Six months since the invasion: we’ve got four hundred threatened activists to safety. In total, we helped more than 330,000 people

Published: Aug 22, 2022 Reading time: 6 minutes
Six months since the invasion: we’ve got four hundred threatened activists to safety. In total, we helped more than 330,000 people
© Foto: Petr Štefan

Six months have passed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These six months have brought hard times full of suffering for Ukrainians, but at the same time, we have seen great public generosity. As a result of this generosity, we have been able to help more than 330,000 Ukrainians. We can help Ukrainians prepare for winter and the return of the school year and provide them with psychosocial support. In addition to our humanitarian work, we also focus on human rights—we support ten independent media outlets and have helped around 400 activists move to safety. 

Despite heavy casualties, Ukrainians have not given up and continue to bravely resist Russian aggression. Symbolically, the six-month anniversary of the war falls on Ukraine's Independence Day. This date marks the country’s declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and it is the most important national holiday for Ukrainians.

"Since 2014, when the war in Ukraine began, Independence Day has become another symbol for Ukrainians of pro-European aspirations and defiance of the past. This year, with thousands of Ukrainians dying at the front and in their homes, and millions of people becoming refugees in their own country or in neighbouring countries, the 31st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine is a symbol that Ukraine endures," says Nadia Ivanova, our director of Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

We organise retreats for human rights organisations and support Ukrainian media and NGOs. We have brought over 400 activists to safety. 

At the end of February and the beginning of March, we relocated some 400 foreign activists to safe countries. These activists had fled from oppression in their own countries and settled in the vicinity of Kyiv, which was under daily shelling. We dispatched ten buses from Kyiv, thus bringing to safety those who would have been at risk of ill-treatment by Russian secret services if captured. Furthermore, we have supported the creation of two new centres to provide safe accommodation for relocated activists.

Activists and volunteers have had to respond with similar agility to the rapidly changing situation in Ukraine. Many of them have worked almost without rest since February.

"Some are on the verge of burnout, some even on the verge of collapse. So, the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy is now organising recovery retreats for these activists in safe conditions, where they work privately or as teams with psychologists and receive the help they need," says Ondřej Lukáš, media coordinator at our Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

Since the invasion, we have financially supported 10 Ukrainian media outlets whose advertising revenues dropped to virtually zero after the invasion. We recognised that there was a need to provide financial income for editors.  

"Supporting independent media is important to us as an organisation founded mostly by journalists. Financial support for independent journalists in a warring country like Ukraine is important first of all so that we, as the international community, know the truth about what is happening and can contribute to the punishment of war crimes," adds Nadia Ivanova, deputy director of Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

We have co-financed an exit session for Ukrainian journalists in Latvia and financially covered an exit session for the NGO Triangle and individual psychological consultations for activists. We have also financially supported organisations that are retraining psychologists.  

We have financially supported four NGOs mapping Russian war crimes

We have supported the 5 AM Coalition, a consortium of thirty human rights organisations dedicated to protecting the victims of Russian aggression in Ukraine and documenting crimes committed by Russian forces. This activity aims to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  

We have also supported events in Vienna and The Hague organised by the Media Initiative for Human Rights, which advocates for war victims. We are also working with the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (UHHRU), the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, and the Legal Development Network (LDN), which monitor war crimes, violations of humanitarian law, general human rights violations, as well as human rights violations with a particular focus on vulnerable groups (children, seniors, minorities, women, etc.). These organisations produce professionally documented material for national and international institutions, which can then be used to punish crimes where appropriate. They also provide legal and psychological support to victims.  

The great wave of aid brings significant challenges

Over the past six months, we have assisted 330,000 people affected by the war. We started by sending humanitarian trains and trucks to places where people were cut off from the basic necessities of life. In Ukraine, our team has expanded to 200 colleagues. Where markets function or have recovered, we began distributing cash as soon as possible. Inside the country, we operate a helpline where a team of ten psychologists receives dozens of calls a day. We are helping to repair damaged houses to prepare war victims for the Ukrainian winter.

"It is with great admiration and, of course, with joy and a sense of great responsibility that I observe the willingness of Czech society to help the invaded Ukraine. The wave of solidarity that has risen in the last six months is unprecedented in the history of our country. It is mainly thanks to all those generous people, companies and organisations that we can continue to work in Ukraine and respond flexibly to the challenges ahead," adds our director, Šimon Pánek.

In the coming months, the most significant challenges will be housing, education, and heat 

The lack of suitable accommodation appears to be the biggest problem in Ukraine ahead of the coming winter. Many school buildings have been converted into collective centres providing facilities for the internally displaced.

With the start of the school year, the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science announced that it plans to open 41% of schools for full-time teaching. However, many buildings are not suitable for teaching in the current situation. Moreover, according to the new legislation, schools must have a shelter on their property—something most schools lack.

"Our teams in Ukraine are helping to repair school buildings and have launched a psychological support project for teachers who are under great psychological strain due to the war, and we are also focusing on children's mental health," says Barbora Kindlová, one of our programme coordinators. 

"The overall interest in psychological assistance is currently enormous in Ukraine, and it is expected that with the coming of winter when many people will face further problems related to lack of accommodation, cold, poor access to water and food, the need for psychological assistance is likely to increase," she adds.

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, at least 1,888 schools have been damaged or destroyed since the Russian invasion began. This is more than double the number of such attacks recorded in eastern Ukraine between 2014 and 2021, when some 750 schools were damaged, destroyed, or forcibly closed. The war has disrupted the education of all 7.5 million children living in Ukraine at the beginning of this year.

There is a goal to repair at least 9,000 homes by early winter. Yet our aid will only be enough for a small portion of this. In addition to home repairs, our teams will continue to provide water in areas where shelling has damaged water lines and to provide hot meals to collective centres in the west of the country.  

Autor: Juliana Hámová, Mediální koordinátorka Člověka v tísni

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