War has been raging for over a year now — with catastrophic consequences. According to United Nations estimates, over 21 million people have been displaced abroad (as of May 23, 2023); more than 7 million have become internally displaced in Ukraine. This is the fastest-growing and largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. The refugees have had to leave everything behind, including loved ones. They need protection, safe shelter, food, hygiene items and the ability to communicate, as well as access to education and work in the medium term.
Helvetas helps refugees in Ukraine and in the southern neighboring country of Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, with what they need most at the moment. We also support local families who take in refugees.
Ukraine: Emergency shelter, drinking water, home repair, food and cash aid
At the beginning of the war, Helvetas - with the support of Swiss Solidarity and together with Alliance 2015, a network of European NGOs - provided the displaced people from Ukraine with hot meals, mattresses, hygiene items, as well as money credits and vouchers so that they could buy essentials.
In 2022 alone, Helvetas provided humanitarian aid to over 40,500 people in need in Ukraine. In western Ukraine, Helvetas is helping people with drinking water supplies — together with the Swiss organization SKAT Consulting and with DESPRO, a Ukrainian organization. With the support of Swiss Solidarity, Helvetas has already restored access to clean drinking water and improved water supplies for over 30,000 people.
Helvetas is helping to expand emergency shelters for internally displaced persons. These are Ukrainians who had to flee because of the war and are now living in another place in their home country; many were housed in school buildings, among other places, which are now being used for teaching again. Emergency housing had to be found as quickly as possible for the internally displaced people. Helvetas is helping local authorities develop suitable buildings, find the necessary equipment and set up the infrastructure (for example, heating and washing facilities, kitchens).
Through our "Cash for Repairs" program, we support the repair of houses damaged by the war so that people have a roof over their heads, among other things. Those in need receive money and know-how to repair their houses and infrastructure (heaters, doors, windows, etc.) so that they are as habitable as possible.
Helvetas is expanding its emergency aid in Ukraine - also thanks to Swiss Solidarity - to support even more people. Not only in Kiev and Ivano-Frankivsk, but also in Kharkiv and Ternopil. Helvetas supports local, smaller initiatives that take care of aid and reconstruction. For example, we support small workshops - financially and with know-how - so that people can repair destroyed infrastructure themselves. And we rely on so-called circular construction: (War) rubble and used materials are used for reconstruction or recycled for new projects. For example, benches and tables are made from pallets. After the end of the war, Helvetas will intensify the reconstruction - also thanks to the already well-functioning cooperation with the communities and local partner organizations.
The Ukrainian agricultural and food industry has also been affected by the war — including the organic sector, which Helvetas supported before the war. Helvetas continues to support Ukrainian organic farmers. On the one hand, the organic farming families are helping to ensure that the people of Ukraine retain access to healthy, nutritious and sustainably grown food. And on the other hand, it's about ensuring that producers don't lose their livelihoods, but can expand their business relationships and thus hire more workers.
Moldova: Helvetas helps in the neighboring country
Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and receives a particularly large number of refugees in relation to its population. More than 820,000 (as of May 23, 2023) people have already fled across the Moldova-Ukraine border since the outbreak of the war. There is a shortage of almost everything.
- Together with our French partner organization Acted, Helvetas provided buses shortly after the outbreak of the war to transport refugees — especially women and children — from border posts onward to the capital, Chisinau, or to one of the reception centers.
- Thanks in part to the support of Swiss Solidarity, Helvetas provides the most vulnerable and needy refugees (the elderly, people with disabilities or women with small children) with the essentials in rest areas. In 2022 alone, Helvetas was able to provide more than 19,000 refugees at the border with basic necessities.
- People fleeing the war receive Internet access so that they can communicate with their relatives or organize their onward journey. With Internet access, children can also take part in the virtual lessons offered by some Ukrainian schools.
- The pressure on the local population and the authorities is great; the economy had already suffered before the war as a result of the pandemic. Most of the refugees from Ukraine are accommodated in private homes. The situation of Moldovan host families who have taken in refugees is becoming increasingly precarious due to rising prices. Helvetas — with the support of Swiss Solidarity and the SDC — provides financial assistance to host families who themselves live on a low income or are particularly vulnerable: for example, households headed by women or those with physically and/or mentally impaired members.
- Helvetas is one of the few international organizations that have been present in Moldova for a long time. We will switch from emergency response to medium-term measures as quickly as possible. Among other things, it is planned to support the integration of the refugees into the local labor market with vocational training courses.