“In the war-torn areas of Eastern Ukraine, there are a lot of single mothers barely able to take care of their children, their families. Dozens of people who have been maimed and disabled lie helpless without food or medicine. There is a great need for humanitarian aid,” said Oleksandr Vishnyakov, director of the Rinat Akhmetov Humanitarian Center, today at the Press Club in Brussels.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine in 2014, the living conditions in the region of Donbass have become dire, thousands of people being displaced, those remaining struggling to survive. The conflict has been defined by some as the worst event in Europe after World War II and is, for three years now, ravaging the lives of thousands in the rebel-held region. The war has caused Ukraine to fall back, to lose many of the improvements acquired in the years preceding the conflict; it has marked the lives of adults and children, derailing their everyday routines, having to forgo the kind of life they once knew.
“One day found a woman crouched on the ground,” said Mr. Vishnyakov. “Her cheeks were sunk, dark circles around her eyes. She said, ‘I’m forced to eat the plants in the wilderness. I have nothing else to eat.’”
The Humanitarian Centre Rinat Akhmetov Foundation has been active in the territory since August 2014, providing help to the civilians and creating the first projects to face the conflict. The foundation is an non-governmental organization that aims to help civilians without discriminating gender, religion or pre-conflict living standards. The first project aimed at evacuating the civilians from the areas of military action; the Center evacuated 39,462 people from the areas of military actions, 14,784 of them are children. 6,939 people were temporarily settled in recreation centers in Odessa, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions.
The second step towards the support of the civilians in Donbass has been the creation of a Food Packages Program, tailored to the needs of the different members of the population. The packages are composed by different goods (as for example food, medicines, or important everyday supplies), which are then distributed to the people. Some people – pregnant women, children, retired people or orphans – have higher priority and are entitled to specific goods, underlining that the project’s aim is to provide the most effective and rapid assistance in the conflict zone, customizing it in different ways depending on the needs of each person.
Over time, the Foundation has focused more and more on children’s health and on the protection of their rights. Rinat Akhmetov Foundation offers life-saving surgeries and urgent treatments especially for children, like Healthy Hearts, to provide a quick and effective response to crucial medical needs, or like a hearing aid programme, to help five years old kids who have been diagnosed hearing loss. The Center provides pharmaceuticals as insulin, anticonvulsants and asthma medications to all children under 18, living in non-government-controlled areas of Donbas, and internally displaced children who left for the peaceful territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Each Donbas child can get these essential medications for three months.
On the chair next to Mr. Vishnyakov sat a little girl with two ponytails, a pink cardigan and a blue dress. She fingered her necklace, wriggled a little in her seat, smiled at the woman who sat to her left: her grandmother. The little girl’s name was Milana and it took the audience a while to realize that one of her legs was prosthetic.
“She was only three when the shelling happened,” her grandmother said. “My daughter threw herself over Milana’s body to protect her. But she couldn’t cover her leg.”
Milana’s mother died during the attack in the city of Mariupol on January 24th 2015. Since then, Milana has gone through rehabilitation, physical and psychological, both of which have been very difficult.
“The most difficult part for a child is to accept it,” said Natalia Yemchenko, member of the Board of Trusteed of the Rinat Akkmetov Humanitarian Center. “They need to accept that their bodies will never be the same.”
Through this painful process, Milana has been supported by specialists who have helped her walk again. The Foundation offers also a program of rehabilitation for children, jointly with a mental support for war-related-traumas. The success of these projects is due in part to the special attention the Foundation pays to the balance of physical and mental health. A more holistic healing is achieved when the patients recover from the injury and are able to process the traumas, being able to move on with their lives. Milana’s case is an example that sheds a light of hope, thanks to Rinat Akhmetov Foundation support.
“I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong,” said Milana’s grandmother. “All I would like to see is no more children suffering. I would like to see no more war in Ukraine.”