Supporting internally displaced families in Ukraine

By Kyra Gurney | April 4, 2022 | Europe & Eurasia | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Youth Empowerment

In western Ukraine, GFC partner Youth Organization STAN (STAN) is providing shelter, food, and information to families fleeing the fighting in other areas of the country.

For families fleeing areas of Ukraine under attack by Russian forces, getting to the relative safety of western Ukraine is only the beginning of a long and difficult journey.

When families arrive at the train station in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, for example, they have often gone hours without food or water. Many have left their homes in a hurry, leaving all but a suitcase full of possessions behind. In Ivano-Frankivsk, which has welcomed thousands of internally displaced people, it has become increasingly difficult for these families to find a house or apartment they can rent. And those are only the immediate concerns. Parents must also find jobs for themselves and schools for their children and decide whether to remain in Ukraine or attempt to migrate to another country.

Fortunately, STAN is providing emergency support to children and families fleeing to Ivano-Frankivsk and other areas in southwestern Ukraine.

A family at a train station

A man comforts a child at the train station in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. © Maxim Solodjuk

During the first few days of the war in Ukraine, STAN and other civil society groups in its network established a response headquarters in Ivano-Frankivsk and five shelters in other towns and cities in southwestern Ukraine. From the headquarters, STAN and the other organizations can monitor the situation, fundraise for people in need, and coordinate with other civil society organizations, youth groups, and volunteers.

The shelters currently provide more than 250 internally displaced people – over 40% of whom are children – with a safe place to stay. STAN hopes to expand the shelters to offer between 500 and 1,000 beds.

“In our shelters, we are trying to create a self-sustaining model where people feel safe and are involved in the decision-making process and in organizing work like cooking, cleaning, and educating children,” said Yaroslav Minkin, STAN’s Board Chair.

Yaroslav added that marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+ people and students from Africa and Asia, have faced discrimination as they seek refuge, including at other shelters. STAN has prioritized creating inclusive shelters designed to make everyone feel welcome.

“We have had many requests from LGBTIQ+ individuals to find a safe space to stay in the region as they move westward or try to leave the country,” Yaroslav explained. “Our solution: to create and run shelters for all in the Carpathian region and provide international standards of humanitarian aid in all shelters and all places where people receive help from our network.”

STAN is also providing information and support to internally displaced people when they arrive at the train station in Ivano-Frankivsk. If families arrive at night, during curfew, the stores are closed, and they aren’t allowed outside. STAN has helped organize volunteers to bring tea, coffee, and food to the families; give them extension cords so they can charge their phones and call their loved ones; and provide them with assistance finding accommodations in western Ukraine or buses to leave the country.

Plates of food at a train station in Ukraine

Volunteers serving food to internally displaced families at the train station in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. © Maxim Solodjuk

As the network of volunteers has expanded, STAN has helped organize the volunteers into four shifts, and local restaurants and bakeries have begun donating food, according to an article about the volunteer efforts that was published on the Ukrainian news site Civic Space.

Although the number of people arriving at the Ivano-Frankivsk train station has decreased since the first days of the war, there is still a tremendous need to assist internally displaced people. With the help of an emergency grant from GFC and support from other donors, STAN plans to support up to 10,000 internally displaced people over the next two months.

“People need to stay in a safe place, have access to food, find a job – that is crucial not only for income but also for their integration,” Yaroslav said. “Children are suffering without school and other activities like sports, arts, and games.” He added that some children are also experiencing conflicts within their families because “lots of stress can push people to aggression inside the families.”

STAN is no stranger to crises. The organization was founded in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk in the late 1990s and fought for democracy in Ukraine in 2004, during the country’s Orange Revolution, and again in 2014, when protesters ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. STAN’s staff were internally displaced in 2014 when war broke out between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine, and the organization had to re-establish itself in Ivano-Frankivsk.

People at a train station in Ukraine at night

Internally displaced people at the train station in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. © Maxim Solodjuk

Today, STAN is a network of young people, including entrepreneurs, activists, artists, teachers, and internally displaced people that promotes civic engagement, youth empowerment, and informal education on topics such as human rights, participatory democracy, and leadership skills. STAN also responds to human rights violations and promotes diversity and intercultural dialogue by championing the voices of people from marginalized groups.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, STAN prioritized responding to the social consequences of the health crisis, including increasing inequality and gender-based violence. Now, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, STAN is once again shifting its focus to respond to a new crisis. Like many of GFC’s partners in Ukraine, STAN has pivoted to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance.

“We need to prevent trauma in Ukrainian society and give new generations the power to rethink the war and stay with democracy in the future,” Yaroslav said.

Donate now to help local organizations provide emergency support to children in Ukraine.

Header photo: Internally displaced people at the train station in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine. © Maxim Solodjuk

For their safety, GFC is naming its partner organizations in Ukraine only when they have asked to be publicly identified.

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