Alexander Galkin, Director of Ukrainian NGO Right to Protection, speaks from an apartment in Kyiv about how the organization has adapted and is responding to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, February 28, 2022.
The crisis in Ukraine has brought war to towns and cities across the country, forcing hundreds of thousands to seek safety in neighboring countries. Despite warning signs, many around the world, and even refugee agencies that have worked in the region for years, were caught off guard when Russian forces attacked last week.
“We had a couple of plans, contingency plans…but we never even thought about such a scale of disaster,” said Alexander Galkin, Director of Right to Protection (R2P), a Ukrainian refugee assistance organization established with help from HIAS in 2013.
Yet, Right to Protection is still operating in some areas and is quickly moving to open offices in the western part of the country, where tens of thousands have fled. The organization has opened an office in Lviv and is moving to establish a presence in Chernivtsi and Lutsk, near the Polish border.
“In Lviv, in Khmelnytskyi, we started providing people with information. We started looking for houses for them, and we are going to open new offices to help newly arriving IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons),” explained Galkin during a video interview Monday from a friend’s apartment 5 kilometers from the center of Kyiv.
R2P is working to establish a telephone hotline for displaced people in Ukraine, is planning to provide in-person and online psychological support and legal aid, and is looking into distributing cash assistance, non-food items, and other urgently needed items. Galkin says the organization is in close communication with other well-established international organizations.
Before the war started, Right to Protection had offices in 10 locations across Ukraine, six in the eastern part of the country where conflict between the Ukrainian government and Moscow-backed separatists has been simmering for the past eight years. But last week, when Russian forces attacked, many of R2P’s more than 160 staff found themselves among those fleeing. As fighting continued, some had to move a second or third time.
“We relocated our staff from Stemnitsa Luganskaya to Severodonetsk, and they proceeded later on to Dnipro and from Dnipro to the Western part,” Galkin said. “So we are dispersed now, the Kyiv office is closed…in Kyiv, street fights take place, for instance right now. And I hear sounds of rockets shelling.”
Despite the risks and challenges of working in a war zone, Galkin says there are factors that give him reason to be hopeful. For one, there is an experienced NGO community in place.
“In 2022, Ukrainian civil society is way stronger than it used to be in 2014,” Galkin said. “And many of us got through the displacement crisis eight years ago and we are prepared. We are much stronger and more educated, I would say. And we have quite a strong network of international and local civil society who are prepared to respond to this disaster.”