Yulia Shmatchenko, a former citizen of Luhansk, has lived in Kharkiv for more than a year now. She is a journalist and works for a local newspaper. “Do internally-displaced persons have this right?” – Yulia wonders ironically if she is eligible to vote during the elections to local authorities on October 25. “I either need to be registered or show an official rent agreement, but the owners of my rental flat refuse to provide it,” she says. “It turns out that I pay taxes, but I don’t have the right to vote.”
This is a common problem among IDPs; they have been virtually deprived of their right to participate in the local elections. Ukrainian legislators failed to foresee this issue or put mechanisms in place to ensure these people’s democratic rights.
During his visit to the Central Election Commission in September, Ambassador Jan Tombinski, head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, emphasised the importance of the right of all IDPs to vote.
“It is vital to change the legislation to enable IDPs’ participation in the elections,” argues Yevhen Zakharov, head of a human rights protection group in Kharkiv. “In fact, this situation constitutes discrimination,” he says. “As far as I am aware, there are several legislative proposals on this issue.”
Why does such a situation even exist? “Opinions differ on this,” says Zakharov. “I think it is a political matter. IDPs are believed to be critical toward the current authorities and more likely to vote for the opposition. But there are others who would disagree – it is logistically difficult to arrange voting for IDPs. In particular, it is complicated to determine exactly where an internally-displaced person lives. He might live here today, but tomorrow he could be somewhere else. Such considerations are also valid concerns. There is a need for mechanisms to prevent the abuse of IDPs’ rights. This is no easy task and will require considerable political will.”
Zakharov is also the manager of the EU-funded project, “Human Rights Protection of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Ukraine.” The project presented its first results in Kharkiv in late September. The project is being implemented by five NGOs: the Kharkiv group on human rights protection, and the charitable foundations, “Protector of the East,” “Country Above All,” “Kharkiv Station,” and “Good.” The project also relies on cooperation with the Kharkiv oblast state administration and the Department of the State Service for Emergency Situations.
Speaking to the project’s activities, Zakarov explains, “We provide IDPs with consultations, represent them in court, and, if necessary, provide practical assistance, ensuring they have necessities like food and toiletries.” “We applied to receive funding for the project in December but received an answer only in June. In that time, the geographical situation of IDPs has changed,” says Zakharov. “When the project began, Kharkiv and the oblast had the most IDPs of any city and region of Ukraine. Now IDPs predominantly live in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. We need to reallocate the budget and broaden the project’s geographic scope.”
The “Human Rights Protection of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Ukraine” project has a budget of €1.7 million. Lawyers working with the project provided legal advice to over 2,000 IDPs in Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts between July and the end of September. Another important aspect of the project’s activity is providing medical treatment to IDPs with cancer. As of August 2015 there were 2,300 IDP patients suffering from the disease in Kharkiv oblast.
Today, according to Zakharov, the project holds preparation for tendering large-scale purchases of medicines and shelter for IDPs.
EU Humanitarian assistance to Ukraine
- The EU is the largest humanitarian donor to the conflict in Eastern-Ukraine. Together with the funding provided directly by Member States, the EU as a whole has directed over € 242 million to those affected by the conflict since early 2014 in humanitarian and recovery assistance. The European Commission alone has contributed € 42 million in 2014-2015, 55% of which to fund project in the non-government controlled areas, where the needs are the highest.
- Humanitarian projects implemented until June 2015 – funded partially or totally by the European Commission – have directly helped 1,570,000 Ukrainians. Over 290,000 (18%) of people assisted were children under 17 and over 160,000 (10%) were elderly over 50 years of age.
- EU’s humanitarian support to IDPs and refugees includes shelter, healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene, cash support, food and others. Aid is often distributed in the form of cash and vouchers, allowing maximum efficiency and preserving the dignity of the affected people. The recipients can buy essential items at the local shops and markets, thus supporting the local economy.
- On the ground, the assistance is being delivered through the Commission’s humanitarian partner organisations, including People In Need, ICRC, UNHCR, WHO, IOM, Save the Children, Danish Refugee Council, ,Action Contre la Faim, Caritas, NRC, PU-AMI, WFP and UNICEF.
- 32 communities in Ukraine are currently benefitting from EU’s support in employment creation and income generation, professional training and skills generation. They are located in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and Zaporozhia;
- € 17 million has been allocated from the regional development funds for early recovery aid of IDPs (including rehabilitation of buildings to welcome IDPs);
- €4.5 million has been allocated from the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace for community stabilization, facilitation of return and reconciliation and an IDP registration system. Additional projects are being planned to support the Ukrainian government in de-mining of crisis-stricken areas and to develop conflict-sensitive media reporting on IDPs;
- EU assists Ukrainian refugees that have left Ukraine for neighbouring countries. Humanitarian assistance has been provided for refugees in Belarus and Russia, through the Red Cross organizations of these countries.