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How HIAS Gets Vital Cash To Displaced Ukrainians

May 18, 2022

Blog Post

Alan Chin

HIAS partner Right to Protection administers a cash assistance program for internally displaced Ukrainians at the Vinnytsia Municipal Services building on May 2, 2022.

(Alan Chin for HIAS)

Using the secure messaging app Telegram, Nadiya Hribach’s daughter made an appointment for her and her mother to register for cash assistance from HIAS Partner Right to Protection (R2P). They turned up as planned on May 3 — the first day of the new R2P office in Lviv. There was a palpable air of excitement from staff and clients as the office — set in a large empty storefront on a commercial avenue — began to assist people like Hribach who had been displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Over 6 million Ukrainians are internally displaced (IDPs) after fleeing bombing, shelling, and atrocities against civilians. Leaving eastern and southern regions of Donbas, Kharkiv, Kherson, and other areas on or near the front lines, they have made for the relative safety of Lviv and other places like it in western Ukraine. Millions more have gone abroad as refugees. To help meet urgent needs for food, shelter, and money exacerbated by lost jobs and livelihoods, R2P launched a direct Cash Assistance Program for Internally Displaced Persons. It’s modest — providing about $80 per person each month for three months — but it’s already reached 80,000 people with an initial target of 360,000. R2P hopes to get it further funded for more people as well as for a longer time frame.

Although UNHCR provides the bulk of the money being disbursed, HIAS emergency support makes sure that R2P can maintain the offices that serve as a distribution network. From the beginning of the Russian invasion, R2P staff had to adjust their activities to support the evacuation and forced relocation of R2P staff. As soon as R2P representatives were relocated to safer locations, they resumed work, providing aid. HIAS has provided support to R2P to recruit two additional Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Coordinators in Ukraine and, as well as material assistance, HIAS is providing additional training, personnel, technical assistance and guidance to R2P so they can urgently begin providing emergency support like trauma counseling in a safe and dignified manner.

Ludmyla Bodareva fled the Russian invasion of her home in Donetsk Oblast in April. She is now an internally displaced person in Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

(Alan Chin for HIAS)

Outside the new office in Lviv, a crowd patiently waited for their numbers to be called. Oleksandra Tkachenko, the site’s manager, was a lawyer before the invasion. In between directing families to available staffers, she said, “The old cash center [also run by R2P] was too small. We’ve served over 170 families since 9 a.m., and by 6 p.m. there will be 300 more.” Eighteen “enumerators” sat at desks with laptop computers, examining each applicant’s identification and residence papers. “If they don’t have documents, we refer them to an attorney,” Tkachenko said, since one of R2P’s other main projects is to help people replace lost or destroyed documents.

Hribach, 67, was driven out of Kharkiv by heavy fighting on March 2, leaving her home of many years in the Moskovskyi District, close to downtown. She took an evacuation train to Lviv and rented an apartment with her daughter and granddaughter. She had been waiting for two hours at the cash center to register the three of them for assistance, but was relieved to be there, “I learned about this from my daughter who read about it in a Telegram channel.” She added, simply, “I need financial support.” Tkachenko agreed. “There are a lot of people who need the help,” she said, and explained that R2P had also rented the floor above to expand so that up to 80 enumerators at a time could process clients.

Oleksandra Zhurko now directs the Cash Assistance Program for R2P, but the program didn’t exist before the Russian invasion started on February 24. Before then, she worked for 5 years on R2P’s program for asylum seekers and refugees who had arrived in Ukraine from diverse countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria as well as Russian and Belarussian dissidents fleeing political repression. On the first night of the war, she could hear Russian bombs exploding in the town of Vasilkiv not far from her home in suburban Kyiv. “I went to my Mom’s house,” she said, “and we went to Vinnytsia and then Lviv.”

Oleksandra Zhurko, pictured in a shopping center close to her home in suburban Kyiv, used to project manage legal assistance for refugees in Ukraine. But now, after the Russian invasion, she leads R2P’s direct cash assistance program to Internally Displaced Persons. With funding from UNHCR, the program aims to reach 360,000 or more people in the next months.

(Alan Chin for HIAS)

As with many of her R2P colleagues, Zhurko was displaced, although she later returned home to Kyiv. But the immense scale of the crisis meant that R2P needed to act without delay. “UNHCR came to us,” Zhurko said, “because since 2014 we’ve been working with IDPs.” She’s been overseeing the growth of R2P’s cash assistance efforts from an initial five offices in different cities to more than double that, as well as fielding mobile teams to reach more far flung people in temporary housing like school dormitories or far from a city. New hires include 600 enumerators.

Her message to internally displaced Ukrainians is simple: “You should go to our office, take your passport, take your tax ID. If you have a family, you can bring theirs. We will enroll you in the system. Then in two or three weeks you get your first payment through Ukrposhta [the Ukrainian postal service]. We do not have strict criteria because the main idea is to help more people who have left their homes from areas under bombing to safer areas. We are opening new offices every day or every few days,” Zhurko said.

One of those new offices is in Vinnytsia, where the prewar population has swelled by a quarter with 30,000 IDPs staying in the city and another 110,000 in the surrounding province. According to Nataliya Shevchenko, team leader for Vinnytsia, “30,000 people in the cash assistance program for Vinnytsia Province have received their first month’s payment. Beneficiaries include people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by shelling. Families with children.”

Nataliya Shevchenko, the local team leader, sits at her desk in the newly opened Vinnytsia Regional Office for R2P.

(Alan Chin for HIAS)

In Vinnytsia, local authorities provided R2P with six desks in a government building that in normal times serves as a service center for everything from drivers’ licenses to tax and property issues. “We have 45 staff, but we need more,” Shevchenko said. “When we first opened there were 500 people a day (enrolling in the cash program) and more than 200 per day now.”

Boris Pyrkin, 52, a plumber, had come with his wife and mother-in-law to submit their documents for review at one of the R2P desks in the government services center. “We had a flat. We had everything,” he said. “We were in the Kramatorsk train station on April 8 when there was shelling [a Russian missile strike killed over 50 people]. We are lucky to be alive.” Because the railroad had to close that line after the attack, they eventually found alternate transportation in the form of a bus to Lviv, “but there was no place to stay so we came to Vinnytsia. My sister is also here in Vinnytsia and my son went to Poltava.” After registering as displaced persons, they came to enroll in the Cash Assistance Program.

“Donors see that there are many more cities where we need to open offices,” Zhurko said, “so I hope that the targets will be increased. We are not asking what people will do with this money, because it’s not a big amount. Maybe it can help pay for an apartment or buy food to eat. This is multi-purpose cash.”