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The Activities of Caritas Ukraine in the Conditions of Escalation of the Conflict in Avdiyivka

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On January 29, 2017 the front-line city Avdiyivka became the epicenter of events and at the center of the attention of the Ukrainian society. For five days, the city, which now resides at least 25,000 people, including 2,000 children and about 9,000 retirees was attacked with heavy weapons – 7,500 projectiles at least – which is more than 345 tons of deadly ammunition. As a result of shelling, three civilians were killed, nine were wounded, 102 buildings were damaged. Humanitarian situation in Avdiyivka was complicated by frost – these days the temperature fell to -20 degrees.

Caritas Ukraine immediately responded to the situation by mobilizing all its potential in the region. From the start of the humanitarian crisis, three Caritas organizations that are situated near – in Zaporizhzhia, Mariupol and Kramatorsk – joined their efforts and organized shift work schedule to effectively provide assistance to all people in need. Because of the attacks, the city was left without gas, electricity, water and heating. Thus, humanitarian tent city was deployed at the local stadium ‘Khimik’. From the very first hours of its work, there was a tent provided by Caritas Mariupol. There were working in rotation social workers from Mariupol, Kramatorsk and Zaporizhia constantly assisted by a doctor.

Caritas Tent of Avdiyivka was designed for staying of 50 people at the same time, but actually, it sheltered much more. Local residents were able to get warm here, to eat some hot meal, receive warm clothes and most needed medicine, care packages and recharge their mobile phones. The assistance was essential for the residents while, despite the ongoing attacks, they felt the depth of support from a variety of benefactors. On the very first day of work, Caritas Mariupol delivered to Avdiyivka 1,000 food packages and 1,000 personal care sets that were distributed to local inhabitants. In the following days, there were distributed another 3,000 sets. Besides, the team of Caritas distributed 100 sets of the most essential medicines, mostly among families with children. Caritas Kramatorsk has brought to the city sleeping bags, first aid kits, fuel, candles and warm clothing. Caritas Zaporizhzhia also joined to the delivery of emergency humanitarian aid.

The tent camp went through difficult moments too. On February 3, number of tents, including the tent Caritas were damaged during the intensive night shelling. Employees had to wait out the night in a safe place, but the distribution of humanitarian aid continued in the morning.

Regional military and civil administration addressed the issue of the evacuation of Avdiyivka residents. Although a formal decision on this subject has not been made, everyone had the opportunity to leave. Mainly, parents with children were leaving – they received a possibility to stay in boarding houses in Svyatohirsk. Staff of children’s projects of Caritas Kramatorsk were taking care of them. Thus, all evacuees received necessary medical supplies, hygiene kits, and help of professional psychologists if necessary.

Due to the escalation of the situation in Avdiyivka, Caritas Ukraine switched to emergency mode. There were organized emergency talks with donor organizations, including CRS and Caritas Austria on additional funding of emergency programs for residents of Avdiyivka. Besides, Caritas addressed to the Technical Committee of the Humanitarian Initiative ‘Pope for Ukraine’ with the proposal to allocate funds to support the victims.

The head of the humanitarian projects of Caritas Ukraine Hryhoriy Seleshchuk was on the scene from the first day of the Humanitarian City. He shares his impressions of Avdiyivka: “We were entering the city and leaving it under cannonade. But this was not the worst. It is really terrible to hear from local people that they are frightened when it is quiet. It is less scary when there are shootings. For then you can see where the shells fell. During silent moments you do not know where and when they fall. It is not for the first time that the city suffers from attacks. People lived here without electricity for five days or more, they suffered from the lack of water. And only now the world noticed that Avdiyivka is under fire and needs help. Thus, it is very good that people finally realized that their help is needed, and it is not only about material resources, but also about human care.”

At the moment when in Avdiyivka and neighboring places has been established relative stillness, social workers of Caritas Zaporizhzhia together with employees of the Civil-Military Cooperation of Armed Forces of Ukraine (CIMIC) went directly to the areas most affected by the attacks to learn the needs of the victims of the fighting and make an initial assessment for assistance in the restoration of damaged buildings. As a result, 100 families whose homes were damaged soon will receive financial aid to repair their houses. On February 10, the team of Caritas Kramators’k visited Kurdyumivka village (Toretske). There, 13 private houses were damaged by attacks. Caritas provided their residents with care packages, warm blankets and medicines. Besides, the initial needs assessment for assistance in repairs was conducted.

“This is another example of sacrifice and solidarity of Ukrainians shown to the entire world community – in a crisis situation we unite our efforts to help the needy” – summed up the humanitarian mission in Avdiyivka President of Caritas Ukraine Andriy Waskowycz.

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