Svetlana is from Crimea but she doesn’t live there anymore. Her way to exile started with a phone call. A relative, well-connected with the pro-Russian authorities, advised her to run away because a death squad had set off for her house to kill her. It was 26 May 2014.
Two months before, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea had celebrated a status referendum in response to the ousting of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The vote, that took place while the peninsula was already occupied by Russian troops, conducted to the separation of Crimea from Ukraine to join Russia.
Svetlana worked for 10 years in a Crimean youth NGO and was also a well-known pro-Ukrainian activist. She had been already threatened before the date she fled. Her first destination was Poland but after some time there, she went back to Kiev to get involved in Crimea SOS, an NGO that assists the internal displaced people (IDP) due to the war in the east regions of Ukraine.
As of 13 May, Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy had identified 1,283,700 IDPs, most of them from the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Around 20.000 are from Crimean.
The NGO was founded at the beginning of March by three Crimean people living in Kiev. Tension had escalated in the region and many people decided to leave the peninsula to move to the continental part of Ukraine. The three founders of Crimea SOS created the organisation as a
response to the many displaced called them looking for help. After the contested referendum, they created a professional NGO and received the support of UNHCR.
Despite there is a big need of humanitarian assistance, Crimea SOS “priority now is to boost bridges between hosting community and the IDPs”, explains Svetlana. There are many prejudices against IDPs among Ukrainian population. “We live under stress and thus people look for someone to blame. As Yanukovych was from Donbas, so many Ukrainians blame Donbas IDPs for the war”. At the same time, people are aware that once the war will finish, IDPs will return to their homes and, consequently, they prefer not to rent out their houses to them or to employ them. Many IDPs are unskilled workers and to find a job is hard for them.
On the other hand, main challenges for displaced people are housing and job. The economical assistance provided by Government to IDPs is almost inexistent. That’s why Svetlana is also coordinating a project to give grants for housing as well as for starting small businesses. She feels very proud when she talk about the businesses created such as a hair salon for children that became so popular they had to start cutting the parent’s hair too.
She tells that many IDPs don’t register because they are afraid to have problems in their original regions if they do. For example, according to Svetlana, in some cases in Donbas, when authorities found out someone is registered as an IDP, they take their property. But at the same time, people still registered in Crimea suffer from a limited citizen status in Ukraine, which adds suffering to their daily lives.
She claims the Government should assume its responsibility towards IDPs. “Time passes and situation becomes more dramatic”, she alerts.
By Oriol Andrés
Crimea SOS website: http://krymsos.com/
Crimea SOS in Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CrimeaSOS
To follow them in Twitter: @krimsos