Residents of the “gray zone” eager to stay and work, we just need to support them – volunteers


Volunteers and officers of the civic-military cooperation are helping the people residing in the near-front villages in eastern Ukraine to continue living despite the continued combat actions.

Kyiv, September 29, 2016. Despite the ongoing combat actions about half of the residents remain in the towns located in the near-front zone and close to Mariupol – Chermalyk, Lebedynske and Hranitne. Biggest challenges that these people face are to repair the houses, restore the normal way of living in towns and find a job. Officers of civic- military cooperation (CIMIC) as well as civil society organizations supported by international organizations help achieve that. Representatives of the Center for social adaptation of those affected by combat actions during the ATO and Colonel Vyacheslav Bohush, Head of the Center of civic-military cooperation at the “M” sector spoke about the situation on the spot, work accomplished and current challenges talking via Skype at Ukraine Crisis media Center (UCMC). The press-conference took place as part of UCMC’s project “Spokesperson of peaceful life” supported by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany.

CIMIC units help repair infrastructure and houses, take out intact belongings

One of the work directions of CIMIC (civic-military cooperation) officers is to help people get their belongings from their houses that found themselves in the combat zone, or fix their houses. “Main problem is that the combat actions are still on. Small arms are frequently used, snipers are active in our zone, that’s why access to people’s houses is hampered,” noted Colonel Bohush. We have to provide psychological support as well. “We are preparing people before they come and see their house in ruins – we take pictures of these premises and show the photos to the owners,” he explained.

CIMIC units are also implementing the projects that deal with repair of infrastructure including water pipe systems and schools. Biggest ongoing project is construction of a bomb shelter near a school in Chermalyk where about 170 children are attending classes. CIMIC units actively cooperate with all Ukrainian and international organizations that are active in the area.

Forty seven per cent of “gray zone” residents lost their jobs, about 30 per cent want to start their micro business

“Center for social adaptation for those affected by combat actions during the ATO” works with internally displaced persons and with residents of villages located on the contact line. “Legal issues is the primary request that people turn to us with. Most acute are land issues, people often cannot start their business because of it,” said Maryna Pugachova, representative of the Center.

Employment is an issue in the “gray zone”: according to Pugachova 47 per cent of people of the working age have lost their jobs. Anzhela Zinchenko, representative of the Center, said that before the war these areas were main producers and suppliers of agricultural products to Mariupol, however for now everything is stopped. Many have to go to work in Mariupol. For those who continue farming activities it is quite uneasy to sell their products due to dependency on intermediaries and damaged roads. However residents are trying to start everything from scratch. “About 30 per cent of the rural population is ready to start their mini-businesses and they need to be supported. We are conducting training activities, help compile applications for micro-grants and there are people who have received support for their micro-businesses, these are mostly internally displaced,” noted Pugachova.

USAID supports repair works at a hospital and at a school in Lebedynske, at schools in Talakivka and Kalchyk

Volunteers of the Center have also implemented a big infrastructure renewal project in the near-front towns. It was started in spring 2016. At that time most critical situation was observed in Lebedynske: the hospital had no roof but continued providing services. Not a single window remained intact on the façade of the school (kindergarten) since two 82-mm mines exploded in its yard in spring 2015. “We addressed USAID asking to help with materials for renovation of the roof. We started the project in April, they disbursed the financing and we brought in all the materials – 900 m2 for the roof and new windows,” said Valeriy Sharamko, representative of the Center. “The windows are installed, the roof is still being repaired. The hospital will be working normally now. It is a great advantage for the village because they have direct connection neither with Mariupol nor with Volnovakha [nearest cities with hospital facilities]”. Pugachova added that about 900 people permanently reside in Lebedynske. A school in Talakivka has also been restored. In Kalchyk new equipment was installed in the boiler room, the roof is to be repaired as the next step. They are still looking for financing. Materials were provided by international partners, but repair works are being done by the communities themselves everywhere, it has united people to a large extent.

Biggest problem is lack of regular bread supply

Biggest problems of the towns in the near-front zone are ruined roads and combat actions. Supply of bread to the towns in the “gray zone” is not regular, as they got no baking facilities of their own there, explained Anzhela Zinchenko. Pugachova noted that the problem raised interest among the civil society of Mariupol, they are trying to jointly address it now.

State programs are required to resolve the problems of the “gray zone”

Volunteers point at the lack of support on the part of city and regional level councils being another problem. “We have written about 200 appeals and information queries, sent applications for 11 projects. All of them were said to be ‘cool, but we shall accept them later’. That’s why we are finding international organizations that support them,” said Pugachova. She also noted close cooperation with officers of the civic- military cooperation: “CIMIC are helping us with logistics, especially in the places that are uneasy to get to.”

Volunteers emphasized that in order to restore normal life in the near-front areas, more active and systematic work of the state is required. “People are ready to work and move on, main thing is to support them, to demonstrate readiness to help, because very often there is neither work, nor land available. These have to be state-run programs as our resources are limited,” explained Valeriy Sharamko.