Today, Ukrainian women stand in defense of their country. Someone bravely went to defend it on the battlefield. Someone protects their children and elderly parents on another front and continues to work for the good of the country. They are helping Ukraine survive, but they may need help too.
This especially applies to women with the status of internally displaced persons. They lost their homes, personal belongings, and property. Today, many organizations and initiatives are already aimed at helping IDP women. One of them is the Donetsk Women's Council, which recently moved from Mariupol, Donetsk region, to the western part of Ukraine, the Zakarpattia region. Read about how the organization works and supports women during the war.
What is the problem?
According to the International Organization for Migration, as of September 2022, 6.9 million people were registered with IDP status in Ukraine. In October of the same year, Ukraine's First Deputy Minister of Social Policy, Daryna Marchak, reported that the number of internally displaced persons in the country had increased from 1.5 million to 4.6 million. Unofficially, there may be many more of them.
Most of them are women and children looking for a safer place to stay during hostilities. These women often experience significant rights violations and discrimination, sexual and physical violence, deportation to the aggressor country, etc., during the war. All this leads to an acute need among women for support and rehabilitation.
What is the solution?
The Donetsk Women's Council non-governmental organization began its activities in 2015 in Mariupol. It set the goal so that "every woman could feel safe and receive opportunities for a dignified life." Then, with the support of international partners and local authorities, it was possible to implement many projects. They opened a shelter for women who have faced domestic violence, launched a mobile social and psychological assistance team, and conducted numerous pieces of training for police representatives who are the first to respond to cases of domestic violence, doctors, educators, leaders of local communities, representatives of public organizations.
"From the end of 2017 until the beginning of the war, 100 women and 127 children used the services of the crisis center, and from the day of its opening in August 2020 to December 2021, 721 women and 288 children applied to the daycare center. Many women received the necessary help thanks to the created services, which should continue to work, but…" says Yulia Prudnikova, executive director of the Donetsk Women's Council, and pauses when it comes to the events of February 2022.
On February 24, a tragedy awaited Mariupol. The Donetsk Women's Council team had to save themselves, as did hundreds of thousands of residents of the east.
"Families who were forced to leave their communities left a lot at home but took with them all their domestic problems, all of them. Someone doesn't find common ground with children. Someone can't get out of a toxic relationship. Someone has lost faith in themselves and their abilities and doesn't know what to do with their life. And in times of crisis, all these problems become even more painful, so the need for qualified help becomes more acute," says Yulia Prudnikova.
Thus, after the start of a full-scale war, the NGO found itself and continued its work in the Zakarpattia region.
How does it work?
Thanks to international partners' support at the new location, the Donetsk Women's Council manages a mobile social and psychological assistance brigade. Assistance is provided not only to women with IDP status but also to all Ukrainian women. A social pedagogue, a case manager, and a lawyer work with the women who found refuge in the Zakarpattia region. The specialists help them find themselves in new circumstances, see opportunities, and better understand their rights and what they can do to improve their destinies. They also teach the women to protect against the problem that only worsened during the war — violence. The team already has seven years of experience in combating gender-based violence.
"All of us suffered from the war unleashed by russia to one degree or another. But thousands of women also wage their invisible war every day, even in the safe Zakarpattia region. And for them, support from a mobile social and psychological assistance team is an opportunity to start a new life, a life without violence, humiliation, and powerlessness," says Yulia Prudnikova, executive director of the Donetsk Women's Council.
The main directions of the organization's work today:
- a mobile psychological assistance team,
- an information campaign against domestic violence,
- support programs for young people.
The mobile brigade is a female specialist team that provides free social and psychological support to women who need it. Among them are a lawyer, a psychologist, a social worker, and a specialist working with children. They help make women's lives safer and easier.
Who do mobile brigades help?
- Women who need mental support.
- Women who want to know about their rights and available support programs.
- Women who feel confused and don't know what to do next.
- Women who witnessed domestic violence and gender-based violence.
- Women who were subjected to such violence.
The information campaign does not play a minor role in the fight against gender-based violence — namely, counseling, raising awareness, and educating Ukrainian women about what to do in cases of domestic violence, who to contact, and what help to get.
"We say that violence always progresses. And even if, in the beginning, the abuse is directed only at the woman, then later, it is highly likely to spread to the children as well. In addition, the level of domestic violence increases during wartime, so this topic is always timely," this is how Yulia Prudnikova explains why it is always important to be knowledgeable about these issues.
Another direction of the organization's work is humanitarian assistance with things necessary for women (personal hygiene products, antiseptics, soap, and care products). To get them in any settlement in the Zakarpattia region, you need to contact the hotline number 066-838-1606.
Does it work?
During half a year of work in the Zakarpattia region, the Donetsk Women's Council provided assistance and advice to 668 women. They keep in touch with each of them, following the development of their stories and lives.
At the same time, the mobile social and psychological assistance team is investigating the needs of women who were forced to leave their homes because of the war and found a haven in the Zakarpattia region. This information is crucial because it helps to understand how to help each woman: how to cover her urgent needs, which institutions to refer her to, and which friendly organizations can help in this or that case.
"We made a summary of what is needed by women who have found shelter in the Mukachevo district. These include housing, humanitarian aid (food, hygiene products, baby food, clothes for shoes), medical, psychological, and legal aid, as well as financial aid from the state and international organizations since only 53% of women have a source of income. These statistics demonstrate the problems faced by women who were forced to leave their homes. Based on it, public organizations can plan their activities to help meet even the most urgent needs of people who suffered from the war," says Yulia Prudnikova.
How to apply for help?
If you are a woman and you are currently in the Zakarpattia region, and you need help, you can contact the Donetsk Women's Council. The current hotline number of the organization is 066-838-1606.
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