In the words of Iryna Korliakova: “I want people to feel safe in their communities – even in the toughest times”

Iryna left her hometown and flourishing business due to the violent conflict in Eastern Ukraine but found a way to give back to her new community.

Iryna Korliakova, 48, fled her hometown in eastern Ukraine in 2014 to escape from the violent conflict and settled in the small town of Svatove. She hasn’t let her displacement despair her and she got actively involved in the life of her community. Following trainings on community mobilization for empowerment organized by UN Women Ukraine, Korliakova organized local women into six self-help groups working in different villages to improve health and other critical services in the area. Chepihivka became instrumental in rebuilding the only health facility in a neighboring village, which played a key role in providing health-care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In 2014, when the conflict started, I had to leave my flourishing retail business and move to another region. For quite some time I have cherished dreams of return. Then I learned that one of my shops burned after an ammunition stroke. Then, at that moment, I realized that my backpack is the only thing left from my life.

As many other IDPs (internally displaced people) from conflict-affected east, I struggled at first – to find a job and to rent an apartment. Women were perceived as particularly unreliable. I stayed with my sister, but soon started to go crazy without having anything to do.

I never doubted myself. I’ve always been a very active and confident person. When I heard about the project [UN Women-led community mobilization for empowerment], I immediately filed my application.

I work with small villages because people need more support there. At the very first meeting of a self-help group, we gathered at the local feldsher-midwife station, where there was no water. I convinced them to establish a water supply there as a start – after all, it was the only health facility in the village. I remember them being very skeptical, but I managed to convince them. Now, with COVID-19, this small health facility became crucially important for residents.

Due to the quarantine and other measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, women living in rural areas – especially those from the vulnerable groups – are struggling the most. Due to limited public transportation, they cannot access basic medical and other services that are often provided only in regional and local centres. The women who make an income from farming, have no money to purchase basic items for themselves and their children because of the closure of local markets. They also suffer from high psychological and emotional stress as a result of home schooling of children that they had to urgently manage themselves.

We have created online groups in messenger apps to exchange information, keep the communication flow and support each other to get through this together. I want people to feel comfortable and safe in their communities – even in the toughest times. After all, it is also my home now.”

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