Tired feet tell a story of hunger and despair in drought-affected Somalia
The Baidoa internally displaced people’s camp in the South-Central of Somalia is over-crowded. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months.
THOSE FEET. Those now muddy, and no doubt tired, feet haunt me even days after visiting the Baidoa internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp in the South-Central Somalia. Some of the people I met early November have travelled up to 120 kilometers by foot to escape drought and conflict affected areas to seek safety and simply find food. Somalia is on the brink of famine with half of the population facing extreme and even life-threatening food shortage.
The aim of my visit was to understand the current situation in Somalia’s IDP camps and the impact of drought on their lives, as well as to be able to compare the situation now to how the situation was in June during my last visit to Baidoa.
Frankly, it’s worse, and it is getting worse each week. It is now November, and it should be the rainy season. There have been some rains since Spring 2020, but that doesn’t mean the situation improves. On the contrary, limited rain can worsen conditions in IDP camps due to the potential contamination of water sources and the spread of disease like malaria. The situation has been unbearable for months now. However, the international funding has a major gap when it comes to humanitarian assistance to drought-affected Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa. There simply isn’t enough international will for funding now.
Additionally, the price of aid is rising as global inflation affects markets together with cuts to grain imports affected by the war in Ukraine. Somalia has been dependent on the Black Sea grain imports of about 90 per cent of grain used in the country. Prices have increased as much as 50 per cent in Baidoa. A lady running a small shop in the camp told me that now 500 g pasta is USD 0,60, 3 litres of cooking oil USD 7, a biscuit USD 0,10, potatoes one dollar per kilo. Transportation cost to town USD 2. We are all worried about inflation, even in Finland. The prices might not sound that bad, but we need to keep in mind: nearly 7 of 10 Somalis live in poverty, making Somalia one of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So, the looming famine is a sum of many crises. People are fleeing to IDP camps like the one in Baidoa due to the conflict and drought. The group of ladies that I spoke with told me they do not expect to go back to their homes due to their livelihood as pastoralists disappearing, due to lack of rain and often their land being taken over by terrorist groups. It would be impossible to go back right now even if a proper rain was received.
The Baidoa camp is overcrowded, too. The influx of IDPs into Baidoa camp is about 30 000–40 000 people a month. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months. Officials are worried about both security and health related issues. With so many people living in the overcrowded camp with a lack of proper hygiene, epidemics like cholera, chickenpox and measles are prone to spread uncontrollably.
Finally, the drought is dramatically affecting children. Children are in the most vulnerable position when it comes to acute malnutrition. It is children who are most likely to die during – and even now, before – the famine. A malnourished child is more likely to die because of cholera, malaria, diarrhoea – even a common cold – than a healthy, well fed child. I had an opportunity to observe ongoing treatments, including vaccinations, health assessment of children, and counselling, in the camp health center. I was told that malnutrition is an increasing problem and the clinic provides weekly observation and nutritional supplements. The clinic has already 500 patients per day (the population in the camp being 200 000).
The current crisis is not only one of immediate effect. It’s a crisis affecting the future, too. According to the Somalia education cluster, 70 per cent of the children in Somalia are currently out of school because of the drought. 250 schools are closed, and 720 000 school-aged children (45 per cent of them girls) are at risk of dropping out of school for good. Half of children in the IDP camps have no access to education. The schools inside IDP camps are overcrowded, too. My home country Finland is world famous for its education system, but how would a school in Finland survive if suddenly a school built for 400 students had an influx of 200 students on top of the 1000 students it had yesterday?
It’s not yet too late. We can still help. FCA has already been able, as one of the few NGOs in the Baidoa camp, to aid 700 households with emergency cash distributions. In the coming months we are helping 900 more, since we start also implementing our project in the drought affected region in Somaliland.
FCA leads school return project in Ukraine with €14 million EU funding
FCA’s educational work in Ukraine is progressing – schools are being renovated and teachers supported with EU co-financing of €14 million.
14 million euros of EU funding will help children return to school in Ukraine through a new project led by FCA.
The education project sees FCA receive €5.5 million from EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), while project partners Save the Children and People In Need will each receive €4.2 million. In addition, War Child Holland will benefit from an approximately €50,000 share.
“This 14 million euro funding is very important and shows the commitment of the EU to help the Ukrainian school system to get back on its feet. Sadly, it is just a first step, the needs are so large that more funding will need to be pledged in the future for every child to be able to go back to school,” says Yannic Georis, FCA’s emergency response manager in Ukraine.
School rehabilitation and well-being in focus
During the next 14 months, FCA and its partners aim to reach approximately 67,000 children, focusing on rehabilitating schools, organising temporary learning spaces and digital learning centers, psychosocial support and fostering the well-being of teachers.
“There is a lot of positive defiance and willpower throughout the education system, everyone wants to be back in a working mode. Children and teachers have a right and a need to return,” Peter Hyll-Larsen, FCA’s education expert in Ukraine, describes the situation in the country.
Hyll-Larsen highlights, however, that infrastructural damage cannot be repaired as fast as everyone would like. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, a total of 286 schools have been destroyed during the war by mid-September. In addition, 2,477 schools have been damaged in bombing and fighting.
“As some areas in the East become liberated, it is also evident that the initial efforts on mental health, psychosocial support and child protection through education remain crucial – and will remain so for months and years to come,” Hyll-Larsen says.
Schoolwork continues in an unsure situation
The new school year started in September – partly remotely and partly on-site. A condition for returning to school is that the building has functioning shelters. According to expert estimates, 59 per cent of Ukrainian schools meet this condition.
The coming school year can be challenging in many ways in many parts of the country. Due to the war and the energy crisis, schools are already preparing for the possibility that students will have to be sent home due to lack of heating.
Experts now stress that distance learning models, skills and equipment will be needed in the coming winter too. Hyll-Larsen says that the situation is at its worst in liberated areas in the East.
“These areas will face a particularly harsh winter due to very little electricity and hence also very few online learning opportunities.”
FCA equips bomb shelters and trains teachers together with a local partner
Even before receiving ECHO funding, Finn Church Aid had been working diligently to help Ukrainians since the beginning of the war.
This started with emergency aid for Ukrainians fleeing violence within and out of the country. Over the summer, FCA expanded its operations to Northern Ukraine, training local teachers and school psychologists in psychosocial skills. Together with the local partner organisation DOCCU, FCA organised summer clubs for children in the area, where children and young people could spend time together in a safe environment.
During the summer clubs, more than 20 air raid alarms were heard in the area for 30 days, during which children and young people spent hours in poorly equipped bomb shelters.
As fighting continues, FCA will continue to work with DOCCU, equipping the bomb shelters of Chernihiv schools into better learning environments. Teachers will be trained in specialised subjects, like organising lessons in war conditions, increasing interaction during distance education and how to act during air alarms.
FCA’s Ukraine office gets a new country director
In August, FCA completed the official Ukrainian registration process. As a result, Finn Church Aid now has a functioning country office in Ukraine. Patricia Maruschak will start as director of the new country office in October.
“The opportunity to work in Ukraine is really exciting to me. I have Ukrainian-Canadian background. When the invasion began, it was very upsetting. It still is very upsetting, but I feel a lot of pride in the way Ukrainians are responding,” says Maruschak.
“I think the focus on education in emergencies is so important and so needed. Good education is important to people in Ukraine, and that all has been disrupted now. I think the fact that FCA is capable of assisting the government of Ukraine, the people of Ukraine to get their education system running in such a way that works for them under these circumstances, I think it’s incredible valuable.”
FCA will stay in Ukraine, supporting teachers and actively seeking ways to make the school return possible for children. The new country director starts in her position in October.
“You’re emotionally numb! Nothing touches you anymore!” Jouni Hemberg, FCA’s Executive Director, addresses 12 claims regarding FCA and its work.
Jouni Hemberg has seen more than a fair share of humanitarian crises, and he’s been around the block a few times as a rock musician. In our interview, he addresses some tough allegations people frequently make in FCA’s social media channels.
“It’s Finland who needs the help”
Finn Church Aid, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, was founded in 1947 when post-war reconstruction began. Back then, Finland was a beneficiary, not a donor. Today, war is again raging in Europe, forcing us back towards where we started.
We are not going back in the sense that we would focus our work on Finland. Our work in Europe currently focuses on Ukraine. It is tragic that a war interrupted a long period of peace in Europe, but we hope the situation in Ukraine will not escalate and that instead, we could set our sights on reconstruction.
“You get numb to suffering”
You have decades of experience in humanitarian disasters and development work. As a young man, you witnessed the horrors Romania endured under Ceaușescu’s rule in the early 90s. Having witnessed so much suffering has made you emotionally numb, and nothing touches you anymore.
No, that’s not true. Admittedly, I have adopted a more professional role, but human suffering touches me every bit as much as it did when I was a young man. My first job in Romania was quite shocking and I saw all kinds of things, but that has happened again later in my career. The important thing is to focus on your ability to do something; not being able to do anything is devastating. I have not yet been in a situation where nothing could be done to help.
“Development cooperation creates dependency”
There is no point in pouring more money into development cooperation because nothing in this world will change for the better.
Not true. On the contrary; development cooperation in its various forms is precisely what we should spend money on. There are many alternatives available. We can offer loans to companies, or our expertise and knowledge to the beneficiary countries. Development cooperation is about working together towards common goals. Cooperation in itself is something worth striving for.
Cooperation usually results in improvements and better outcomes. Although there have been occasional setbacks, we have seen dramatic improvements: extreme poverty has halved and the number of children with access to education has increased. Development cooperation is a worthwhile investment. Two out of three Finns consider it very important or fairly important.
“Finn Church Aid beg for money everywhere”
Your employees shake their collecting boxes on every street corner and call people in the evenings, asking for donations. Because of cuts in the government’s development funding, FCA is constantly begging for money.
Yes, that’s true. With so many people in need of help, regrettably our need for new donors and donations is also growing. This is our reality. We are begging for money in more ways than one, both in Finland and in international contexts. Every single donation in Finland, no matter how small, is really important because they enable cooperation with foreign funding providers, whereas monthly donations ensure our ability to provide aid over a longer term. Without the contribution of individuals, parishes and businesses in Finland we would not be able to continue our work.
“The money flows into the pockets of the privileged”
The only people benefitting from fundraising conducted by development cooperation organisations is big shots like you. Your wallet is so thick it won’t fit in your back pocket.
Haha. It is true that my wallet is thick, but only because it’s full of receipts. But to be honest, there’s very little money or anything worth any money in it. We have discovered that our salaries are low in the sense that they are not competitive with the private sector or UN agencies.
Organisations like ours have to fight for skilled labour. In fact, there is room for improvement in this area. Everyone deserves to be paid for their work, and if you are employed full-time, you need more than ideology in return for your contribution. Sadly, I receive just as many bills by email or post as the next person.
“Wells solve the drought”
FCA’s finances are subject to both external and internal audit. Of each euro donated to us, 90 cents go directly to our programme work.
It seems unlikely that money or cash assistance could solve the drought in East Africa. Digging wells would be a better idea.
It takes more than wells to solve the drought plaguing East Africa. In some conditions, a well might offer relief in the acute crisis, but unfortunately the ground water level is so low that digging wells is becoming more difficult every year. The parched fields in East Africa desperately need rain. Considering this is the fifth consecutive failed rainy season, a well would be scant comfort. We need to address climate change and help people to cope and adapt by taking action on a wide front. For all this, we need money.
“Africans need contraceptives”
You become annoyed by comments people make on social media where they downplay the importance of education and suggest sending condoms, tractors and clothes to Africa instead.
Absolutely! How would you feel if someone made comments like that about Finland? Finland’s economy is struggling, let’s send them some condoms to solve the problem? I don’t think you would appreciate that. Equality and companionship between people is important, whether they come from the north, east, south or west. People in all corners of the world are equally valuable and deserve to be treated equally.
“Finnish companies need support”
FCA keeps sending money to its programme countries even though it would be smarter to have companies go in and start a business.
We are, as a matter of fact, strongly increasing our cooperation with the private sector. Naturally it is not our job to act as a marketing channel for Finnish companies, but we have realised that by engaging the private sector we can achieve more sustainable change. We have, for instance, offered loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, which we feel offers strong employment potential and better income opportunities. The fact that we can contribute to a process that enhances corporate responsibility, tax revenues, and environmental and climate awareness, is extremely important for us.
“FCA is just a church proxy”
Finn Church Aid is an independent foundation with close ties to the Lutheran Church. In global operations, affiliation with the church does more good than harm.
That is correct, but I think we should clarify what this affiliation entails. Although we are rooted in the Lutheran Church, religion is not a guiding element but rather the foundation, or a springboard. Today, we operate as an independent foundation. Full adherence to humanitarian principles means our humanitarian work and aid provision is completely separate from religious activities.
It is also true that in global contexts our affiliation with the church does more good than harm. Although religion plays a lesser role in Europe, in other parts of the world religions still carry great social significance. As a faith-based organisation, our doors are generally open for cooperation at various levels and in all parts of the world.
“A church organisation should be for those only who belong to the church”
It is strange that Finn Church Aid does not focus primarily on helping Christians.
We adhere to humanitarian principles. That means our mission is not limited to helping Christians; instead, we want to offer assistance to everyone in need, regardless of religion, ethnicity or political position. We firmly believe that humanitarian law and humanitarian principles provide a strong foundation for our work, and we are convinced that they help us achieve positive results.
“Companies are more useful than development cooperation organisations”
You are known as a visionary and you often talk about agility. You think FCA should operate more like a company.
That’s not entirely true. I don’t think FCA should operate more like a company, but I would welcome a combination of different elements from both sectors. Strict separation of the private sector and civil society organisations makes our cooperation more difficult and complicated. By combining the best of both worlds we could increase our efficiency and agility, which would allow us to carry out our work much more effectively than we do today.
“Rock’n’Roll life is more fun than running an aid organisation”
You like running Finland’s biggest aid organisation just fine, but you would rather become a rock musician again. In fact, you have offered to play with your band, The Streets, in upcoming charity concerts.
Haha. I do love rock music. Back in 1967 I played more professionally, but for the most part music has been something I’ve done on the side, in addition to my actual career. It’s been a while since The Streets albums were released, and not all of our original members are able to participate any more. But I can see myself playing with a band in the future. Running Finland’s largest international aid organisation is a full-time job, but perhaps I will have more time for music when I retire.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Photos: Tatu Blomqvist Translation: Leni Vapaavuori
Peer support vital for children and young people in a crisis
Summer clubs organised by Finn Church Aid gave war-affected Ukrainian children and young people a chance to go to school, play games and sports, and do arts and crafts.
IN UKRAINE, two very different realities coexist. On the pavement, pedestrians are nearly knocked over by electric scooters swooshing by, as in any European city. Children in the park are engaged in boisterous play. Adults seem to be in a hurry, perhaps on their way to work.
At first glance, nothing in central Chernihiv suggests that just months earlier, 60 per cent of the city’s 285,000 inhabitants fled to other parts of Ukraine and neighbouring countries. But things change in an instant as you go around a corner and see a neighbourhood hit by missiles.
The town of Chernihiv and the surrounding municipality in northern Ukraine have been under heavy air strikes since the offensive was launched on 24 February. In April, after the Russian troops withdrew, residents started to return. Today, almost 200,000 people live in Chernihiv.
The war closed schools, too. After the situation returned to normal, teachers did their best to make up for lost time to allow children and young people to move on to the next grade. The summer clubs organised by Finn Church Aid and its partner organisation DOCCU finally gave school children a much-awaited opportunity to have fun together.
Below, local people share their thoughts on how the summer clubs changed their daily lives.
The war has caused a great deal of stress in children and young people
Zhanna Kudina, psychologist and teacher
“I escaped from Chernihiv three weeks after the war broke out. I travelled via Lviv to the Czech Republic, where I stayed for about a month. When I heard that the situation in Chernihiv was better, I felt I had to go back. I feel very strongly that this is my home and the schoolchildren need me.
The war changed the teachers’ work dramatically. We are not just teachers anymore; we also provide therapy. I took part in a teacher training course organised by Finn Church Aid in June. During the course, we learned about mental health and psychosocial support. Although I have a background in psychology, I learned many new things about how different games and exercises can support children’s wellbeing in a crisis.
The war has caused a great deal of stress in children and young people, who react differently depending on their experiences over the last few months. Some have had to endure exhausting journeys to escape, others have lost loved ones or seen things children should never have to see. The most typical symptoms include lack of appetite, sleep disorders and difficulty concentrating.
In summer clubs, we have used various therapeutic tools, such as arts and crafts. At first, drawings were very dark-coloured, with soldiers, guns and missiles. Over the weeks, more colour, sunshine and flowers began to appear. Many have lost trust in the world, and with the clubs we try to provide them a place where they can feel safe. In one of the exercises we do, children are asked to fall backwards and trust their friend to catch them.
As a psychologist, I know that support should be offered urgently after a traumatic event. The longer children and young people have to wait, the more difficult it becomes to deal with the mental scars. But I am hopeful, because I am here now, doing something for them, and because we have received a huge amount of support from Finn Church Aid. We are deeply grateful for that.”
“I feel much better now that we do things together”
Sophia, 14, student
“The best thing about summer clubs was seeing my classmates and friends. Nothing has been completely normal for a long time. First we had to study at home a lot because of the coronavirus pandemic, and then the war began. During the attacks, we just wanted to go somewhere and hide. I’ve noticed that I feel much better now that we do things together. Working together and talking with others about how we feel and what we think has been extremely helpful.
At first I was hesitant about the clubs because I was afraid they would involve traditional lessons where teachers wanted us to get things done. But I was wrong – it’s been really relaxed here and the teachers cheer us up. They organise fun activities for us, and we play ball games. What I liked most was the discussion club, where we played democratic decision-making. We learned how to negotiate and make compromises.
Although life is more normal now, we are still afraid that something bad might happen. Many adults do voluntary work. Like them, we want to do something to make things better. When I’m here in the summer club, I feel like we are doing something for the common good.
Before the war, I had many dreams about what I wanted to do in the future. All I can think about now is that I wish we were at peace. It is difficult to focus on other dreams. Being in the company of other people my age makes it easier to put up with the situation. At home, it was much more difficult.
I hope that instead of distance learning we can soon go to school like we normally do. We just want to be together.”
“The summer clubs were a huge relief for us parents, too”
Tanya Slautina, mother
“War has touched every aspect of our lives. The worst months in Chernihiv we were isolated in our home. Fear, explosions and panic were our daily companions. Fortunately our children did not see anyone dying, but they were quiet and sullen. All we could think about was survival.
Our home is OK, but others were not so lucky. We organised a collection for clothes and other necessary items to help other families. Before the attack I worked as a bank clerk, but I left my job to be able to help my children and our community. The stress and fear brought us closer together.
We all need help with our children, and the summer clubs were a huge relief for us parents, too. Our children Anastasiya, 6, Valeziya, 10, and Maksim, 12, have been going to the summer clubs for six weeks.
Our daughters beam with pride as they show us their drawings and crafts. Our son enjoys sports. For them, having the opportunity to learn new things and become inspired is and will be extremely important. They need to be able to think about something other than the crisis, and spend time with people their own age. Seeing our children happy, playful and smiling again is the most precious thing for us parents. It gives us a strength and keeps us going.”
The summer clubs were organised in cooperation with FCA’s partner organisation DOCCU in July-August 2022. DOCCU is a professional Ukrainian NGO specialized in education and human rights.
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.
When the terror began, they fled – Finn Church Aid followed the first weeks of Ukraine’s war and how ordinary people became refugees
In spring 2022, first thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions of Ukrainians crossed the border to neighbouring countries in search of safety. Even more Ukrainians are living as internally displaced people. We documented the refugee crisis and aid deliveries on the spot for three weeks.
2 March 2022. In east Hungary, the main street of the small village of Barabás is calm, despite Europe going through its worst crisis since World War II. The border is just a few minutes’ drive away, and on the other side, in Ukraine, Russia’s brutal war of aggression is raging.
The local village house in Barabás has been turned into a refugee shelter, where Ukrainians who’ve left their homes and crossed the border can find safety. From there, they continue towards the Hungarian capital Budapest.
The refugee crisis that has resulted from the war looks somehow different to what we’re used to seeing in news images. The camps that we’ve seen in traditional refugee imagery are missing from the sides of the roads, and some people are driving to safety in their modern cars. Almost everyone has a smartphone, and their clothes are unscathed; yet still these people are running for their lives.
Inside the village house, there are tired families, to whom volunteers are serving food and drinks. The journey has been long, but the kids still have some energy left. They’re colouring at the tables, and you can hear someone giggle.
Tired families gathered inside the village house in Barabás.
Barabás, a small city with a population of 700, is located in the border area between Ukraine and Hungary. It became the first point of humanitarian aid Finn Church Aid and its sister organisation HIA – Hungary shared when the Ukraine’s war began in February.
Chop railway station
Kristina is standing outside, and her eyes seem sore from crying. The young woman has fled Russian aggression twice already. In 2014, she left her home in Lugansk in east Ukraine, and she thought she’d be able to return home after three days.
The days turned into eight years, and Kristina settled in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. In February 2022, she had to flee again, and catching an evacuation train wasn’t easy.
“People started to panic and run and push each other. There were men to whom we tried to tell that children must be protected first, then women and lastly men. Everyone was trying to save themselves,” Kristina says. She fled together with her mother and cat.
At the railway station of Chop on the Ukrainian side of the border, an elderly lady sat in a half-empty departure lounge introduces herself as Nadiya Petrovna Chiripovskaya. She says she had started her journey from the badly bombed Kharkiv.
Mrs Nadiya describes the first strikes as loud and scary. The calendar says it’s 5 March, but it’s difficult for her to remember when the journey began: “My children just took me with them.”
Many people leave the border crossing with a broken heart. Men are wiping their eyes and hugging low-spirited women and children, who are going to cross the border to Hungary and head to safety. Men of fighting age turn their cars around to cross the Carpathian Mountains, heading back to their homes and bases. No one knows when they can see their loved ones again – or whether this was a goodbye.
A scene from Berehove.
Border town school turned into refugee shelter
Although millions of Ukrainians have left their home country, an even larger number of people is living as internally displaced people within the borders of Ukraine. In the border town of Berehove, a school hosts almost 80 internally displaced Ukrainians. There are five bunks beds placed a small room, and there’s a family of five sitting on them: father Kirill, mother Ljubov, siblings Alica and Masha, and their relative Daria.
The family used to work at a theatre in Kharkiv and fled west as soon as the bombings and shelling began. Many loved ones stayed behind.
“They are hiding in basements, staying at metro stations for various days and trying to find food in inconceivable ways,” says father Kirill.
Ljubov (back in the left), Daria, Alica (front) and Masha are from Kharkiv.
The family already misses having things to do. The following day, Kirill is going to go to a job interview, and the women are planning to weave protective nets for the Ukrainian army.
The other family staying in the room has a small cat, and the animal is jumping from one bed to another. Larissa, wearing a scarf around hear head, says that it took four days for the family to reach Berehove from Kharkiv.
“We’re happy to have a warm place to sleep, we get food three times a day, we can wash ourselves and do laundry.”
Larissa has cancer. In Kharkiv, she was given treatment, but the hospital has been destroyed by bombs. Now she wonders if it would be possible to be admitted to a Hungarian hospital, but she’s hesitant. The family members would end up apart, because her partner has to stay in Ukraine.
Angel-shaped Christmas lights are watching over the streets of Lviv in Western Ukraine.
A basement in Lviv, turned into a bomb shelter during air raids.
Air raid in Lviv
On 11 March, an air raid makes children and grownups jump out of their beds in Lviv, approximately 60 kilometres from the border with Poland. The time is 5.25, when the smartphone app starts to make a wailing sound. Quilted trousers on, coat on, two flights of stairs down, and to the basement door.
Two families with children come to the bomb shelter. One of the children is sneezing and coughing; another one finds a piece of chalk and draws a heart on the foundation of the shelter. Previously someone has played noughts and crosses on the staircase.
The girl continues her work tirelessly, and soon every stair in the bomb shelter is decorated with a lilac heart.
At 7.34, the app says that the danger is over.
Later on the same day, in the buzz of the Lviv railway station, we meet Anna, shivering in the station tunnel with her mother Natalia and cat Gorkik. The ginger animal leans firmly against Anna’s chest and trembles.
One day at a time
In the outskirts of Lviv, 6-year-old boy Kyryl is leaning against a door frame with a grin on his face. He’s full of energy, and he’s jumping up and down in a room with mattresses on the floor. After fleeing Kyiv, the little rascal has spent four days in a refugee shelter at a church.
Next to him, his sister says that Kyryl probably doesn’t understand he’s escaping. Many parents tell a similar story: children see the situation as a peculiar holiday, and they continue playing whenever an opportunity arises.
Natalia Karpienko and her 9-year-old son Igor are staying in the room next door. On the bed lies the youngest guest of the shelter, Nastia. The two-month-old smells of sweet breastmilk, and she’s making happy sounds. Her small feet are kicking inside the playsuit, and there’s a white beanie on her head.
Natalia says they’ve come from the Kyiv region, near Boryspil. “When the bombings started at night, I didn’t know where to go. I was scared that our house would be destroyed. In this shelter I feel safe.”
400 meals a day
After mid-March, people have been fleeing the war for the fourth consecutive week. It’s striking to see that the border crossing between Hungary and Ukraine is now controlled by women in military outfits. Maybe all capable men are already fighting?
The border town of Berehove is full of internally displaced Ukrainians. Finn Church Aid and its sister organisation Hungarian Interchurch Aid are supporting refugees with food and material deliveries. The hardest work is done by local volunteers, who have been working around the clock for weeks to help refugees.
The kitchen at a refugee shelter set up in a school is managed by Ivonna Kobypyavska. She’s worked in the same kitchen for 27 years already, but now she’s feeding refugees instead of school children. Ivonna’s son went to fight in Kyiv, so she wanted to do something useful; hence, she continued to work in the kitchen without pay.
A school kitchen in Berehove is feeding now 400 refugees a day.
Now Ivonna and her team prepare 400 meals a day to fill the stomachs of refugees. Just a month ago, she was feeding 40 school kids. She starts her days in the kitchen at 6am and goes home at 11pm.
“But it’s not a big deal,” Ivonna notes and smiles, looking baffled. Routine, routine, the translator says Ivonna has just told us.
On the top floor of the school, there’s still the theatre family from Kharkiv we met weeks ago. Mother Ljubov is worried, because for a few days the family hasn’t been able to contact friends in Mariupol. Larissa, the cancer patient staying in the same room, has been admitted to a hospital in a nearby town. Her partner and daughter have stayed at the shelter, as has their cat Bella. Bella is walking on the bed frame and playfully pokes her paws towards the guests.
Ljubov says that her husband Kirill hasn’t managed to find work yet. The future seems hazy, but three weeks at the shelter has made the family consider what to do next. Ljubov has been toying with ideas: maybe Poland, if she can find a suitable art project. We say goodbye to the family and wish them the best of luck.
In mid-April, we receive a message. Daria from the theatre family tells us she’s gone to Italy to try her wings. The other girls of the family are in Georgia, and father Kirill has stayed in Berehove.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Photos: Antti Yrjönen Translation: Anne Salomäki
10-year-old Mariia fleed with her family from Kharkiv to West Ukrainian city Berehove. Mariia misses her school.
The war in Ukraine began on February 24th. Over 10 million people have fleed both inside and across the borders of Ukraine.
“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.
The impact of the war in Ukraine isn’t limited to Europe
The war in Ukraine not only transformed European security policy – it also has global effects that can bring about new security threats. Whilst we support Ukraine and tackle a humanitarian crisis in Europe, the wider consequences of the war must be noted, too.
By various measures, the world has taken a turn for the better in the past few decades. Economic developments, investments in public services, and development co-operation for its part have been successful. Extreme poverty has halved, an increasing number of girls go to school, and the global child mortality rate has decreased, although the differences between countries remain sizeable.
The covid-19 pandemic has undermined human development significantly, and the need for humanitarian aid around the world is at a historic high. Lengthy school closures have led to enormous learning loss particularly in developing countries, where the opportunities for providing remote teaching have been limited. In Finn Church Aid’s countries of operation, for example in Uganda, schools were closed for two years.
The war in Ukraine has raised the prices of food and fuel, which undermines food security in developing countries, already weakened by the pandemic and climate crisis. The food crisis also has an immense impact on education. Longstanding positive progress is about to grind to a halt and extreme poverty is on the rise again. An increasing number of countries are threatened by a prolonged and deepening crisis.
“Longstanding positive progress is about to grind to a halt and extreme poverty is on the rise again.”
The food crisis increases the likelihood of more and more children and young people suspending or quitting their studies. In poor households living off small-scale farming, children and young people are needed for work and making a living for their families. Girls are particularly at risk of having to drop out of school, because growing poverty leads to a rise in the number of child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
In addition, governments in Finland and some other European countries are planning cuts on development funding or reallocating funds to Ukraine. Dealing with one crisis in a way that threatens to increase instability in other nearby areas is a poor solution, as well as damaging important partnerships with developing countries.
For the European Union, building equal partnerships with developing countries, such as African states, should be an important strategic direction. In a multipolar world, developing countries can choose their partners too. Democracy, human rights and a rule-based international community are best promoted through equal partnerships. The warmer welcome to Ukrainian refugees in comparison to those from elsewhere has been noted around the world. Compare also the EU recently being unwilling to compromise on questions that African states find important, such as patent waivers on covid-19 vaccines and treatments, and migration issues.
The war in Europe only emphasises the fact that investments in education, livelihood, conflict prevention, peace work, and genuine partnerships are the most effective and affordable forms of crisis management. As a counterbalance, there is a danger of growing instability in the vicinity of Europe. This is not unavoidable, if we’re ready to invest in positive solutions.
The author is the Executive Director of Finn Church Aid.
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)