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Winter On The Frontline

Aiding vulnerable Ukrainians trapped in a frozen conflict

Story by World Food Programme November 26th, 2015

A story by Guido van Heugten
Photos by WFP/EU/Pete Kiehart

Temperatures are dropping and winter is announcing its arrival in Europe. For the five million people requiring humanitarian assistance in war-torn Ukraine, this means an additional challenge for survival.

To ensure that basic food needs are covered for the most vulnerable, WFP is providing food assistance on both sides of the frontline. Whenever access is possible, WFP is on the ground to provide food assistance (parcels and e-vouchers) to bring warmth to people in need.

Nadia, 4, draws in the family bedroom, which is the only livable room in her severely-damaged home.

with the most vulnerable

In winter, conditions become increasingly difficult for vulnerable households. The conflict has forced many people to find shelter elsewhere, as their houses have been damaged or destroyed. Some people feel insecure in their home towns and have left to find safety elsewhere. Inflation is another factor, making it harder for people to buy their basic food supplies or pay for heating.

WFP assistance is specifically for the most vulnerable people, who lack the means to survive. This often includes IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), but WFP also assists Ukrainians who are hosting IDPs, the chronically ill, handicapped, single parents and people who are unemployed. The elderly are also supported, as many pensions have been cut due to the conflict.

Neli, 70, attends to her 40 year old blind and disabled son, recipient of a WFP food voucher.
Natalia, 58, lost her leg five years ago. About the WFP support she says: “Thank God... I would not know what I would do without it.”
Vera Kopeikina, 50, stands in line outside a WFP voucher distribution.

vouchers FUELLING hope

Some cases are exceptionally poignant. Natalia (photos below), 32, a single-mother of four children, has worked hard to repair her severely damaged home ahead of winter. She was forced to live with her children in her cow’s shed, after her home was shelled and caught fire in 2014. “This was the most horrible moment of my life, it was simply unbearable,” she said. Finding herself without money, Natalia was forced to sell her cow. She hit rock-bottom when her handicapped baby Dima passed away, adding to the tragedy.

“I have been waiting for the voucher like a God to come. I can now provide decent food for my children”.

Currently the family lives together in the only room that provides them with shelter. In an effort to make some money to boost the modest child support, Natalia and her son, Igor, who is 14, gather scrap metal to sell. She and her children now receive a WFP food voucher: “I have been waiting for the voucher like a God to come. I can now provide decent food for my children; before we did not eat well. If it wasn‘t for the voucher, I would not know what to do.”

Through WFP assistance, provided with thanks to the European Union, she is also able to pay for occasional heating to protect her children from the winter cold. Natalia is determined to restore her house and make it habitable again, including the fountain she made herself in the former living room: “I am ready to fight, there is no other way.”

Single mother of four Natalia, 32, is overcome by emotion as she describes raising her family in a region affected by conflict.
Natalia's four children eat bananas in the one room that is habitable, after shelling and a fire nearly destroyed their home.

Partnerships that save lives

WFP Ukraine started its Emergency Operation in 2014, having had no presence in the country before.

Through close cooperation with its local NGO partners (ADRA, PIN and Mercy Corps) food assistance is delivered to beneficiaries in both GCAs and in NGCAs. WFP is entirely voluntarily funded and is grateful for donors’ support for the Ukraine operation, including from the European Commission‘s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

After an assessment of needs on the ground, WFP’s Emergency Operation is being extended into 2016. For many people like Natalia, this support is crucial for their survival, allowing for some hope and dignity during the cold winter days.

People in Lysychansk register and receive food vouchers, which are charged with 450 hyrvnia (approx. $20 USD).
Vouchers enable them to buy selected food and hygiene products in nearby supermarkets over a period of three months.
A local supermarket in Svetlodarsk where beneficiaries can use their vouchers to buy food.
People queue for a WFP voucher distribution, 2 km from the frontline.

With contributions from Canada, Denmark, ECHO (European Commission‘s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department), Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, the United States, and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, WFP has been providing life-saving emergency food assistance to conflict-affected people in Ukraine.

By the end of 2015, WFP aims to provide 575,000 people with food assistance in areas of Ukraine hit by the conflict.

Read More about WFP operations in Ukraine

Children play in a hallway of an apartment block hosting IDPs from conflict-affected areas in Severodonetsk.