By Regional Director Manfred Profazi, IOM Vienna
Travelling in Ukraine these days isn’t easy. When I served as Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration from 2012 to 2017 it was possible to fly, or take one of the modern trains across the length and breadth of this vast country.
Now flying is completely impossible, and travel by train is still fraught.
My journey this week in Ukraine, from Odesa and Mykolaiv in the south, Dnipro in the East, up to the capital Kyiv and again west to Lviv was, for security reasons, by road. It gave me ample time to reflect on the millions of Ukrainians that have taken the same roads to escape the danger and destruction since the start of the war.
Millions of people are in state of flux, caught between being displaced in their own land, or with their families torn apart. Some stay in Ukraine because they cannot afford to leave, for some because leaving is simply not an option.
Over 8 million Ukrainians have fled the country, another 5.3 million are internally displaced. Many people have been displaced several times. Some have travelled abroad, come back, settled, and left again as the front line changes.
This feeling of dislocation even affects communities and people that have not relocated. Communities have been crushed, unsettled, scattered. The damage in places like Mykolaiv, and countless small towns and villages I passed through this week scars the landscape and the emotions. Mykolaiv has been under daily shelling for more than 250 days. Water pipes have been heavily hit. We see people queueing up for drinking water at public distribution points, some of them established by IOM, as we pass through the city.
The living conditions are very hard for locals and IDPs alike. And yet, people stay. People are returning. More than 5.6 million. People are adapting to being in new host communities, and are bringing their skills and their experience to help rebuild their new home.
Of course, rebuilding and reconstruction in the middle of a war is challenging, to put it mildly, but everywhere I went I saw new infrastructure rising from the rubble. Much of it, I am proud and humbled to say, has been installed by IOM and by organizations working with us, and with local authorities, who have done so much to keep hope alive.
One of many examples is the mobile heating plant we provided, essentially the hangar of a 40 ton truck, specially adapted to provide heat to a children’s hospital, where hundreds of children – local and displaced – can receive uninterrupted treatment. Blackouts caused by the shelling brought the heating system down and for several days the young patients stayed in freezing conditions.
I was lucky enough to be able to hear first-person accounts of survival, of resilience and even optimism from young and old alike. These stories, and the dedication of our staff, keep all of us motivated and focused on what we need to do, and on facilitating recovery without fostering dependency.
Looking back, I’m thinking of Valeriia and her son, who fled the destruction of Bakhmut and are now finally in decent accommodation, thanks to IOM-organized repair works to a dormitory in Dnipro.
She showed me photos of her home, now completely destroyed, and spoke wistfully of her market garden. Now she grows a few greens in a window box. Her son, a diligent student, follows his lessons on a mobile phone, as he doesn’t even have a laptop. They have not given up; they do whatever it takes to retain a simulacrum of normal life.
IOM's integrated approach allows us to support displaced people and host communities on multiple levels and provide them with a full range of services from infrastructure to income-generation.
We will continue our efforts to support these people as long as needed in all the ways we can.