My story in Foreign Policy:
Volunteers have no official agreements with either the Ukrainian Army or with the DNR and its Luhansk equivalent, the LNR. There is no guarantee of safety from shelling, despite white flags or notices on windscreens declaring there are children on board. Every day, volunteers risk being turned back, robbed, or detained. They have been attacked by supporters of the rebel republics who want to charge extortionate fees to take families out of war zones. Those from Protestant churches are a special target for because of their faith. But still they go to besieged towns every day, doing a job that no one else will do.
I’m tired of hearing complaints about east Ukrainian refugees who do nothing to help themselves. Most of the east Ukrainians I have met here have worked all their lives, only to be kicked down again and again by economic collapse, by political machinations and greed, by army bombing and by sadists and bandits given license by war.
How do they carry on, when life is so hard, and so hard, and so desperately hard?
They all say “We are just small people, just ordinary people. War is never kind to us ordinary people”.
They are not politicians or oligarchs, they are not the ones designing and financing this war. No. They are the nurses who kept working in hospitals even while there was bombing and who treated everyone, Ukrainian or separatist; they are the miners who worry that the mines will flood and collapse without them, they are people like Roman, who even when his finger was chopped off just picked himself up and went back to work because he has two kids to feed, whose wife is now in Gorlivka being bombed but still working because someone has to bake bread for others to eat.
These people are not ‘ordinary’. They are inspiring and heartbreaking.
Pictures from the Good News church rehab centre, being rebuilt by refugees from besieged towns after it was shelled. You can read my story about it, and about Roman, here
Nona in her oasis.
More from me in the Times today on families caught up in the East Ukraine conflict, and the volunteers doing such incredible work evacuating them from besieged towns to safety.
Many of these volunteers were refugees themselves until Slovyansk was retaken by the Ukrainian army in July. Now they are working independently of both sides in the conflict.
“The Ukrainians don’t bother us because we are helping them by getting people out; it means fewer victims,” says Vladimir Parkhomenko, who drives a bus daily to Horlivka from the Good News church in Slovyansk. “The DNR confiscated some of our vehicles, so we try not to go near them.”
The children he brings out of H0rlivka marvel to see shops fully stocked with goods in Slavyansk, and run for cover when an aeroplane drones far overhead…
My Piece for the Times today:
The humanitarian disaster in Ukraine is finally front-page news, but only because of a convoy that could be the start of open war. The people caught up in the humanitarian crisis are invisible, and so are the volunteers risking their lives to help.
Instead of their voices we hear political posturing. Tomorrow the world will turn its attention back to Iraq or Syria, and Ukraine will have lost its chance to win global support for those who need help. What a stupid, stupid waste.
It is hard to find much that is positive in current Ukraine events. But in this story I wrote, an NGO in Ivano-Frankivsk is setting a fantastic example of crisis management and cross-sectoral cooperation to provide accommodation and services for a flood of refugees. And I do like the irony of housing east Ukrainians fleeing ‘banderites’ in a hotel called ‘banderstadt’.
Stepan Bandera graffiti, Ivano-Frankivsk