It is a story all too familiar in conflict-affected areas around the world, one of loss and re-building.
Back in 2014, Sergiy Nykonorov had just bought his house near Donetsk airport, in Donetsk city, when it came under shelling and small-arms fire. The Nykonorovs spent two days crouching on the floor as there was no basement in which to shelter.
After losing hope that the situation would improve, they packed their family dog and some belongings into a car and fled, leaving their bullet-riddled home behind.
Three years later, in Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, Sergiy recalls his initial response to displacement. «It was emotionally very difficult to leave our home and move to an unfamiliar place», he says. «But in our new home, almost a thousand kilometres from Donetsk, I was determined to bridge the gap between internally displaced persons and the local community».
Sergiy’s approach – involving bringing positive change to his new home – entailed the establishment of a non-governmental organization (NGO), called Dom 48/24. Along with other IDPs, he shares his story, and those of the hundreds of thousands of others displaced by the conflict in the east, with the local community. One of the NGO’s first initiatives was an outdoor «Live Library» with pictures and stories from their lives in the conflict zone of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Sergiy and his colleagues have also organized alternative theatre, restored green areas and run social entrepreneurship programmes.
Separately, Sergiy also set up a club, bringing together local and IDP children. There they learn how to use computers and construct robots, and in the process, learn and imbue tolerance towards each other, regardless of their origin.
Challenges for conflict-affected civilians
Displacement has brought with it immediate concrete problems, too, namely housing and employment.
Amet Bekirov, originally from Simferopol in Crimea but now living in Drohobych, Lviv region, says he still feels insecure. He and his wife, he tells the OSCE SMM, are constantly afraid at the end of every month, as they never know if they will be able to pay for their utilities or if they will be evicted.
Their story is typical of many of the approximately 12,000 IDPs living in Lviv region. After leaving Crimea, the family of four had to stay at a communal dormitory for three months, paying a nominal fee to the Caritas Foundation, which hosted them. They only moved into a one-room flat when both Amet and his wife found jobs.
Finding a job is one of the biggest problems facing IDPs. With many of them having worked in heavy industry or in the mining sector in eastern Ukraine, their skill sets are not always suitable for the largely agricultural economy of the west. As a result many of them have been unable to find matching employment in their new locations and have accepted jobs for lower salaries or in lower positions compared with their previous jobs. Many are still seeking employment of any kind.
Olga Tut, 35, from Yasynuvata, Donetsk region, says her parents, 59 and 62, were lucky to find jobs in Ivano-Frankivsk despite their age. Her mother, a former nurse, now works as an administrator at a fitness club, and her father, an entrepreneur in the east, now works as a metal worker at a local factory. They dream of building a house in Ivano-Frankivsk once they have saved enough money.
Local people are mostly sympathetic. «We all struggle to find affordable housing and decent jobs but it is much harder for displaced people as they do not have any relatives around,» says Solomiya Kostynska, a Lviv resident. «It is impossible for us to imagine the challenges that people from the conflict zone are facing».
Despite the general economic downturn since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, State structures are trying to provide assistance to the displaced. «We are doing everything in our capacity to assist IDPs to tackle challenges related to housing and employment», says Lesya Dron, the deputy head of the humanitarian policy unit within the Lviv City Council Social Protection Department. In some cases, large families or single parents have been provided with shelter in IDP collective centres, local hostels or hotels.
Oksana from Luhansk city and her four children found shelter in one of those collective centres – a dormitory built as a summer camp in Strilky village, outside of Lviv city. Two years ago Oksana was allocated two rooms and recently a bathroom. While there are challenges, she is generally satisfied with the living conditions.
For Crimean Tatar IDPs, displacement brings additional challenges given differences in religion, culture and language. Recognizing this, the city council in Drohobych, Lviv region, has provided them with a place where they can pray, and host cultural and educational events, such as history classes and courses on the Crimean Tatar language.
«Because we are so far from home, it is more important than ever to value and learn more about our culture», says Amet, «and in particular to pass this on to the next generation».
Displacement for many IDPs from the east and Crimea has not been easy. But with goodwill and help from the host community, and a willingness to better both themselves and their new communities, many of them have made new homes away from home. «We miss our home of course», says Sergiy, «but within three years, Ivano-Frankivsk has become our home».
Media Focal Point –
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine,
for IA ZIK
OSCE SMM Resource:
- THEMATIC REPORT: Conflict-related Displacement in Ukraine: Increased Vulnerabilities of Affected Populations and Triggers of Tension within Communities. See more: osce.org/ukraine-smm
- Daily and spot reports from the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. See more: osce.org/ukraine-smm