Vice President at Global Communities: “Humanitarian aid and assistance in post-war reconstruction – Ukraine will need all this for a long time to come.”

Kelly Van Husen is the Vice President for Humanitarian Assistance at Global Communities, an international organization that works with communities around the world to bring about sustainable change and thereby improve their lives. Global Communities is based in Washington, DC. Ms. Van Husen’s department manages humanitarian assistance programs in Honduras, Guatemala, Syria, Yemen, and Ukraine. Last week, she visited Ukraine for the first time and got acquainted with the achievements and challenges of the de-occupied local communities of Chernihivska Oblast. The Chernihiv region communities presented the results of their cooperation with the USAID DOBRE Program and the CLEAR Program, implemented by Global Communities.

We spoke with Kelly about her impressions of her trip to Ukraine, the tasks Global Communities is currently setting in Ukraine, and what other assistance she thinks the country might need.

Ms. Kelly, what are the priorities for Global Communities in Ukraine today? And have those priorities changed since last year?

I don’t think our objectives have changed. It is better to say they have expanded. We have added more tasks and goals to what we want to provide as assistance in Ukraine.

How exactly are you helping Ukraine?

For example, we have had this DOBRE program since 2016, which supports the decentralization process in Ukraine and works closely with local government partners to work with communities on their local development. That continues to be a priority for us. And with the war, it’s even more crucial that we are working with local governments so that they can provide services to their communities. 

And now, with the war, we’ve seen the additional need for immediate emergency assistance, humanitarian assistance. For that, we have another program called CLEAR (Community-Led Emergency Action and Response), designed to work with many of the same partners we work with on DOBRE. That is aimed at working with partners but targeted at assisting people on an individual household level, individual families. For example, for particularly vulnerable cases, we provide cash assistance, repairs of private homes, etc. Another aspect of our work is additional support for women and children particularly impacted by the conflict. It’s psycho-social support and other types of assistance.

Do you help entrepreneurs and businesses?

Yes, we’re also looking at supporting entrepreneurs who maybe lost their shops or their materials were damaged by the war to help them restart their businesses. 

As for priorities, we continue to support the decentralization effort, and now we also intend to assist people during the war and help them recover after the war.

What are your impressions of your stay in Ukraine and, more specifically, in the de-occupied part of the country, in the Chernihiv region?

It’s a beautiful country – that was my first impression. And I was so impressed, particularly with these communities in Chernihiv! You could feel their strength and resilience in pushing out the intrusion and working for their people. Just very impressed by the creative way the communities have come together and worked together so closely, especially during the occupation, to help each other and their citizens. And very impressed at the action that communities had been able to take themselves to recover and to make so many repairs so quickly. What has also inspired me is the individual stories of people’s survival during the occupation and subsequent recovery. 

When you visited one of the communities, you said: “we in the US are very far from what is happening in Ukraine.” Could you expand on and explain your point?

Yes, correct. Where I am, in Washington, I hear reports from our team, from DOBRE and CLEAR. And, of course, we hear TV news of everything happening here. But to speak to people who ended up in the occupation and who had been experiencing it is totally different. You can also see the impact of the work that DOBRE has been able to do in this context. You can see it directly!

What will you tell your colleagues about Ukraine, not as a report but in individual talks?

I’ll tell them how amazing these communities are and how creative they are in trying to provide services to their people during these really challenging times. We visited the Snovska community, where, during the occupation, everything necessary was delivered by the river because it was the only way to provide residents with food and basic necessities. In another community, Koryukivska, we saw how the local government was striving to abandon gas heating and modernize boiler houses to use alternative fuels. It does inspire a lot to see the communities come together and make that kind of things happen.

Which projects implemented under the DOBRE program impressed you? What was the most memorable?

To me, one of the most interesting projects is the one with medical equipment and the improvement of healthcare services. We saw how one or two pieces of medical equipment could make such an impact on the services. We heard from all that different communities how much of a difference that made just to keep the hospitals open, to provide better screenings, to provide better maternal care, etc. There is always a need for health services, but now, with COVID and then the war, this need has only increased. 

Last question. What other assistance do you think Ukraine needs?

First, as for the work that Global Communities is doing on decentralization and humanitarian aid and trying to support recovery from war, I think Ukraine will need all this for a long time to come. 

But I will also say that I didn’t decide that Ukrainian communities need that particular type of aid. It was the communities that we talked to that determined that it was the priority. 

And I think that, concerning any other additional assistance necessary, we have to ask them – our partners, local governments, and other community partners. They know best what they need. And from the very beginning, starting with DOBRE, that’s been the process in which we’ve used to communicate with the partners, to work with them together, and decide what assistance is most needed.

Thank you for the interview and your support for Ukraine.

The interview was carried out by Oksana Yakunina, Ukraine Crisis Media Center