Yulia, a Right to Protection staffer, tells about her displacement and her work to help others. March 2022.
Elena* and her daughter Marichko* were in trouble.
The women were evacuated from Kyiv last week and came by train to Vinnytsia in the far west of Ukraine. Marichko has disabilities and had to be carried off the train. Elena is worried how she will get her daughter’s psychotropic medicines.
Were it not for Right to Protection (R2P), a Ukrainian refugee assistance organization established with help from HIAS in 2013, the story might sound like the start of another tragic moment. But now R2P staff are working to help these women and many others even in the midst of the ongoing war.
R2P, through its robust social media presence, assures those like Elena who need help that the organization is indeed open for business. Staff is constantly helping displaced people, finding them temporary shelter, food, and other necessities. HIAS released funds to R2P to help their response in Western Ukraine, relocate their office in Lviv, and potentially open a new site in Chernivtsi.
“We have not stopped for a single day,” said Victoria Dei, R2P’s public information director. “All of us are seeking ways to adapt our resources for wartime.”
Right to Protection puts information on its Facebook page about crossing the border, what aid is available where, as well as requests for help. One day staff report on helping mothers and children leave the shelled city of Sevierodonetsk and get to a safe place, while the next day there is a call for diapers and a real-time update on the wait times at a border crossing.
The information is always being updated and R2P has set up a free telephone hotline for people to get information, counseling, and legal assistance. Staff have met with hundreds of people fleeing from Kharkiv, Volnovakh, Kyiv, and other cities, many of whom are experiencing trauma, and some have lost family members as well as their homes.
There is a special empathy at R2P, as many of the employees are twice displaced themselves, making it easier for them to understand the myriad problems faced by hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who are moving around the country in search of safety. For example, Natalia Shevchenko left occupied Makievka (right next to Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine) in 2014, and now less than 8 years later she has been forced to leave Konstantinovka with her son.
“We are proud of our employees who did not leave the country in such a difficult time and who help others without stopping,” Dei said. “‘Right to Protection’ works, and we are sure that we can help thousands of Ukrainians in our joint struggle.”
As well as individuals, R2P is in touch with local authorities, such as the city council in Sambir. It can then coordinate with them on getting assistance to internally displaced people who pour into towns carrying hardly any belongings. With financial support from local organizations, R2P has been able to help communities like Maryinska and Svítlodarska purchase essential items including hygiene products, detergents, mattresses, blankets, and towels.
R2P still engages in advocacy too, recently signing a joint statement by national and international humanitarian organizations about the need for humanitarian protection and access in Ukraine.
Aware of how important but complicated information dissemination can be, a recent Facebook post managed to sound helpful and also sympathetic: “Friends! We understand how difficult it is to navigate the information space at this time. That is why we have collected useful links for you.”*Pseudonyms used for clients' safety.