“This has been a lifeline for many people” – Help reaches its destination in Ukraine

Valkoisen pakettiauton vieressä kaksi miestä hymyilevät. Auto on lääkintäauto.

Fida's Ukraine collection has already raised €1 million. This will allow us to continue our support in 2023.

Fida helps people fleeing war in Ukraine as well as in the five surrounding countries. Funds donated by Finns have been used to distribute food, hygiene items, heating, clothing, and medicines. Children have been offered psychosocial support, trauma therapy, and summer camps. Crisis workers and volunteers in Hungary, Ukraine, and Moldova have been trained to provide psychosocial support. Two major outreach projects are underway, as well as several smaller outreach projects through local churches. In this article, we look at outreach work in the city of Berehove, in the region of Transcarpathia (Zakarpattia Oblast).

“In the midst of it all, life wins”

Fida’s Humanitarian Aid Coordinator Aki Salminen last visited Berehove in the autumn. The town of around 23,000 inhabitants has doubled in population since the war, with some 20,000 refugees seeking shelter there. The situation is similar in other municipalities in Sub-Carpathian Ukraine, where there are an estimated half a million internally displaced persons. Schools, kindergartens, office buildings, and private facilities have been taken into use as accommodation. What was the main thing that stuck in Salminen’s mind? 

The fact that in the midst of all this, life wins. For example, I met a mother and her two daughters who had fled from Kharkiv. They lived in an old orphanage, where they had one small room. In the corner of the room was the girls’ hamster. Although the conditions were very modest, the mother and the girls were very happy to have a safe place to stay. The girls took care of their hamster with devotion. Even though the father of the family was at the front and they had worries about everyday life, a zest for life and hope for the future was present. 

I was also impressed by how big-hearted people are in helping each other. The townspeople look out for each other. That plays a big part in our help too: we are enabling the work of the locals.

The need for assistance in Ukraine is as great as it can be – Aki Salminen

One of Fida’s partner organizations is Hungarian Baptist Aid, which has been working in Transcarpathia for two decades. Salminen says that the partner’s local knowledge plays a very important role in the relief work.

– Our partner has good relations with local government and extensive networks through which we can find the people who need our help most. The need for help in Ukraine is as great as it can be. There are already shortages of everything in every part of the country, says Salminen.

Regular food aid keeps the thread of life alive
Lattialla on rivissä pahvilaatikoita, joissa on hedelmiä
There is a shortage of everything in Ukraine, and many regions are running out of food. Fida’s humanitarian relief team has been asked for fruit in particular. 

Most of Fida’s support has focused on ensuring food access for the most vulnerable refugees. Food has been distributed regularly since March 2022. Salminen says that the aid is taken directly to where people are staying. 

 – We want to serve people where they are, so they don’t have to go far in search of food. Key to this is the many volunteers who partner with us and are fully engaged in the work. Food is distributed to around five hundred people every week. Sometimes it is dry food, sometimes fresh. The food must be nutritious and varied. 

– Fresh fruit and vegetables are particularly welcome. It is important to listen to the wishes of the beneficiaries so that we don’t just take a basic pasta every week, says Salminen.

– Our food aid has been the lifeblood of many people for the past six months. Even in Western Ukraine, it is almost impossible to survive without help, as there is no longer any livelihood to be made from anywhere.

Mobile clinic saves lives

Salminen is grateful that generous donations make long-term food aid possible. The weekly food distribution will continue at least until the end of March 2023. In January, after-school clubs will also be started in Transcarpathia. 

– In 2023, we aim to start clubs so that children have guided activities, art, games, and sports, and the chance to talk to trusted adults. We need to bring things into children’s lives that will sustain their emotional well-being, says Aki Salminen.

Salminen was also able to get acquainted with the medical work. There are still hospitals and clinics operating in Ukraine, but many of them are facing a severe shortage of staff, basic medicines, and medical supplies. HBAid staff told us that, band aids for example, are already very expensive and not available everywhere.

Lapsijoukko levittää värikästä varjoa
Three camps for refugee children were organized in Ukraine during the summer.

Many doctors and nurses have also fled the country.

Valkoisen pakettiauton vieressä kaksi miestä hymyilevät. Auto on lääkintäauto.
Aki Salminen (left) met a young Hungarian doctor, Gergô Kadar (right), who has been touring the villages a couple of days a week in a Fida medical van. Berehove’s mobile clinic has also attracted teams of volunteer doctors and nurses from abroad.

With Fida’s support, a medical van, a so-called “mobile clinic”, has been set up in partnership with HBAid. Fida has hired medical staff and purchased basic medicines for distribution. Some of the medicines have been donated, and others have been purchased. The mobile clinic tours the areas around Berehove three days a week. Almost two thousand patients have already been treated there. In addition to medicines, the vehicle contains an ultrasound machine, first-aid equipment, and emergency first-aid supplies.

– When the operation started, I received a message on the first trip that someone had been found to have a blocked artery. He could have died if help had not arrived at the right time. 

– A lot of asthma medication and drugs to treat high blood pressure among other medicines have been distributed. People have been rushing to flee their homes without any of their own belongings. The medicines have either been left behind or run out on the way, says Salminen.

Helping with a big heart in Ukraine

Up to December, Fida had received donations that total over €1 million. This money supports refugees in the Ukraine and 5 neighbouring countries, Fida partners with several churches and aid agencies to distribute relief. In Ukraine, Fida’s assistance is geographically concentrated in the region of Transcarpathia, but aid shipments have also been made to other parts of Ukraine through various partners, most recently to the nuclear power plant town of Zaporizhya in December. 

– It is a great blessing to be able to support the work of local actors. We know that they have a big heart for helping those in need, says Salminen.