July 31, 2020

UNHCR and Norwegian Refugee Council repair 5,000 homes destroyed in Donbas war


KYIV – Since 2015, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Ukraine have partnered to repair and rehabilitate more than 5,000 homes destroyed during the conflict in the east of Ukraine.

With funds provided by international donors to UNHCR, NRC was able to provide shelter to those who needed the most. Although this partnership is coming to an end, both UNHCR and NRC will continue providing emergency relief in the form of legal aid, winterization assistance, and other protection and humanitarian assistance projects.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has entered its seventh year and continues generating humanitarian needs and impacting those most vulnerable. According to the United Nations Humanitarian Needs Overview 2020, over 55,000 residential buildings have been damaged during the conflict on both sides of the contact line that today runs across the east of Ukraine. During 2019, 738 homes were hit by shelling; as of mid-July, humanitarian organizations have repaired more than 60 percent of this damage.

During 2018-2019, the Norwegian Refugee Council conducted damage assessments in both the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, specifically in the communities along the Ukrainian government-controlled side of the contact line. The results of the assessment identified a baseline of 3,189 damaged properties across the two oblasts.

Therefore, shelter needs remain significant in many places in eastern Ukraine, especially in hard to reach areas with high insecurity and limited physical access near the contact line. To compound the problem, Ukraine has long and harsh winter periods during which weather conditions affect the timing for repair works.

Another challenge faced by the local populations is the complex bureaucratic procedures to access shelter assistance provided by the Ukrainian state. Moreover, there remains a challenge in non-government-controlled areas (NGCA) and the grey zone to get relevant and verifiable data on damage to residential properties. Due to the lack of sustained humanitarian access, the partners have been unable to conduct a systematic assessment of damage in NGCA.

Since the beginning of the conflict in the east of Ukraine, international donors have provided significant financial support to NRC’s shelter interventions investing over $3.7 million (U.S.) in the region to assist people in rebuilding their lives. The donors of NRC included UNHCR, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), the “Pope for Ukraine initiative,” the government of Japan and the United States of America (Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration) as well as the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

Volodymyr Bosak, 58, a resident of Maryinka, recounted his experience. “Our residential house was damaged by shelling five years ago. We were not able to repair it due to lack of money. I am the only one who receives a pension. My wife is unemployed and is not yet entitled to a pension. All this time we have lived in the small and ill-equipped ‘garden house,’ which is very cold in winter. We are extremely grateful for helping us have a home again.”

Shelter assistance in Ukraine provides durable solutions for displaced people and returnees, while at the same time addresses new emergency needs in areas along the contact line. Working with different international and national partners, UNHCR has supported over 21,000 repairs since the beginning of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“The shelter project shows how effective and swift international humanitarian assistance can be during a complex emergency that might overwhelm the local authorities and civil society who might not be able to respond as quickly as needed. We strongly believe in the resilience of Ukrainians, and we are sure that national efforts of the government of Ukraine to support the shelter needs is the right way forward,” said Pablo Mateu, UNHCR representative in Ukraine.

As the NRC’s shelter program comes to a close, the detailed damage assessment report for the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts will be handed over to regional authorities. In Donetsk oblast, local authorities together with the State Emergency Service of Ukraine have allocated more than 22 million hrv to provide repairs to more than 1,200 households since 2018. This intervention will continue in 2020.