Returnees to Syria compound challenging disaster response effort – FCA is supporting the survivors of the Syria earthquake with warm clothes and cash distributions
Syrian families who lost their homes in the recent earthquake have already spent weeks in temporary shelters. FCA is responding to the most urgent needs, while also continuing essential school rehabilitation work.
FINN CHURCH AID’S(FCA) emergency aid distributions in Syria are in full operation with 4,000 adults and children in the Aleppo area reached by mid-March. Families who lost their homes in the devastating earthquake received warm winter clothes and hygiene items.
“We received the aid packages just in time. The classrooms are cold. We don’t have enough clothes or mattresses for my children to feel warm,” described a mother in Aleppo, who received aid at the end of February.
The family are currently living in emergency accommodation at a local school.
The series of earthquakes that started on February 6, 2023 caused enormous destruction not only in Turkey but also in Syria, where the humanitarian situation was already difficult due to the 12-year war.
Lia Mohamad al-Hayek was born on February 6, the same day that the earthquake shook Syria and Turkey. Lia has spent the first weeks of her life in emergency accommodation together with her mother, father and two siblings. In the photo, Lia is in the arms of Anadel, an FCA employee.
The earthquakes killed at least 6,000 people in Syria. According to estimates, more than 100,000 families have had to leave their homes.
Around 50,000 families are living in temporary shelters and with local families in in Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Latakia where FCA is active. The situation is the most severe in Aleppo and Latakia.
Life is cramped in emergency accommodation
Karam Sharouf, FCA’s Syria program manager, has spent a lot of time on the ground in Aleppo. He says that five weeks after the earthquake, the conditions are still extremely difficult.
“There is a huge lack of resources in international aid to Syria. We need more funding,” says Sharouf.
In Syria, the humanitarian situation is also challenging because the regional resources, for example in terms of education and healthcare, have long been insufficient. When fighting subsided, people started to return to their homes. In short, the earthquake got people moving again and this brings with it increased demand for support.
“Many Syrians who fled the war to Turkey have now returned to the Aleppo region. There have been Syrian refugees in Turkey in Kahramanmaraş and Antakya. Their homes were destroyed. According to estimates, there have been tens of thousands of returnees to Syria after the earthquake,” Sharouf describes.
Families who have lost their homes live in cramped emergency accommodation in Syria. Families sleep side by side on mattresses pushed together on the floor. There is no privacy. It’s not always possible for the female population to have their own toilets and washing facilities in the shelter.
“More than 60 people could be staying in one room,” Sharouf describes.
Ward (right) from FCA talks to a family in emergency accommodation in Aleppo. The family lost their home and have no savings to rent a new home. The mother is expecting her fourth child, and the wheelchair serves as a stroller for the youngest in the family.
Cash assistance helps those who have lost their livelihood
FCA has so far granted a total of 400,000 euros from its disaster fund to help earthquake victims in the Aleppo region and western Syria. Supplies are still being distributed.
The families will soon also receive cash assistance from FCA. With the help of cash, families can buy the things they need: for example, food, clothes or hygiene items.
“A large number of people have lost their means of livelihood. We support 350 families in Aleppo and Latakia with cash distributions,” says Sharouf.
Young people do not see their future in Syria
Millions of people in Syria were in need of humanitarian aid even before the earthquake. One humanitarian disaster after another has made life difficult. According to Sharouf, Syrians are really frustrated.
“Young people are now trying to travel abroad to get a future for themselves. There is no solution to the war, the economic situation is getting worse, and people don’t have jobs. In addition, health care and the school system are in a weak state”, he says.
FCA‘s work in Syria has for years focused not only on meeting the basic needs of people living in difficult situations, but also on supporting the country’s education sector.
We rehabilitated schools damaged during the war and train teachers in addition to organising. remedial education and extracurricular activities for children. Our work also focuses on psychosocial support, the needs of which have increased in the aftermath of the earthquake.
In 2023, FCA will perform rehabilitation work in up to 77 Syrian schools which have suffered damage during the war and earthquake.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Photos: FCA Syria Country Office
More information and contacts for journalists:
FCA Country Director for Syria, Mazen Khzouz (English and Arabic), firstname.lastname@example.org
FCA Executive Director, Tomi Järvinen (English and Finnish), email@example.com, tel. +358(0)40 641 8209
FCA Manager of International Communications (English), Ruth Owen, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358(0)504097848
“It is vital to aid the disaster area quickly” – FCA grants another 200,000 euros to help earthquake-struck Syria
“In this situation, it is absolutely vital to make humanitarian aid accessible to the people affected by the earthquake, by all means necessary,” says Mazen Khzouz, the Finn Church Aid Country Director in Syria.
IN THE EARLY morning of February 6th, the most destructive earthquake in the region’s history struck Turkey and Syria. In Syria, one of Finn Church Aids programme countries, it is estimated that six million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid following the earthquake.
This week, Finn Church Aid (FCA) has allocated another instalment of 200,000 euros from its disaster fund, to help the people affected by the earthquake in Syria. A total of 400,000 euros will be used for the emergency aid work initiated by the FCA’s Syrian Country Office.
Northern Syria is currently experiencing a cold winter. According to the latest figures, the magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 earthquakes drove tens of thousands of families away from their homes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, reports that at least 18,500 families have been accommodated in schools and other temporary shelters. 12,600 of the families are located in Aleppo, which is one of the areas that was struck hardest by the earthquake.
In a humanitarian crisis like this, it is vital that aid reaches those in need as quickly as possible. The winter cold makes the need for help even more urgent. Since the earthquake struck unexpectedly, early in the morning, the people who fled their homes did not have time to prepare or pack. Amongst the people whose houses are still seemingly intact, many are afraid to return home. They fear buildings collapsing because of structural damage and the danger of new earthquakes.
“In this situation, it is absolutely vital to support the people affected by the earthquake with humanitarian aid by all possible means, and proving them with equipment needed to survive the winter,” says Mazen Khzouz, the Finn Church Aid Country Director in Syria.
“Such equipment includes warm clothes for children and adults, blankets, flashlights, mattresses and shelters.”
During the past week, Finn Church Aid has assessed the situation and visited temporary accommodation facilities in Aleppo and Hama.
Millions of people in Syria were already in need of humanitarian aid before the earthquake in February, due to the war and the violence that has been raging for more than a decade. FCA has been working in Syria since 2017, providing humanitarian aid. The Country Office was established in Damascus in 2019, and before the earthquake FCA’s work revolved around on supporting children’s access to school and education.
“The humanitarian crisis caused by the earthquake highlights the already existing vast need for aid in Syria, and increases the suffering of the most vulnerable population,” says Khzouz.
Finn Church Aid is one of the few international aid organizations operating in Syria. That is why the decision to start the aid operation was made swiftly. The emergency created by the earthquake has also prompted the Finnish people to help.
“With the donations given to us, we will be able to support the most vulnerable people in the Syrian crisis. A quick response in disasters like these is very important. It is potentially life-saving,” says Finn Church Aid Executive Director Tomi Järvinen.
The dire needs of the Syrian people have touched the hearts of private Finnish citizens and churches alike. The Helsinki and Espoo congregations have, amongst others, donated to the FCA emergency aid fund in order to help the Syrians.
“We kindly want to thank every donor. Every euro counts. The destruction in Syria is enormous. When you take the pre-existing humanitarian crisis into account, the area will be in need of aid for a long time,” says Järvinen.
Pictures from the regions Hama and Aleppo in Syria.
FCA Country Director for Syria, Mazen Khzouz (English and Arabic), email@example.com FCA Executive Director, Tomi Järvinen (English and Finnish), firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358(0)40 641 8209 FCA Manager of International Communications (English), Ruth Owen, email@example.com, tel. +358(0)504097848
Devastating earthquake hits FCA programme country Syria – winter cold increases need for urgent response
FCA has allocated 200,000 Euros from its disaster fund to help children and their families affected by the earthquake in Syria.
THE MAGNITUDE 7.8 earthquake that occurred early Monday morning on February 6 has caused enormous destruction in the northern parts of Syria and Turkey. The earthquake has caused buildings to collapse and the number of dead and injured is feared to rise due to people trapped in the ruins.
According to information so far, more than 4500 people have been reported dead in Syria, an FCA programme country. The number of injured is significantly more.
Winter conditions prevail in northern Syria at the moment with extremely cold temperatures. Due to the danger of buildings collapsing, many people who fled the earthquake now have to stay outside. At this stage of humanitarian aid work, it is important to deliver to earthquake survivors supplies that help them survive the winter, for example: warm clothes, blankets and shelter.
“Here in Syria, the need is great for a coordinated emergency response. We are closely monitoring the situation with our partners and putting together a swift response based on actual needs and priorities,” said Mazen Khzouz, FCA Syria Country Director in Damascus.
FCA’s work in Syria is also located in the earthquake-affected areas of Aleppo, Idlib, Hama and Al-Raqqa. FCA focuses on repairing schools and returning children and young people to school.
“Of course, our ongoing work in educational projects will continue and we are in touch with families in the areas the earthquake struck to make sure they are well and can get any help they need,” continues Khzouz.
FCA has been working directly in Syria since 2019 providing access to quality education to children and for a decade prior through local partners.
“It’s shocking that in addition to all the global crises that are already going on, a situation like this occurs, which affects thousands of people,” says FCA Executive Director, Tomi Järvinen.”
“FCA has the opportunity to help, because we already work in these areas. In the initial phase, we will respond to acute needs and, as soon as possible, ensure that children’s education continues,” states Järvinen.
More information and contacts for journalists:
FCA Country Director for Syria, Mazen Khzouz (English and Arabic), firstname.lastname@example.org
FCA Executive Director, Tomi Järvinen (English and Finnish), email@example.com, tel. +358(0)40 641 8209
FCA Manager of International Communications (English), Ruth Owen, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358(0)504097848
“I am already eager to try out all these new techniques in practice” – 71 Ukrainian teachers and psychologists honed their skills on how to deal with trauma
School is an important meeting place where children can get help dealing with issues that weigh on their minds. That’s why we train Ukrainian teachers and school psychologists on psychosocial skills.
71 TEACHERS and school psychologists received training on mental health and psychosocial skills in the Chernihiv region of northern Ukraine. Finn Church Aid organised the training in cooperation with the local educational authorities.
The trainer was the experienced psychologist, consultant Koen Sevenants. The two-day training included lectures, discussions, role-plays and group work. The goal was to strengthen the readiness of staff working in Ukrainian schools to deal with children and young people who have had to go through traumatic experiences due to the ongoing war.
“What is valuable here is that we work with a coach who is an understanding person with experience internationally from working with people, particularly children, of different backgrounds who have gone through various traumatic events,” explains psychologist Liudmyla Lozova, who participated in the training.
The training covered the effects of trauma on children and adults. Trained teachers and school psychologists were introduced to different tools, which they can later use in their own work.
”The information is conveyed in a manner that’s very easy to perceive. I am already eager to try all these new techniques out in practice,” Lozova continues and says that she has already found similar trainings useful in her own work.
Psychologist Iryna Lisovetska says that she has been working as a volunteer psychologist ever since conflict started in the Donbass region in 2014. She has already worked with, for example, internally displaced children, soldiers and the families of fallen military personnel.
”Now, having gone through the war personally, having spent some time under shelling and bombardments, we empathise with those people we are assisting much better. Both adults and children,” Lisovetska reflects.
She says that she participated in the training because she believes that the new skills will be useful later in her work of responding to the trauma created by the ongoing war.
Missile strikes hit the area during the training
Education in emergencies is at the core of FCA’s work. Children and young people who live in the middle of conflicts benefit from the continuity and sense of belonging that schools bring to their everyday life.
School is also an important meeting place, where children can find support from adults and seek help in dealing with stressful issues. That is why it is important that school staff – such as teachers and psychologists – have adequate tools to address trauma.
Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine, who followed the training on site, says that based on the feedback, the participants were very satisfied with the training and its contents.
“The atmosphere was good, and the feedback was 99 percent positive. We are still going through the feedback, but at first glance the participants seem very satisfied,” he said.
The invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 and has lasted for more than four months. There are currently no Russian troops in the Chernihiv area, but Russia carried out missile strikes in the area during the training.
“One participant had to leave the training in tears because her home was on fire. In addition, the home of one local staff member from FCA was damaged in the attack in the nearby Desna area,” Georis describes.
Finn Church Aid and the city of Chernihiv recently signed a cooperation agreement, thanks to which educational work can continue in the Chernihiv region in northern Ukraine. In the next phase of the education response work, summer activities, such as sports, arts and games, will be organised for up to 15.000 children in the area. For this FCA has ensured that teachers will be trained to also respond to children who have further need of psychosocial support.
According to Ukrainian estimates, bombings have destroyed and damaged more than 1,800 schools. The students are currently on summer vacation, but classes are supposed to start again in September.
FCA granted 400,000 euros to assist East Africa suffering from a food shortage — Up to 600,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia
The worst drought in four decades along with inflation and problems with the availability of imported cereals (accelerated by the war in Ukraine) are causing the food shortage in the Horn of Africa. Within a short time, the price of a grocery shopping basket has risen by 36% in Somalia.
EAST AFRICA has been hit by the worst drought in four decades. The extreme weather caused by climate change has impacted Somalia, the eastern parts of Ethiopia and northern Kenya in particular. These regions have not seen normal seasonal rain for almost two years.
According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), up to a quarter (approximately 4.1 million) of the Somali population need urgent humanitarian food aid. By some NGO estimates, this figure is over six million people. In Kenya, more than two million people need food aid. According to estimates by experts, up to 600,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition in Kenya and Somalia. As the drought continues, the humanitarian disaster is expected to grow and spread.
Drought is not the only factor affecting the food shortage in Somalia and Kenya; rather, what is at stake is a multiple crisis which has been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well. As much as 90 per cent of the cereals consumed in Somalia are imported from Ukraine and Russia. Since February, the price of wheat has risen in Somalia by as much as 300 per cent.
In April, Finn Church Aid (FCA) granted 400,000 euros for a humanitarian relief operation in Kenya and Somalia. Now we have started our operation.
Food prices sky-rocketed after the war broke out in Ukraine
Ikali Karvinen is the country Director of FCA Somalia. He has been following very closely the dramatic impact of inflation on the price of food and the effects of drought on the food crisis.
“Because of inflation, the price of food has gone up by 30 per cent,” he says. “The same goes for the price of fuel.”
The price of essential foods like cooking oil, maize, millet, sesame seeds, peas and beans has even doubled in places. Approximately 70 per cent of the Somali population lives below the poverty line, meaning people live on less than two euros a day. As the value of money falls due to inflation, the little money will buy even less of anything: for example, food. Indeed, inflation combined with drought has been estimated to impact the lives of up to six million people in Somalia.
“While the climate crisis is greatly impacting especially East Africa, this particular spring the war in Ukraine is impacting food and energy inflation possibly the most,” says Director Karvinen. “So, here we now have two major crises overlapping each other.”
He continues by saying the nomadic shepherd population in Somalia is currently in a very dire situation. The drought is killing the cattle and along with their cattle, families are losing their livelihoods. The threat for Somalia is that a situation like the 2011 famine will repeat itself.
In response to this humanitarian crisis, FCA began distributing cash aid. This is a fast and humane way of helping which saves on the cost of logistics.
“Cash aid works as long as there are markets, be they shops or marketplaces, where people can buy food and other basic supplies and where money has some value,” Director Karvinen explains.
The falling value of money can become a problem for cash aid distributions, however.
“If inflation continues to rise at this rate, we will face some serious questions,” Director Karvinen continues. “Will it make sense to continue with cash aid or will we be forced to start distributing food at some point?”
Food distributions demand logistics
Food distribution demands logistics. In Somalia, the process can be hindered by the security situation which is currently extremely bad according to Director Karvinen. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is also continuing to spread in East Africa.
By mid-summer, the humanitarian operation of FCA will seek to distribute cash aid to the areas most affected by the food shortage; this will include 700 Somali and 600 Kenyan households. The operation aims to reach especially those families who have had to leave their homes due to the disaster and those most threatened by malnutrition. Households that rely on widowed women or children for their subsistence are at the very heart of FCA relief work.
Ikali Karvinen, Country Director for Somalia, ikali.karvinen[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, WhatsApp +358 40 509 8050, tel. +252 617 234 597.
“Most mothers are here alone with their children” — Ukrainian teacher Erika Pavliuk already misses her blackboard, but first she helps refugees staying at the school
When Russia attacked Ukraine, English teacher Erika Pavliuk sent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school. Pavliuk helps internally displaced people who’ve fled other parts of Ukraine by offering a bed, warmth, and food.
“I HEARD the news from my husband. He was surfing on the internet and said the words that will always play in my head: our country has been attacked.”
English teacher Erika Pavliuk sits in her empty classroom in Berehove in eastern Ukraine, near the border with Hungary, and runs over the events of an early Thursday morning. It was 24 February 2022, and Russia had begun a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
Pavliuk says that she, in disbelief, dismissed the news at first. The family members continued with morning routines in uncertainty. Their 5-year-old daughter was taken to daycare, and unaware of what was really happening, Pavliuk headed to her workplace in the local school.
In the first class of the day, the teacher was standing in front of her 12-year-old pupils in the classroom. The atmosphere was dreary.
“I remember a boy sitting in class looking really pale. His nose started to bleed. I told the pupils to put their books aside and decided to just talk about what the children were most worried about. Practically, my pupils were afraid of being killed soon,” Pavliuk recalls.
After the first class on Thursday, the school received instructions from authorities. Teaching had to be suspended and all pupils were to be sent home.
“The daycare of my daughter also rang me to say that she must be picked up immediately. As soon as I arrived, the children had already been evacuated from the building. They were waiting for their parents outside, and at that moment nobody knew what would happen next.”
A few of weeks later, we already know a little more about what would happen in the coming months. In March, Russia would carry out missile strikes against the most strategically important targets in western Ukraine as well, but the most destructive battles would take place elsewhere in the country.
In early April, already four million Ukrainian refugees would have crossed the border to neighbouring countries. On top of this, western Ukraine would receive an immense number of internally displaced people.
From a teacher to a volunteer
As the war went on, Pavliuk, her colleagues, and other residents of the small town of Berehove began to understand the situation. Refugees from other parts of Ukraine started to arrive at the school already at the end of February.
In a matter of days, the entire town of Berehove set out to help those fleeing war. The teachers, school cooks, and other members of staff started volunteering. Pavliuk and her colleagues went through donations, organised things on behalf of refugees arriving at the centre, and helped them with whatever issues they might face.
The days were long for everyone, and there was no time for days off. Pavliuk says that time went by fast.
“The energy just came from somewhere. People needed help. I didn’t feel tired during the day, but when I went home, I fell asleep immediately when my head hit the pillow.”
The school soon became an important hub, as it was possible to prepare food for large crowds in its big kitchen. In normal times, 300 pupils go to the school.
“During the first days, some refugees only stayed at the shelter for a few hours, took a shower, and ate something. After that, they continued towards the border. We didn’t know what direction the situation would take,” Pavliuk says.
The school can accommodate approximately 80 refugees in bunk beds in the rooms previously used by school students. As the fighting dragged on, some of the refugees stayed at the shelter for weeks. Hungarian Interchurch Aid, a partner organisation of Finn Church Aid, provided the kitchen with new refrigeration equipment, numerous food deliveries, and a washing machine for the utility room.
Fathers stay on the front line
As a volunteer, Pavliuk has heard stories from various families fleeing fighting, and she feels moved recalling them. Many of those who’ve stayed at the shelter for longer don’t intend to cross the border to Hungary unless they absolutely have to. Many plan on returning home or at least as close to it as possible. Pavliuk understands them.
“Every morning I wake up feeling thankful for having had a peaceful night here (in western Ukraine). I have grown up here, I was born here, my parents and many generations before them have lived here. I can’t even begin to imagine leaving my home and my town just because some aggressor forces me to do so.”
Pavliuk deems witnessing the everyday life of mothers and children at the shelter particularly difficult.
“Most of the mothers are here alone with their children. Normally they live closely together with their husbands, and now the men are in the army. My heart hurts just thinking about them having to look after their children in a place they don’t really know. There are eight people living in each room, and they don’t know these people, even if now they’re slowly getting to know each other.”
Pavliuk sees a silver lining in the crisis: she says that the war and the consequential refugee crisis have made people work together in unprecedented ways. Just like Pavliuk, many people living in the border town of Berehove are citizens of two countries and cultures, and cohabitation hasn’t always been easy.
“I’m Hungarian by nationality, but I’ve lived on the Ukrainian side all my life, so I’m also Ukrainian. There have been disagreements between Hungarians and Ukrainians as well as other minorities in this area. I feel like things are no longer like that.”
Remote teaching started after pausing for weeks
Pavliuk says that before the war, people in her school were already looking forward to returning to business as usual after a long pandemic. Due to the war, the state of emergency in the school has continued. Already knowing how to teach and study remotely came in handy in late March, when the pupils in Berehove returned to remote teaching after a three-week break.
The children at the refugee shelter have been able to sign up for classes in Ukrainian schools in the town or continue studying with their own classes if their schools have been able to provide teaching. The children log in on classes in the computer classroom at the shelter.
Pavliuk’s Hungarian-speaking pupils stayed at home, as their school was still full of refugees. During the day, Pavliuk works at the shelter, and in the evenings, she prepares her English classes for the following day. She seems moved when she talks about her 12 to 18-year-old students.
“They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.”
She already knows that some pupils have fled from Ukraine to Hungary and they won’t be coming back to her classes. Pavliuk takes a deep breath and looks around in her own empty classroom. What is her biggest wish?
“To be able to teach normal classes. I want to write on that blackboard and…,” she hesitates for a moment and starts laughing tiredly, “…yell at my students for not having done their homework.”
Worst drought in forty years and aid cuts causehunger for millions in East Africa
The worst drought in forty years is hitting East Africa, pushing many in the region to the brink of famine. Despite the situation, governments across the Europe, including Finland, are cutting funding from development budgets and reallocating it to Ukraine. Tackling one crisis at the cost of another is not a sustainable solution.
IN KENYA, an assessment conducted by Finn Church Aid (FCA) revealed that some main water sources – rivers, boreholes, water pans and shallow wells – have insufficient water for both humans and livestock. Many boreholes are already dry, forcing people to travel over seven kilometers to collect water. Almost one million head of livestock have died in Garissa county in Kenya.
In Somalia, armed clashes, terrorist attacks, growing prices of food commodities are increasing the hardship caused by the drought.
“Aid actors are afraid that violence is making access to hard-to-reach communities even more limited, even to assess what the needs are, and we fear the worst,” said Ikali Karvinen, FCA Country Director, Somalia.
Climate change is a man-made crisis
FCA is assisting people in Kenya and Somalia with cash transfers, particularly to families without adult members or those headed by pregnant or lactating mothers, which will allow these people to buy food until the rainy season. However, the World Food Programme reports that 13 million people are facing acute food insecurity and severe water shortages in East Africa.
“This is another man-made crisis, just like Ukraine, except that the cause of the drought is climate change,” said Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, FCA. “Those of us who still remember the famine in Ethiopia in the ‘80s are haunted by it. This is a similar event across a larger scale, but we have the means to prevent the suffering that the ‘80s famine caused.”
While climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of weather events, the funding needed to aid those who suffer is decreasing. Simultaneously, governments in Europe are reallocating funding to Ukraine. In 2017, 10% of development funding from Finland was spent on humanitarian programmes. In 2022, it is anticipated to be only 7% with the Finnish government planning to further slash aid levels for 2023.
Tackling one crisis while increasing instability somewhere else is not a sustainable solution. Concurrently these decisions seriously harm the relations created with developing countries.
“Developed countries, those who are largely responsible for climate change, must take responsibility for this. We must help those who are suffering because of it,” said Hemberg.
Just a month ago Dmitriy, 5, was playing with his friends. Now, the phone is alerting his family about air strikes in Ukraine
Four weeks of war, and over three million people have fled across the borders of Ukraine. A Ukrainian mother believes the next two months are crucial; she must be able to find work and send her kids to school. Finn Church Aid is helping refugees from Ukraine together with a Hungarian partner organisation.
“I HAVE SWEETS and a bottle of water, and here’s my cat. In Ukraine, I had a real cat, too,” says 10-year-old Maryanna whilst unzipping her light-coloured backpack in a playroom for refugee children set up at the airport in Budapest.
Maryanna takes out a pencil case and opens it. It’s full of colourful wristbands, necklaces, and rings. She has been busying herself with making baubles during her almost three-week long escape from Odessa in the south of Ukraine to Budapest, Hungary.
Maryanna, her sister Yelizaveta (5), mother Vironika, and grandmother Svetlana left their hometown soon after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
During the first three weeks of the war, more than three million Ukrainians have fled to the surrounding countries, 1.5 million of them children. On top of this, there’s an immense number of internally displaced refugees within Ukraine, who’ve tried to make their way from the eastern parts of the country to the west.
It was a long way to Budapest from where Maryanna (10) and Yelizaveta (5) are from in Ukraine. The two sisters have only packed their most loved toys before fleeing the war. It was a long way to Budapest from where Maryanna (10) and Yelizaveta (5) are from in Ukraine. The two sisters have only packed their most loved toys before fleeing the war.
Some of them have found a place to stay with friends and family, some spend the nights at refugee shelters, and some are waiting for a lift at airports and railway stations. Many have left their homes in a hurry and packed only the most essential items.
“I packed everything myself. And by the way, I’ve made this myself, too,” Maryanna says, proudly pulling out of her backpack a small, dotted pillow. She says she laid hear head on the pillow again last night, when the family was travelling from Krakow to Budapest airport. The journey was long, but Maryanna tells she had a good night’s sleep. She describes having curled into a ball on two seats, her head on her self-made pillow.
A bed, food, and something to drink
There’s another family in the playroom for refugee children at the airport. Mother Kate Pugachova and her sons Daniil (8) and Dmitriy (5) are playing Uno.
Kate says the family had spent the previous night in a makeshift bed in the corner of the playroom. There are other facilities with beds for refugees at the airport.
“However, last night there were a lot of small children crying and making noise,” Kate says. She points at the blue-coated workers of the Hungarian Interchurch Aid, FCA’s partner organisation, who helped them set up a bed in a calmer environment.
“We don’t have to pay for anything, which is extremely important in this situation. The organisations here are doing so much to help people. They’re playing with the kids and offering food and drinks. We can rest and sleep. That’s of huge and important help to refugees. I’m actually pretty surprised about all this support,” Kate says, visibly moved.
“Just look at them. They’re laughing and playing,” she says, pointing at the children bustling around.
The journey has been long. Kate and the boys left their home in Dnipro on 8 March, and they’ve been on the road and staying with friends for nine days already. Kate says that she had listened to the air raid alerts for four or five days before she made the decision to leave. The boys had already learned to go to the bathroom for cover when they heard the sound.
“I was sitting in my kitchen with friends when we heard yet another alert. That day it lasted for three hours,” she describes.
The following day Kate left with her boys. A few days later they were reading news about air strikes in their hometown.
“I give myself two months”
Daniil and Dmitriy are giggling and piling up colourful blocks to build a tower in the corner of the playroom. By accident, they place a blue and a yellow block next to each other, and for a moment, the highest part of the tower boasts the colours of Ukraine.
Kate is glad to see the boys busy. Fortunately, they didn’t need to witness nor experience the destruction of the war in their hometown, but they’ve seen photos and videos of the aftermath from all around Ukraine.
According to Kate, the children don’t quite understand the situation. The activities in the playroom at the Budapest Airport have made the morning easier for the mother. What seems to concern the boys most at the time of the interview is the flight ahead.
“It’s their first. They’ve been asking the entire morning when, when, when, when is the time to board,” Kate says, shaking her head.
Daniil, Dmitriy and Yelizaveta enjoy the Budapest airport child-friendly space FCA have created together with their Hungarian partner HIA. Daniil, Dmitriy and Yelizaveta enjoy the Budapest airport child-friendly space FCA have created together with their Hungarian partner HIA.
The family is headed towards Turkey, where friends are waiting. They’re promised to let Kate and the boys stay for a month or two.
“I’ve decided to give myself two months,” Kate says.
After that, she’ll have to make a decision. Either she’ll get her documents sorted, look for a job in Turkey, and send her children to a Russian-speaking school – or return to Ukraine.
Her older son Daniil is on his second year of school already, but his schooling was cut short when the war started. The teacher has given classes remotely on Zoom every now and then, and Daniil has taken part, depending on the circumstances and connections.
School books were left behind in Dnipro, but the boy has used a notebook for his assignments. Kate deems education important but also says that it’s not the most pressing matter on her mind right now. First, she’ll need to find a safe place for her family, so she can give her mind a moment of rest.
Schools suffer from war
The impact of the war on children’s schooling is immense. Classes haven’t been run normally in Ukraine after the war started. Almost 500 schools in Ukraine have suffered damages due to bombing and shelling, and according to estimates, 69 of them have been completely destroyed. Maryanna, the girl who showed us the contents of her backpack, says she already misses going to school. She speaks excellent English and says English and math are her favourite subjects. She misses her friends the most.
“I have a lot of friends in Odessa, but now my best friend is in Germany.”
Maryanna’s teacher, too, organises remote teaching on Zoom. Maryanna has taken part in the classes as best she can, but it hasn’t always been possible. The long escape took the family first from Odessa to Lviv in western Ukraine, then Krakow and on to Budapest.
After the interview, Maryanna, her sister, mother, and grandmother are going to fly to Bulgaria, where their plan is to settle by the coast of the Black Sea for a while. Her father and grandfather are waiting for the women of the family.
Maryanna believes the family will return to their home in Odessa eventually. “But it’s a good idea to go to Bulgaria, because our Black Sea is there. There we’ll be close to Ukraine.”
An entire life in a single suitcase
A few hours later, Maryanna’s little sister Yelizaveta and Kate’s boys Daniil and Dmitriy are sitting in the corner of the playroom, playing with phones. The phone in the hand of 5-year-old Dmitriy vibrates, and he takes it to his mother.
“An air alert in Ukraine,” Kate reads, shaking her head, and gives the phone back to her son.
Kate opens the suitcase slightly and takes out a toothbrush and toothpaste. She nips to the airport loo to brush her teeth, puts the boys’ Crocs sandals in a plastic bag, and closes the suitcase.
Many families fleeing Ukraine are heading to friends and family living in the neighbouring countries.Many families fleeing Ukraine are heading to friends and family living in the neighbouring countries.
Kate has packed some of the family’s things in two plastic bags, because everything packed in just one suitcase exceeded the airline’s weight limit for luggage. In total, the luggage for the three-strong family – a suitcase and two plastic bags – weighs to the tune of 30 kilograms.
Soon it’s time to go. The boys put on their coats, and the family heads towards passport control. Kate hugs us, and we wish them luck for the journey.
I recall her earlier words. If things take a turn for the better, Kate and the boys will return to Ukraine.
“If it’s safe, if our schools are like they used to be. They might bomb a school tomorrow. Too many schools have been targeted.”
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Photos: Antti Yrjönen
FCA is helping refugees in Ukraine and Hungary
FCA works in Ukraine and Hungary in collaboration with its partner organisation, Hungarian Interchurch Aid. By the end of March, FCA have granted 500 000 euros to support the work.
Our work is situated in Lviv and Berehove in the west of Ukraine. Additionally, we offer support in the Hungarian village of Barabás, refugee shelters in Budapest, and the playroom for children at the international airport in Budapest.
We offer humanitarian emergency aid to families who’ve left their homes. In practice, this means food, drink, and hygiene products. The aid is delivered to local refugee shelters and offered at border crossings between Hungary and Ukraine.
In addition to urgent immediate aid, we are currently working on providing refugee children with opportunities to continue their schooling.
Finn Church Aid expands operation to aid people displaced by war in Ukraine
Finn Church Aid (FCA) announced on Monday that they are scaling up their response to the war in Ukraine by deploying staff in Ukraine and neighbouring countries and expanding their programs beyond immediate aid.
IN RESPONSE to the war, which has forced over three million people to flee Ukraine, FCA announced plans for a multi-country response that includes the deployment of staff to the Ukraine and Hungary. Currently, FCA supports Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) who is assisting people in Hungary, the Transcarpathia region and in Lviv with food, water, hygiene items and life-saving medical equipment.
“Finns have donated generously to our response to aid those who have been affected by the war in Ukraine and we are responding now and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Our experience serving refugees in other countries, particularly in education, will be invaluable in assisting those inside and outside Ukraine, especially women and children,” says Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director, FCA.
15,254 people have already been assisted by the joint efforts of FCA and HIA by the delivery of seven million euro of life-saving medical equipment to Western Ukraine and 278 metric tons of food and other essential items to a number of locations where displaced people are located. HIA has established reception centres for those who have fled the conflict, both on the Hungary-Ukraine border and in Budapest.
“Some of these people have left their home in ten or twenty minutes – they have left everything behind. Their journey to Lviv and further has taken 24 hours or more. Some of the families have been living in shelters for days, even weeks. Their needs at the moment are acute – they are hungry, thirsty and exhausted,” says Ulriikka Myöhänen, FCA spokesperson, who has visited Lviv and other areas in Ukraine in the past week.
FCA is assessing more partners in countries hosting refugees from Ukraine
Staff from FCA will work in Hungary and Ukraine to support HIA with the management of the response, education in emergencies and communications. FCA is also assessing other partners so that they can expand their operations into other countries that are hosting refugees from Ukraine.
“We pray that peace will come soon but, even if it does, the war has already taken an unimaginable toll on Ukraine and its people. As experts in education, one of the things that we can do is ensure that children continue their education and we aim to find ways to do this for children who have been displaced by this conflict,” says Hemberg.
“All of them worry about the future, how to earn a living and how to get their children to school again,” says Myöhänen.
International Communications Specialist Melany Markham melany.markham[at]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi +45 9194 26709
FCA spokesperson Ulriikka Myöhänen ulriikka.myohanen[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi +358 50 576 7948 (on the ground in Ukraine and Hungary)
FCA grants its first euro 1/2 million to aid Ukrainians affected by the conflict
Finn Church Aid (FCA) today pledged euro 1/2 million of its emergency response to aid displaced families in Ukraine and Hungary.
OVER ONE MILLION euro has been donated to FCA since the beginning of on the 24 February and the first part of the grant will help meet the basic needs, such as food, blankets and sleeping bags, of those affected by the conflict in Ukraine and refugees that have arrived in Hungary.
Hungary has received tens of thousands of refugees from the Ukraine. FCA funds Hungarian Interchurch Aid, which works both in Ukraine and Hungary, who is distributing 28 tonnes of food at the border area.
“There has been a profoundly generous response to our appeal for those displaced by the conflict in the Ukraine,” says Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director of Finn Church Aid.
“We are sending half of the funds raised directly to our Hungarian partner, who has established operations in Ukraine and Hungary. At the same time, we are assessing the needs of these people as to how we can help in the days and weeks to come.”
While FCA currently supports those affected by the conflict in Ukraine, it also has the capacity to meet long-term needs, such as food, sanitation, psychosocial support, education in emergencies and livelihoods through its membership of the ACT Alliance.
The need for assistance in Ukraine enormous. In a country of over 40 million people 3 million were already in need of humanitarian assistance before the current war. The United Nations refugee agency estimates that over half a million people have already crossed borders into countries neighbouring Ukraine. The need for assistance is expected to increase dramatically in the following days. Many of those who have fled describe the haste with which they left and their difficult journey.
“The women of my family have decided to take our children away from danger. We went where the car was taking us, I don’t remember most of the journey. My children were asking where are we going and I couldn’t come up with an answer. We heard that the Polish border is completely jammed, so we decided to cross the mountains and try to make it into Hungary. My sister is still on the way, I have no idea where she or my nieces are,” said Yelena, a mother of three children.
“We’ve been standing here at this border checkpoint for more than five hours, it is cold and my children are freezing. It is amazing to see that people are here to help, and even just talking to you gives us hope for a better future ,” she said.
Images of Ukrainian refugees by Antti Yrjönencan be found here -credit Finn Church Aid/Antti Yrjönen For more information or interviews, please contact Melany Markham +45 9194 2670 melany.markham[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi