Women caught in armed conflict find ways to support each other

Humanitarian assistance delivered by volunteers is essential for the vulnerable people, not only it provides crucial help, but also a human contact.

Nelia, 87 years old, lives in Zaitseve, Donetska oblast located just at the “contact line” – the 427-kilometre-long conflict’s frontline that divides eastern Ukraine into Government-controlled areas and those outside it. While the ceasefire established in late July 2020 brought marked reductions of hostilities, including in Nelia’s village, an echo of the armed conflict is still present in the abandoned homes, and the debris and glass shards lying around. Having survived one war, she now lives in the middle of another, fighting cancer and hoping that military clashes won’t return to her village.

“During intense shelling, we were hiding in the neighbour’s basement and praying. I can’t count how many times we thought that was the end,” says Nelia.

Being alone is particularly hard for her. Nelia is a former schoolteacher, and she used to communicate with a lot of people. She is now retired, and her son and granddaughter live far away. Despite such a challenging life, Nelia has learned to appreciate the little things and her lust for life is astonishing: she exercises every morning and tries to keep her house cozy and clean. She has also found a new “family” – volunteers who come by to help her out around the house and keep her company.

One of Nelia’s volunteers, Lena, lives in the same village. She is 34 years old, with two children, a 12-year-old son with a disability and a 7-year-old daughter. After an attack on the school bus that was taking her kids to their school 15 kilometres away, she decided it was safer to send them to live with her mom in a bigger town. Lena stayed behind to take care of the house and farm animals, and now sees her two children only on weekends.

Before she became a volunteer, she had worked at a factory bakery. The conflict disrupted the transport routes between her village and her job in the city, which is now located on the other side of the “contact line”. Now Lena helps Nelia and other elderly in Zaitseve village to fetch water and coal for the furnace, and to buy medicine and food.

Just like the majority of essential frontline workers, most of the volunteers in the isolated settlements at the “contact line” are female. “There are no male volunteers in the area. All in all, we have just a few men left in the village,” says Lena. This is not at all surprising as women represent more than half of the population in need of assistance (1.9 million) and the majority of the vulnerable elderly population in the conflict-affected area.

Thanks to the financial support of the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund, both Nelia and Lena have received food vouchers from a project implemented by international non-governemtal organization (NGO) Triangle Génération Humanitaire (TCG). These vouchers allow women to save for other essential expenditures, such as buying fuel or paying to till the soil to prepare their gardens in spring.

*the names of persons who appear in the story have been changed for privacy reasons

UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs