We’re sending urgent aid and working to secure their safety, security, and freedom. Through our Urgent Assistance Fund and new crisis response initiative, Vital Voices is providing organizational support and direct emergency funding to displaced women, women-centered organizations, and Ukrainian women leaders.
In a single month, the war in Ukraine has forced nearly 10 million people, or almost 1 in 4 Ukrainians, from their homes. That number includes 4.3 million children – a population of children alone that well outstrips the entire city of Los Angeles and represents more than half the children in the country. Already, 3.5 million refugees, primarily women and children, have crossed international borders in search of safety.
Those who remain, including Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 (who are not permitted to leave), are subjected to daily bombings and air attacks that have reduced some cities to dust. Some are trapped in urban areas that lack running water and electricity, braving the exposed streets only to make the pilgrimage to empty grocery stores, picking their way past sandbagged municipal statues, navigating through streets strewn with metal anti-tank devices, which volunteers assemble at meetups in neighborhood playgrounds. They have become accustomed to the sound of air raid sirens, to the routine of gathering blankets and pyjama-clad children and hustling to the nearest underground metro station, where thousands sleep each night on concrete platforms. They are stacking every book they own in their windows to protect themselves from shockwaves.
Many have escaped to the relative safety of western Ukraine, but accommodations and resources in these areas are becoming scarce and increasingly unaffordable. And the journey is perilous. Families trying to flee have been shot down or struck by artillery fire. Refugee women and girls face heightened risks: human trafficking, gender-based violence, labor exploitation, and – with their job prospects limited by language barriers and lack of childcare – an uncertain economic future.
Aiding Displaced Women and Families
Vital Voices staff have been on the ground in neighboring Poland, Moldova, and Romania to assess refugee response efforts and ascertain how Vital Voices can ramp up assistance. Staff met with regional partners and NGOs, international humanitarian organizations and local stakeholders, volunteers and aid provisioners, local members of the Vital Voices network, and recently arrived women near the Polish–Ukrainian border.
We’re providing direct grants to local NGOs to help establish safe accommodations for internally displaced persons. For instance, we’re supporting the Lviv-based Women’s Perspectives Center, which offers three shelters, extensive programming, and psychosocial support for women and children. We’ve also supplied grant funding to the Ternopil City Women’s Club “Revival of the Nation,” which is helping local authorities set up safe, comfortable, hygienic shelters for the most vulnerable internally displaced persons. The project provides individual case management assistance and social support to vulnerable refugees in Ternopil – a region that is one of the poorest in Ukraine, and one in which more than 56,000 displaced persons have already arrived.
We’ve partnered with a range of NGOs on the ground to furnish further aid for displaced women and girls. For example, we’re working with The Body Agency, which delivers emergency health and hygiene “Dignity Kits” that are custom tailored for women and girls in humanitarian crises.
With women and girls exposed to increased dangers, we are also expanding our direct emergency funding for survivors of gender-based violence, provided through the Vital Voices Urgent Assistance Fund (UAF). Vital Voices staff members on the ground in refugee-hosting countries identified women’s shelters and service providers with the goal of connecting them to UAF resources. Currently, the fund has earmarked $50,000 for exigencies arising from the war in Ukraine; however, we anticipate total needs will be immense.
Mobilizing Our Network
Despite sometimes unreliable telecommunications links (communications infrastructure has been targeted by Russian attacks), Vital Voices has remained in constant contact with Ukrainian women leaders. We’re actively supporting both those who have been forced to flee and those who have chosen to remain inside the country. We are also mobilizing our deep-rooted network in the region to identify and support partners who are providing critical services and fostering solidarity.
One of the most critical roles we have taken on is that of nerve center and coordinator. Local organizations with good will and resources are not always plugged into centralized response efforts. By linking these groups with government representatives and international humanitarian organizations, Vital Voices empowers all three actors to effectively employ their resources and help those who need it most.
Elevating Women Leaders
Women are emerging as natural leaders in this crisis. Cities, regions, and countries that are hosting large numbers of displaced persons have struggled to manage the scale of the migration – the largest since the Second World War. Local NGOs, especially women-led organizations, have stepped up to fill the gap, leveraging their local expertise and connections to implement response efforts.
Other women are publicizing atrocities and daily life under the Russian invasion. Their courage and conviction have served as a rallying cry for the cause of freedom, democracy, and human rights. Vital Voices fellow Oleksandra Zubal, a journalist and the editor-in-chief of News 24, is sharing real-time updates from inside Ukraine. Oksana Horbunova – a long-time Ukrainian human rights leader and Vital Voices network member, who has decided to remain in Kyiv and fight – is publicizing the stories of Ukrainian women-led organizations requiring support.
A key part of our efforts is providing advocacy, support, and a public platform to the women doing the courageous and difficult work of public campaigning and organizational coordination. By amplifying the efforts of women-led organizations, and by elevating women like Oleksandra and Oksana, Vital Voices is helping rally assistance to where it is most needed.