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While the world looks to the newly liberated areas of eastern Ukraine, little is said about those who have been destitute since the first day of the war and whose situation has changed little. Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) was among the first international aid organisations to deliver humanitarian help to the recently liberated territories of Kharkiv oblast. Conducting surveys in the area, HIA aid workers fear the already problematic humanitarian situation exacerbated by the destruction of war may take a turn for the worse as the temperature is bound to drop below 0 degrees.

According to their report, the uninhabitability of the residential buildings is the most pressing issue in the area, the damaged homes cannot be heated in their current state as windows and walls are damaged by combat and shelling. While in the villages people live scattered in better-preserved buildings, in the cities of the region hundreds of people spend their nights in the basements of ghost-town-like housing estates. Most of them even plan to stay there through winter. “It was shocking to see the dilapidated houses and flats, people settling in the damp, musty and dark basements” – said Giuliano Stochino Weiss who lead HIA’s humanitarian survey in Kharkiv. Some internally displaced have been also sheltering in the damaged and poorly equipped shelters run by the local authorities. To alleviate this situation, HIA and its local partner has delivered bed frames and mattresses to these shelters. In the coming weeks, the organisation will also help in the winterisation of the buildings by replacing windows.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that people are scattered across the region with needs varying from household to household – while the number of people in need is in the thousands. Two other issues also make the coordination of humanitarian assistance a challenging task: firstly, hundreds of IDPs are expected to return to their homes in the east of the district in the near future to spend the winter in their own homes. The second is that several settlements are still exposed to rocket and artillery attacks despite the withdrawal of the occupying forces. Unfortunately, significant heating and power cuts are a real possibility during the winter.

Giuliano Stochino Weiss also pointed out the situation is further exacerbated by the dwindling number of shops selling only basic goods – if they are able to procure them. With unemployment being high as ever, most of the population has no income to buy anything anyway. In addition to the several tons of aid consisting of mostly food and hygiene items that HIA has already delivered to the region the organization is also planning further aid consignments in the near future to help the people of Kharkiv and its surrounding area. Besides in-kind aid, based on its success elsewhere Hungarian Interchurch Aid also plans to start Multi-Purpose Cash Assistance in the region where applicable to local circumstances. This will allow for a more personalized and dignified form of help.

To find out more about the work of Hungarian Interchurch Aid in Ukraine and in Hungary, visit http://ukrajna.segelyszervezet.hu.