one knows what the future will look like. People prefer the idea of moving their businesses to a safer place, fearing that tomorrow the war will arrive in their hometowns.
On the other hand, there are new niches for development appearing in Kramatorsk, Slovyansk, Lysychansk, and Severodonetsk that never existed before. The people who came to these towns from Donetsk or Luhansk are accustomed to a higher standard of services, and their presence stimulates the development of these spheres in the Ukrainian-controlled territories. Many people from Donetsk, for instance, were used to a certain level of comfort: shopping malls, leisure spaces, and modern home appliances (from microwave ovens to modern heaters). All of this increases demand in those markets.
The volunteers say that the IDPs themselves and the residents of these cities can satisfy this new demand. They believe that ultimately their city will change for the better.
Here, working at the very front line, they seem much more optimistic than you might think.