Stylianides’ visit to Ukraine highlights downside of humanitarian effort

Refugees in Dnepropetrovsk. [Georgi Gotev]

A visit by Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Christos Stylianides to Dnepropetrovsk today (27 January) highlighted the assistance the EU was providing to Kiev. EURACTIV reports live from Ukraine.

Stylianides visited the 500.000 inhabitant city, around 200 KM from Donetsk, accompanied by officials, and a few Brussels journalists. The first location the Commissioner saw was an NGO-run centre for internally displaced persons in the centre of Dnepropetrovsk.

The situation downtown looked dismal. A military-type tent was packed with women, largely from Donetsk and Lugansk, waiting to be “processed”, before obtaining assistance.

As the head of the centre explained, the displaced persons were “treated” there, and then were given accommodation, likely in other parts of Ukraine, as the Dniepropetrovsk region is overburdened with refugees.

Viktoria Vdovichenko, 38, from Donetsk, said she escaped from her home town with her two sons, aged 3 and 16, leaving behind her husband to takw care of his 72-year dying father. She spoke at length about her ordeal, and the limited assistance she was getting, exposing the bureaucracy of the system.

One of the examples she gave is that when you are on one list, you lost rights to obtain assistance from another source of benefits. “Basically I need to choose between the microwave and the food,” she said.

She also complained of bad treatment in particular from the local branch of the Red Cross, which in Vdovichenko’s words, were humiliating people in need, like her.

An old woman who asked not to be named told EURACTIV that she had fled Donetsk with her 12-year old grandson, but could not get any assistance for him, because all officials told her that they could deliver assistance to the mother, and not the grandmother. She survives with her grandson, on a pension of around 1000 hrivnyas (50 euro) and assistance provided to her as a displaced person, worth 800 hrivnyas.

While Stylianides visited the place, one of the women waiting in the tent fainted and was taken to hospital.

From rags to riches

The next place the Commissioner visited contrasted starkly with the Charles Dickens-type of hospice he had been brought to earlier in the day. Gennady Korban, head of the local administration, hosted the EU guests in a flashy building, but also hinted that not all of the displaced persons were credible.

Some of them, he said, were “tourists” visiting relatives in Dnepropetrovsk, but under the circumstance, avail themselves of the opportunity to solicit humanitarian assistance.

Others, according to Korban, were women whose husbands had remained in war zones, in order to fight. He didn’t say against whom, but it was obvious that he didn’t see their wives as deserving aid.

In response to this, Stylianides said that now, in the EU, many like him felt like Ukrainians, in the same way that millions said “Je suis Charlie” in the context of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Later in the day, the first of three cargo aircraft carrying EU humanitarian aid landed at Dnepropetrovsk airport. Many journalists and cameramen were taken to the tarmac, but the numerous military personnel present warned them against filming military helicopters and other sensitive infrastructure situated nearby.

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