Rebuilding community after two years of war in Ukraine

A husband and father of two with his youngest daughter.
Volodymyr stands with one of his daughters in Dnipro. He received a cash grant to rebuild his furniture business after his family evacuated from their hometown.
February 20, 2024

Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes or are faced with the dire circumstances of living in war-torn areas since the onset of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. The toll of the war has destroyed an estimated two million housing units, thousands of miles of highways, and nearly 300 bridges. As the crisis forced many families to flee their homes and livelihoods, Mercy Corps delivered more than $62.2 million dollars in cash assistance; distributed food, clothing, hygiene and medical kits; and offered temporary housing and mental health support to 785,000 people impacted by the war in the last two years. 

Mercy Corps first provided emergency support in Ukraine from 2015 to 2017 and restarted programs in Ukraine in 2022 in the wake of the crisis. Including information support, our teams have reached over 7.5 million people affected by the war in Ukraine and neighboring countries where people have taken shelter in Poland, Moldova, and Romania. According to the U.N., over 6.5 million Ukrainians are refugees, and more than 3.7 million people are internally displaced throughout the country. As Ukrainians settle into temporary homes, or are unsure when they can return to their hometowns, they are connecting with each other to share resources, provide mutual emotional support, and rebuild community.

Creating connection in unlikely spaces

September 2023, mykolaiv, ukraine. a mother sits with her son on the patio of the shelter where they are staying.
Oleksandra sits with her son in front of the emergency shelter in Mykolaiv.
September 2023, mykolaiv, ukraine. olena (33, blue shirt) and oleksandra (28, red shirt) cook in the kitchen at a shelter run by mercy corps partner organization perspectyva.
Olena (left) and Oleksandra cook a meal in a shared kitchen at the emergency shelter where they live with their families.

In Mykolaiv, Oleksandra moved into an emergency shelter with her husband and son after evacuating their hometown in the Donetsk region in 2023. When the full-scale war began, she remembers waking up in the morning and “the sky was on fire.” Her family spent most of their money on food and when they could no longer safely stay in their village, they arrived at the shelter, run by a partner organization, Perspectyva. Oleksandra met with the other families and became friends with Olena, another mother who had left her nearby home. Oleksandra and Olena often cooked together in the shared kitchen. The families formed a small community while each made plans for where they could live permanently.

“I like everything here, we live here as a family,” Oleksandra said. “We are doing it together, sometimes we have dumplings, pies, borscht. To be honest, I like the whole situation here because it feels like home.” Feeling comfortable in a home helps families build resiliency as they create long-term solutions. The bridge on the way to Oleksandra’s village was bombed, and while she would like to return home eventually, she knows that probably won’t happen soon. But, she feels safe and is happy that they found friends and a place to stay in the midst of so much uncertainty. “I told my husband I’m not afraid of anything anymore,” Oleksandra said.

Rebuilding businesses in new cities

As the circumstances of the conflict change, our work in Ukraine has shifted to include early recovery to help people find employment, create stable incomes, and provide purpose for themselves and their families. In addition to helping people recover after displacement, our teams in Ukraine have also provided support to more than 320 small business owners and entrepreneurs. These community members benefited not only from Mercy Corps and partner organizations across the country, but also from the kindness of their neighbors. They are now working to return that favor.

A person in their furniture workshop.
Anton sits in his furniture workshop in Lviv. As he grows his business, he plans to hire internally displaced people like himself to work in his factory.

Even in the face of uncertainty, community members have shared resources. Anton owns a furniture workshop in Lviv. In 2022, while waiting for his train home in Kharkiv, he saw a military train filled with tanks and weaponry and knew the war was escalating. He left the next morning and depended on the support of his new neighbors after he arrived in Lviv. “They helped us,” Anton said. “They gave us clothes, mattresses, pillows, blankets, and everything. And now maybe it’s our turn to help people, because everything is like a circle.” Anton also had to leave his equipment behind in Kharkiv, so once he found a factory with some leftover equipment in Lviv, he started over. With the financial assistance from a Mercy Corps grant and a partner organization, West Ukraine Digital, he hired staff and replaced some of the equipment he lost.

September 2023, dnipro, ukraine. a person works with their team to repair a chair in their furniture workshop.
Volodymyr (right) works with one of his team members to repair a chair at his business in Dnipro.

Volodymyr used to own a successful furniture business in his hometown in the Donetsk region. He moved with his family to Dnipro and he began to rebuild, creating connections with suppliers and hiring workers from the new church he attended. He sometimes worked for little or no payment to establish a reputation for quality in the community.

In partnership with a local organization, the Free People Employment Centre, Volodymyr received a grant that he used to purchase most of the equipment needed to build furniture entirely in-house. Overseeing it all first hand reduced his outsourcing costs and turnaround times while increasing the quality of their work. Volodymyr is also passionate about giving back, teaching his daughters how to run a business, and providing free services whenever he can to his neighbors in need. “When we receive kindness, we want to give kindness back,” he said.

The right support at the right time

Through more connected communities, neighbors can rely on one another to withstand challenges that they may not have been able to face alone. By engaging with these communities and understanding their needs, Mercy Corps helps produce long-lasting solutions that prioritize the needs of people who have been displaced in the midst of the war. Mercy Corps continues to provide support to Ukrainians, whether still at home or internally displaced, to help build a future where they can all thrive.

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