The Almere Foundation: ‘Ukraine demand is huge due to winter’

The situation in Ukraine is getting worse for many people. So says Heleen Berends from the humanitarian organization Dorcas. This foundation from Almere receives refugees in various places in Ukraine. The falling temperatures and the damaged energy supply are a big challenge there, notes Berends. “Something really big is coming.”

Lately it has been freezing and snowing in the region where Dorcas is active. “We all feel the pressure of winter,” says Berends. “It’s not very cold yet, but there is already too little energy or fuel.” Berends has been working for Dorcas since the start of the war in Ukraine. In Transcarpathia and Zaporizhzhia, among others, she helps refugees with shelter, food, psychosocial care and financial support.

“I actually had to do something completely different” — Heleen Berends, Dorcas

Other plans
Berends only works for Dorcas for a short time when Russia invades Ukraine on February 24 this year. “I was supposed to do something completely different, but the war changed everything,” says the aid worker via a shaky internet connection. She is in Perekhrestya in western Ukraine. The electricity and the internet go out there regularly.

With experience in Syria and Iraq for the Apeldoorn organization ZOA, Berends was asked in March to set up a response team in Ukraine: a collaboration between different organizations to provide rapid aid. “And I’ve been here ever since.”

Helen Berends in Perekhrestia

Active for a longer period of time
The foundation from Almere is not new in Ukraine. Dorcas has been engaged in poverty alleviation in the country for 25 years. The fund therefore did not have to start over in March. “It helped a lot,” Berends noted. “We already had many contacts, good connections and also a reputation.” And yet the beginning was also difficult. Local workers in the eastern part of the country had to flee for their own safety. In addition, the foundation had to switch to providing emergency aid in a short time.

“Giving cash is a very free way to offer help” — Heleen Berends, Dorcas

Cash program
Like many other organizations, Dorcas Refugees offers a cash program where people receive between 65 and 70 euros a month. This money is intended for food and medicine. “Giving cash is a very free way to offer help,” says Berends. “This way, people can make their own choices about what they need most.”

In addition to financial assistance, Dorcas also offers psychosocial support to people. Group counseling sessions are organized together with various Ukrainian organizations. During these sessions, people talk about what they have experienced and how to deal with it. According to Berends, these groups of people also provide a social network.

Increasing demand for help
Now that winter is coming, the demand for aid in Ukraine will increase further, Berends expects. “The aid has so far been primarily focused on the short term.” With this, she refers to the emergency aid that Dorcas and other organizations offer. But that is not enough. “It is on a much smaller scale than is actually necessary. It’s very frustrating sometimes.”

“I hope we can get through this winter. And it all gets a little easier from then on” — Vladimir Ignatiev, Dorcas

Aid worker and refugee in one
In the relatively safe Transcarpathia in western Ukraine, almost 1 in 3 people are refugees, estimates Ukrainian Dorcas colleague Vladimir Ignatiev. He himself is one of those refugees. Before the war he worked for Dorcas in the eastern part of the country. But when the Russian army approached, he had to flee headlong with his family. Since then, he has continued his work for Dorcas in the western part of the country, as a refugee and aid worker in one.

Vladimir also fears the challenges that winter will bring. “Because of the Russian missile attacks, we are experiencing a lot of power outages,” he explains. And this often means that the heating in houses does not work. “Our government is doing everything it can to help and is providing generators.” It helps to a certain extent, he states. Nevertheless, Ignatiev remains optimistic: “I hope we can make it through this winter. And from then on it will all be a little easier”.

According to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, 7.8 million people have fled Ukraine since the end of February. A small part of this is collected in the Netherlands. At the beginning of December, around 87,000 refugees were registered here. Flevoland currently offers around 2,800 reception places for Ukrainian refugees. But the flow of refugees is also large within Ukraine. About 6.5 million Ukrainians had to leave their homes but remained in Ukraine, UNHCR reports. According to Dorcas, these are people who do not want or cannot leave the country. They often do not have the financial resources or the necessary documentation. Or they prefer to stay in a place where they speak the language and know the culture.

Flevoland help
At the beginning of this month, Almere municipality announced that it would offer shelter to a maximum of 790 more refugees. These come on top of the 696 refugees that the municipality already houses.

The Dorcas Foundation is not the only Flevoland organization offering help in Ukraine. Since the start of the war, a large number of initiatives have been launched in the province, aimed at providing assistance to Ukrainians in Flevoland or in the country itself. Piano teacher Iryna Gura from Emmeloord recently started a fund to continue supporting music education in Ukraine.

This message was created through a collaboration between 1Almere and Omroep Flevoland.

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