Solution 15:13 07 Dec 2022

Shelters, social and humanitarian hubs and co-working spaces: how displaced people create communities in Dnipro

Because of hostilities, thousands of Ukrainians have to stay in unfamiliar cities and villages for the winter, where they came as internally displaced persons. At the same time, shelters and aid centers have to change their directions of work, considering the country's situation. Rubryka tells about changes and new ways of helping, using the example of Dnipro.

What is the problem?

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At the beginning of November, 363,500 displaced people lived in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. The largest number is in Dnipro: 146,600. People fleeing the occupation and shelling were resettled in communal facilities, kindergartens, and schools. Many shelters initially worked in transit because thousands of people passed through Dnipro daily — they needed somewhere to stop.

But week after week of full-scale war passed, and it became clear that some people would have to stay in shelters because they either had nowhere to return to — their homes had been destroyed, or their towns and villages were now under occupation.

So the shelters had to switch to a permanent operation mode — to focus not only on the essential provision for people — food and necessities but also to deal with things beyond that — to unite, to give a new purpose of existence to the people they sheltered.

What is the solution?

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To set people up for building a life is to allow them to do something and not to lock themselves in small rooms alone "with everything ready." Give a fishing rod, not a fish.

"I have nothing left there"

So says Olha from Lysychansk. For several weeks, under shelling, the woman lived in "cat-dog places" — between concrete blocks near the heating line. The city had no electricity or water, and friends began to persuade the woman to leave the city. At some point, Olha agreed. She has been living in Dnipro since the beginning of the summer. At first, she rented an apartment alone because she thought the war in her hometown would not last long. But the money ran out, and the hostilities did not. Thus, 71-year-old Olha ended up in the Luhansk Region Refugee Shelter.

The house with Olha's apartment in her hometown no longer exists. It was bombed. The woman had only a small bag with her — she bought everything else in Dnipro.

"I don't have a home, the enemy already rules there, but I still want to go there. My husband is buried there, and so is my son. Although there is nothing good left in Lysychansk, I still want to go there," the woman says.

Olha is okay with everything at the Luhansk Refugee Shelter — the living conditions are good, and there is a schedule of classes every day — from workshops and trainings to classes with a psychologist. Residents arrange a tea party on their own, and for every birthday, they must buy a festive cake and eat it together. They are preparing to celebrate the New Year in the shelter.

How does it work?

Luhansk residents refugee shelter

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On November 9, the Dnipro Shelter for displaced persons of the Luhansk region had a busy schedule. First, the residents write the Radio Dictation of National Unity in the kitchen; then, they discuss the language of nonviolence with a psychologist. The schedule here is loaded; they try to find exciting and practical classes for the resettlers every day. There is a separate program for children — it can be classes on Petrykivka painting, origami, and other creativity.

Luhansk residents opened a shelter for Luhansk refugees.

"Spring was a time of continuous stress. We, the people who left Luhansk region, simply had nowhere to stay. We talked with partner organizations and decided that we could create such a shelter site. We applied for a grant to equip the premises. We received funding quickly and started accepting people in May," says Hanna Ryasna, head of the Luhansk Refugee Shelter.

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Currently, residents of Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, Rubizhne, and other towns and villages of the region live in the shelter. There are 94 people in total, eighteen of them are children. Currently, additional premises are being repaired, which will be able to house a few dozen more displaced persons.

"We try very hard to make people feel warm and cozy, like at home. We try to learn as much as possible about each other — moods, desires, and dreams. We create conditions for us to live well here. There is no "it's mine, that's why I don't mind, I'll leave tomorrow, so I can break something" narrative. There is a completely different attitude — appreciation," shelter administrator Nina Bondar says.

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The shelter for displaced people of the Luhansk region is unique because it is possible to receive additional services — they are organized with the support of international funds and partner organizations. But none of this would have happened without the work of Luhansk residents themselves:

"We try to get involved in every case. For example, before we built a modern playground, we single-handedly cleared the entire area for it," Nina Bondar says.

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The shelter also has a psychological relief room. Volunteers work with children there, teaching them to read and write. On the first floor is a Center for medical assistance, where a group providing emergency first aid is on duty 24 hours a day. Specialized doctors — gynecologists and cardiologists — come to the shelter to examine people. There is all the necessary equipment for doctors.

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And recently, the shelter opened a co-working area for distance-learning children. Here they can use laptops and attend computer literacy classes. Soon, a public square will be opened near the shelter, where street events will be held. They are waiting for the gazebo to be installed.

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More than two thousand people have already passed through the shelter; now, 70% of the spots are occupied by people who live here permanently, and 30% are usually those who travel through Dnipro and need shelter for a few days.

Refugee hubs

IDPs can feel a sense of unity and belonging to a separate community not only in their shelters but also in the Dnipro centers and hubs. There they organize programs designed to develop new skills and training.


Residence "Free Space – Little Mariupol"

The "Free Space – Little Mariupol" residence hosts a number of free workshops and events for resettlers and city residents. The last ones were dedicated to pysankarstvo (tradition of Easter eggs decorating — ed.), the creation of Ukrainian Christmas tree ornaments and wrappings, and Petrykivka painting. In addition, they also offer developmental training for children and psychological, legal and humanitarian assistance for displaced persons.

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The residence was created by Mariupol residents who moved to Dnipro. There is also a coffee shop here where you can buy a cup of coffee for Ukrainian soldiers and resettlers.

"The main thing is for a person to feel that they are important. Every resettler is important. In our Mariupol coffee shop, any visitor can buy coffee and dessert (virtual coffee or dessert that will be then given for free — ed.) and pay for them. And an internally displaced person or a soldier will enjoy them. This shows that they have been taken care of. We thought about them," the founder of the residence, Kyrylo Dolimbaev, says.

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Now, when the lights get turned off in Dnipro, generators are working at the residence. Therefore, anyone who wants to can charge their gadgets and work in the warmth.

Центр сучасної культури у Дніпрі

Center for contemporary culture 

The Center for Contemporary Culture in Dnipro has an extensive program for resettlers and residents. It consists of workshops, master classes, musical events and a Ukrainian language club. Workshops on mosaics, DJing, graphics, field recording, and photography have already been held at the Center. Musical charity events are also held. In this way, the Center wants to help the displaced people to socialize — to get to know the townspeople and to distract themselves from their worries.

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And there is also the format of a kitchen community, when the settlers, together with the townspeople under the guidance of a curator, talk about certain products and cook. There they reinterpret familiar food. There were already classes devoted to grain, salt, and sugar.

"What types of peppers have been successfully grown on Ukrainian land for a long time? How to train your taste buds to eat spicy food? What is capsaicin, and how is it useful? Shall we talk about this and more?" — this is how visitors are intrigued by the "kitchen community" announcements, and, of course, the key word here is not the kitchen but the community. Resettlers get the opportunity to meet, communicate, get out of their problems and assimilate better in a new place.


Several coworking centers in Dnipro operate various useful programs for resettlers.

So, for example, the conversational club "YOI: cheerful Ukrainian language" recently started working in the Coworking space. Workshops for resettlers are periodically held here. IDPs, representatives of military administrations and public organizations can hold their events in the space.

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"Many displaced people have lost their jobs or physical workplaces. The idea arose to create such a space where people could use laptops for free, communicate with relatives via the Internet and hold their own events," says Olena Hemusova, deputy director of the Department of International Technical Assistance, Innovative Development and External Relations of the Luhansk Regional State Administration.

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Another co-working center operates in Dnipro, in the Novokodak department of the Dnipro City Center of Social Services. Various educational, informational, and social events, consultations, lectures and seminars are held there.

"There are many internally displaced persons in the city, and some of them have already decided to stay here. Therefore, the opening of such a center was timely. An important feature is the presence of a reliable bomb shelter in the building," Anastasia Tyshchenko, director of the Dnipro city center of social services, says.

But in fact, such initiatives and centers are not just timely. Now they are a necessity, and this is also a necessary signal for resettlers: you are important, you are needed, you are taken care of, and you are not forgotten.


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