IDPs from eastern Ukraine: transit life after Russian invasion

For about three months, transit camp for temporary shelter for IDPs from the ATO zone has been operating in Kharkiv. Despite the fact that the horrors of the war have been left behind, people are facing new challenges. Read the exclusive EMPR report to learn about the life after the war and the uncertain future of internally displaced persons.

A transit camp for those forced to leave their home in search of peace was built on a former waste ground in one of the Kharkiv districts. The town is informally called “Hope”. Each family living in the camp has its own history, but all of them are here because of the war that has engulfed the Donbas region. Temporary shelter for nearly four hundred persons incorporates thirteen living units, set by the German government to help Ukraine. Each house has furniture, kitchen appliances and equipment. There is also electric heating and hot water.

Similar places are also available in Zaporizhzhya and Dnipropetrovsk Regions. “Hope” can boasts now of two playgrounds, separate laundry, uninterrupted water and electricity supply, TV and the Internet. A library has been recently opened in the camp. The city authorities have been providing an important support. There are plans to install fencing around the complex perimeter in order to protect children from getting to the road.

– Twice a week doctors, a psychologist and a massage therapist pay their visits, – Oksana, a representative of the camp administration, tells me. – Great help is provided by volunteer organisations. The Red Cross, where IDPs are paid special attention, also operates in the camp. As soon as we opened, a representative of an employment centre started paying his visits every week to offer job. But we don’t have a lot of employable people in here. Conflicts between habitants are often, but they never get to fighting. Of course, sometimes there are kitchen disputes over tables or a place in the fridge, but they remain at a household level.

It’s not difficult to get a house in transit camps, but potential applicants should know that during selection of candidates, the priority is given to large families and families with disabled children.

– The registration has several stages, – Oksana says. – First, IDPs are registered with the local social service, which puts them in the queue of the State Emergency Service. After that, subject to meeting requirements or having certain benefits, a person is sent to us. Then the camp administration signs a contract with an IDP for the provision of temporary housing for a six-month period. The contract can be extended upon expiring.

The problem is that even the camp administration doesn’t know the procedure of how the contract will be extended. It means, if in the nearest future the proper algorithm of its extension remains unknown, under the law, IDPs will be forced to look for another place to live, or to return home.

Such unclear situation with further habitation in the camp raises concerns among its residents. Many people simply have nowhere to return – their former housing was destroyed during the shelling and is located on the territory occupied by pro-Russian militants.

– We are from Pisky and left in July during the shelling, – a resident of “Hope” Lyudmila tells me. – On 18 July, in the morning our house was hit by a missile. While my son and I were coming back from the hospital, my 10-year-old daughter was hiding in the basement with the neighbours. We went to relatives in Donetsk, where we stayed for six weeks. Then we moved to Kharkiv to the cousin of my husband. He helped us to rent an apartment for the first time. He rented it in his name, because people were prejudiced against IDPs back then. My husband got a job of a trucker. His director told us to apply here. My son is disabled, so they gave us a house in the camp. What’s next? I don’t know, we just live for today. If we are evicted from the camp, we will have to find a place to live here – in Kharkiv – because we don’t have home any more.

Residents of the Kharkiv camp have recently formed a small volunteer group. Its members are several men, headed by Dmitry Borzenko. The group searches and collects humanitarian aid directly for IDPs.

At the time of my visit, there were 177 children living in the camp. According to Oksana, younger generation has no problems with changing the place they live in, and that can’t but rejoice. Many of them saw the war not on the TV, but through the window of their houses. One could expect the horrors of what they had seen would seriously affect their future lives. But when one Saturday morning I was watching excited kids playing on the ground in the camp, I realized that children have a unique ability to replace negative memories by positive ones, which sometimes lacks so much in adults.

The Kharkiv transit camp, as well as similar complexes became real salvation for IDPs. Many people have found a new life here. Now that the nightmare of war is no longer knocking on their door, they are ready to resist any forces for a thin thread of peace. Yet the further fate of people in modular camps in Ukraine remains unclear. The temporary residence contract of the majority of them will expire soon, while the legislative framework required for its extension hasn’t been ready yet. Besides, there’s a pressing issue of housing for remaining refugees, the total amount of which reached 613,000 in January 2015. At the moment, 7 modular transit camps in Ukraine can accommodate the amount of IDPs far from being total. Hopefully, in the nearest future, the government will take seriously the problem of IDPs, whose number is constantly growing due to the further escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Valeriy Nikonov, EMPR
Aleksandra Demskaya has also contributed to the publication.

The publication is available in Russian language.


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