Report: The BEARR Trust Annual Conference 2022
War in Ukraine: The Civil Society Response
The BEARR Trust Annual Conference for 2022 on the theme “War in Ukraine: The Civil Society Response” was a hybrid event, with 65 participants joining online from Ukraine and other countries and 30 meeting at a London venue. Two panels, moderated by BEARR Trustees, discussed lessons learned from their experience over the past nine months and the challenges posed by the winter and the months beyond.
It was wonderful to be able to see our Ukrainian and Moldovan friends, if not in person at least on the screen, even though some of them were in darkness some of the time or had to adjust their emergency lighting or internet connection. Despite the terrible times they have been living through, they seemed in good heart and determined to continue their incredibly valuable humanitarian work for as long as it takes.
The first panel comprised:
- Olga Donetsk, Director of the Donetsk Youth Debate Centre, established in Donetsk and Luhansk and currently working from Kyiv
- Marat Abdullaiev, Founder and Director of the Youth Charitable Foundation, “NEXT”, Odesa
- Tamara Ababii, President of NGO The League of Polish Women in Moldova, Chisinau.
The second panel comprised:
- Daria Gerasymchuk, The President’s Advisor and Commissioner on Child Rights and Child Rehabilitation;
- Anna Bondarenko, Founder and CEO of Ukrainian Volunteer Service, Odesa;
- Irina Georgievna Los, Director of Open Doors, Nikopol;
- Liliana Rotaru, President and Founder of Children, Community, Family (CCF), Chisinau.
Read more about our panellists and their work here.
BEARR’s Annual Conference 2022, Voluntary Action Islington
The following key points emerged from the two panel discussions:
- The lives of 5 million children in Ukraine have been changed for ever. Every child has been traumatised by the war: 441 children are known to have died and 2440 have been injured but the real numbers are higher. More deaths are uncovered as each village and town is liberated.
- The stress takes a toll on children, especially on those who move within Ukraine or abroad. They all want to come home: Ukrainians are not typical refugees but people who seek temporary shelter and when they find it they have to find work and maintain links with Ukrainian roots. The government of Ukraine wants to work with host countries to bring the children back.
- A culture of volunteering has developed in Ukraine, linking people of all ages, including in the occupied territories, who want to help organisations that need help. The latest research shows that 82% of the people who have stayed in Ukraine are either volunteering or donating.
- All the CSOs represented at the conference were established years before the invasion in February 2022 and had developed networks of partners In Ukraine and abroad. They had prepared for war but were nevertheless shocked by the scale of the attack and initially were unsure how to respond.
- Very quickly they received offers of help as everyone rallied together. They realised that two-thirds of Ukraine was unsafe and focused on saving lives, providing essential items including food, medicines, clothing, hygiene products, baby products, blankets and sources of electrical power.
- They assisted, and continue to assist, with evacuation of many thousands of people from places under constant heavy bombardment to safer areas. Elderly people and those with disabilities often cannot be evacuated.
- The CSOs’ networks enabled them to refer people on to appropriate help and to establish links with new partners.
- They set up mobile teams of volunteers who went to the IDP and refugee centres.
- They asked vulnerable people what they needed and some circulated questionnaires asking about needs, in addition to cash and food. It takes time for traumatised people to open up and talk about their needs, but CSO staff and volunteers have built trust through their work with them.
- Many CSOs focused on families with young children, including children with disabilities, providing books, equipment, activities and summer outings to give them a taste of normal life. Teenagers need to be drawn into activities. Olena Zelenska is working on a strategic plan for child welfare.
- Psychological support was made available to adults and play therapy to children, helping them adapt to new conditions.
- Moldova has received 695,000 refugees of whom 95,000 remain in Moldova. The government is bringing in legislation to enable them to stay for up to a year and to send their children to school and receive certificates of education. Families are encouraged to register their children in local schools, but they are often reluctant or unable to plan. There has been some envy/resentment from the very poor local population, but also a great deal of support.
- Roma families experience some discrimination but there has been a break-through in Ukraine in recent years with the help of the State Migration Service which provides proper documentation. Roma volunteers help build connections with Roma families.
- Some speakers felt that local authorities had been unhelpful.
- All the CSOs looked to the future from early on. They provide training for future employment and help people to find employment, to write business proposals, start their own projects and become self-sufficient.
- Coming into winter they need to make sure that people in the occupied territories have at least the basic minimum. International organisations have been very supportive, enabling them to bring food to the liberated territories but Russians stop volunteers trying to bring food into occupied territories. However money can be transferred, in UAH or Roubles.
- Most of the CSOs are small organisations, supported by many volunteers. They are inspired by the people they meet and help and are able to keep going when they see that their efforts enable people to make a new start. They are also motivated by patriotism.
- The volunteer community is resilient but is becoming exhausted. All CSOs are aware of the risk of burn out for staff and volunteers, made worse by the relentless pressure of the threat of bombardment. They have received some funds for training and psychological support for staff and volunteers, but such funding is not always available and when it is provided, it may be diverted to provide necessities for the people they are helping.
- Most regular supplies are available in Ukraine and they prefer to buy locally, if possible, to support the economy. Items which can be more difficult to obtain include: torches, generators, batteries, warm blankets, power packs, thermal underwear, food which can be cooked without electricity, folding beds, portable stoves which use firewood. Firewood is in short supply in Moldova and in southern Ukraine’s steppe regions.
- There is a particular need for specialised medical equipment for children with disabilities, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and generators to power the equipment they need.
- Foreign assistance is welcome, bringing not only money but hope.
- The CSOs and volunteers constitute another “front line”, each fighting in their own way, for as long as necessary.
Author: Marcia Levy, BEARR Trustee