Notes from the discussion platform

What approaches should be used for the social integration of Ukrainians who have moved from their cities and villages to communities in safer territories of Ukraine? Authorities and local self-governments, as well as civil society organizations, are trying to solve challenges related to the resettlement and social integration of Ukrainians within the country. They have a lot to share. However, it should be noted: we are facing not only challenges, but also huge opportunities.

New residents bring with them experience and qualifications; they can create additional opportunities and incentives for the development of communities — intellectually, financially, and sometimes politically. These topics were in focus at the discussion organized by East Europe Foundation in Lviv, in the Ukrainian Catholic University.

Here we offer a brief summary of the event. While these notes summarize the key topics raised, they do not necessarily represent the exact sequence of their discussion. To get a complete picture of the event and make sure you do not to miss any insightful details and valid points shared by the representatives of the communities of different regions of Ukraine, including the de-occupied and still temporarily occupied territories, we encourage you to watch the recorded stream.

The event consisted of three panels. The first one was focused on grant resources and digital tools for solving community problems in wartime. In other words, it was about money and where to get it, as well as the tools available to communities. The panel was moderated by Victor Liakh, President of East Europe Foundation.

“At every workshop for communities held within the framework of the Stiykist’ Programme component in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Poltava regions, the question of financing kept coming up. Money is available, but you need the will and motivation to take it and use it,” said Vira Nedzvedska, one of the speakers at the panel, manager of East Europe Foundation.

Indeed, the attention to Ukraine, the interest of international donor organisations to support local initiatives and help overcome the challenges of the war, in particular, concerning IDPs, creates opportunities. However, it is important to establish permanent communication between government authorities and local public organisations to jointly identify current problems and design projects that could be supported financially.

Over the months of the full-scale war, East Europe Foundation alone supported with grants over 60 civil society organisations dealing with the integration of IDPs in the field: employment, psychological resilience counseling, Ukrainian language classes, etc. Most of these CSOs are internally displaced: they have moved from the East and South to the West or Center of Ukraine, and they work on peer-to-peer basis.

There is something that communities can take and implement right now — e-democracy tools and digital technologies. In the conditions of a large-scale war, these technologies remain relevant; moreover, they are often free for communities, and they come with no other cost except for readiness to introduce and promote them in a given community.

Oleksandra Radchenko, coordinator of the E-democracy component of the EGAP program, said that over the period of the large-scale invasion, the application for public consultations was used most widely. Communities saw a real boom of renaming streets, de-Russification, and thus a tool was developed for real-time surveys.

“The set of solutions and tools for communities — SVOI chatbot, the pre-registration system (e-queue), the website builder for administrative service centers, the e-consultations tool, etc. are quite convenient to use. They are ways of communication enabling the most effective and productive solutions, as well as engaging as many community residents as possible with just Internet access, with no need to physically come anywhere,” says Oleksandra Radchenko.

Experience of communities: from operational assistance hubs to the integration of new residents

During the event, local government representatives spoke about their communities’ experience and challenges they faced at the start of the full-scale war, and how these challenges have transformed now.

Taras Kuchma, the mayor of Drohobych community, said that immediately after the influx of people since February 24, a humanitarian coordination center, a humanitarian aid hub, a united information center, and a hotline were quickly launched. It was then that the first steps were taken for people to start to adapt and receive the necessary information. The displaced Ukrainians were granted the IDP status, and consistently provided with housing and food, financial aid, humanitarian assistance, and psychological counseling.

Electronic tools were also helpful in this: the community’s Internet portal was visited by 121,000 people in March alone (which is a lot compared to previous periods); a special section was created for immigrants, providing all the information they needed. Official government websites and local social media groups were also popular.

Taras Kuchma noted that cooperation with international organisations of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, France, and the USA has become essential. As early as February 25, 2022, the mayor of Bytom, Mariusz Wołosz, arrived at the border of Ukraine with the first humanitarian cargo.

The community also understands the value of rapid integration of displaced businesses. There is a separate economic department supporting relocated businesses (from Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions) and those temporarily relocated from Kyiv for several months.

Vasyl Koval, a board member of the ATC Association and mayor of Pidberiztsi ATC, spoke about the experience of his community. Since the first weeks of the full-scale war, residents noticed that Pidberiztsi became a transit community. Many people were passing through, since the community is located on the Ternopil highway, and at that time many Ukrainians were travelling west, to the country’s border.

The community started establishing temporary shelters for people to stay for a night, get warm, and move on. However, some people stayed, their children went to school, 20% of the new residents found jobs in the community, and all the rest are working in Lviv.

In large urban communities, it is easier to find a job in a broad range of professions. People from our community returned to their territories, which were liberated thanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, says Vasyl Koval.     

In the beginning of the war, Chortkiv community was home to 33,700 people. Since February 24, 6,000 people have passed through the community, and 3,334 stayed there — they were residents of Severodonetsk, Chernihiv, Kyiv, Kherson, Zaporizhia, and Luhansk region.

“Chortkiv is tasked to do everything to ensure that the new residents stay in the city,” says Volodymyr Shmatko, board member of the Amalgamated Territorial Communities Association, mayor of the Chortkiv community.

In order to better understand the new residents and bring benefit to the city, a survey was conducted, covering 700 IDPs. This is how the community found out more about people who came there, and was able to find specialists. Now 46 new residents work for municipal institutions; one of them became the deputy mayor.

Unfortunately, when Chortkiv was hit by a missile in June 2022, many people left — both the new residents, and the locals. This also affected the development of small and medium-sized businesses. However, the city continues to create conditions for new residents — a local dormitory is being renovated to create smart apartments, so that people could live there enjoying all the amenities.

Stepan Kuibida, director of the Department of Economic Policy of the Lviv Regional Military Administration, noted that there was competition between the western regions for relocated businesses, and the Department of Economic Policy of Lviv Region offered money: one could get UAH 100,000 for moving there, and another UAH 100,000 for creating at least 20 jobs, i.e., UAH 200,000 in total. Horizon Capital Fund doubled this amount. This way, small and medium-sized businesses could get some sizable money to support their priority requests.

Currently, according to official statistics, there are 241,000 IDPs in Lviv region; at its peaks, this number reached 350,000-380,000 (the number does not include those who stayed in private sector facilities). The region is still working to provide housing, ensure adaptation of new residents, and stimulate relocated businesses.

According to Stepan Kuibida: “We will feel the effect of the internally displaced Ukrainians in at least a year, when they properly settle down, adapt, and understand their own needs.”

Since the beginning of the large-scale war, the Novovolynsk community has been trying to communicate with the new residents as much as possible to understand what kind of people they were, what their needs were, and how to integrate them in their new location. Borys Karpus, board member of the ATC Association, mayor of Novovolynsk community, believes that the relocated businesses are giving the city a new potential for growth. There are 20 businesses in the Novovolynsk community, which is a very small number, and thus there is still a lot of work to be done. The city was recently rebranded, and got a new slogan: “We are open to new things.”

“Many initiatives were supported by the EGAP Program implemented by East Europe Foundation. The city’s administrative service centers and the mayor enjoy the highest level of trust with the residents. For the first month and a half, the administrative service centers worked around the clock, to make sure that all the new residents were registered and got their IDP status. Currently, there are 6,300 officially registered displaced persons in the community. Over this time, they received aid from international donors . This created new opportunities for our businesses: many shops have opened, because the new residents are spending their money in the community. This did not entail any social tensions or rise in crime,” shared Borys Karpus.

The next task, according to the mayor of Novovolynsk, is “an open question for everyone: what should we do to make the new residents integrate as much as possible? Because later, when the war is over, they will make their decisions on where to go.”

Internally displaced persons are both a challenge and a potential growth driver

Anatolii Tkachuk, Director of Research and Development at the Institute of Civil Society, presented interesting data on the attitude towards displaced people in communities. According to his data, 72.1% of local residents answered that they have a positive attitude towards IDPs, and only 5.9% view them negatively. When IDPs were asked how they felt about themselves, 77.5% said the feeling was positive, and 3% said it was negative.

“For the integration to be successful, we should not dwell on the myths that are shaped by communication in our habitual environment,” says Mr. Tkachuk. “There is an opinion that in the West of Ukraine, IDPs are perceived negatively, while the real statistics show that displaced Ukrainians are much better integrated in the host communities.”

Before the invasion, the largest share of IDPs lived in the eastern regions, but now they have shifted to the western and central regions. In many communities of the West, the share of IDPs is 10-15% of the local population; 86% of internally displaced persons come from the South and East of Ukraine.

According to Mr. Tkachuk, a large number of displaced Ukrainians are urban dwellers who have found themselves in small communities with a large share of the rural population, which is a significant change both for them and for the communities.

“The war goes on. Ukrainians say that they have adapted and should continue to live and grow. The full-scale invasion showed that we are united, and therefore, the engagement of people from other territories in the community contributes to the fact that these people will not leave tomorrow,” says Anatolii Tkachuk.

The experience of displaced people, organisations, and authorities was discussed in the third panel. Yana Litvinova, mayor of Starobilsk community and the local military-civilian administration, said that in early 2022 Starobilsk community had large-scale plans, an approved development strategy, and some approved projects with major international organisations. However, on February 24, the community faced a full-scale invasion. Many tanks and occupiers came in and systematically seized all administrative buildings, taking away everything that the community had worked for over the 30 years of independent Ukraine.

It was necessary to withdraw all structures from the occupation. Under the leadership of Ms. Litivinova, the citizens moved all the documents to basements, realizing that the city could face bombardments. The occupiers seized all locations with civil defense sirens, so the pro-Ukrainian authorities used a Telegram channel to announce air raid alerts and advise residents to go down to shelters. Fortunately, there were no casualties, though many buildings were destroyed.

Starobilsk mayor left in late March; having moved to Lviv, she resumed the work of the city council and launched an aid hub. Back then, it was not clear what to do, but the mayor is grateful to the Ministry of Digital Transformation and the decentralization reform, which created huge legal opportunities to empower communities. “The secondary contact centers were located in Dnipro, the primary ones were in Rivne, the finance department was in Kyiv, the administrative service center was in Kharkiv, while the mayor stayed in Lviv; we did not have any territory,” says Yana Litvinova.

Internally displaced persons are both a challenge and a potential development driver. According to Yana Litvinova, the largest challenge for IDPs is lack of their own housing. This problem forces the government to keep on working, ensure affordable housing, jobs, and opportunities for children.

After de-occupation, the main issue is to bring back most of the people who have now left. According to Ms. Litvinova, 20% will not return, and those who will return are older people. Now, at the level of the government and international organisations, it is necessary to develop strategies, because the example of Kharkiv and Kherson region proved that we do not have protocols and clear action algorithms for situations when the human resources, economic and infrastructure resources are lost, adds Ms. Litivinova.

Halyna Balabanova, co-founder of the educational hub Halabuda, shared her experience. Halabuda is an educational hub that was launched on the basis of a volunteer center. In 2014, the organisation united many migrants from Donetsk and the region. It was the time of re-launching the local government in Mariupol, and civil society was actively involved. At the end of 2015, they decided to establish an educational center. They started working on the integration of IDPs. It became a period of mutual integration for the local population and IDPs.

The center supported the cultural and non-formal educational component for seven years, teaching entrepreneurship as a mindset helping individuals and the community in which they lived. This way, they shaped a large community of those who saw themselves as creative and enterprising people.

After February 24, when Mariupol was besieged for a month, the organisation became a volunteer center uniting 250 volunteers, helping the residents and the Armed Forces. Humanitarian aid did not arrive in Mariupol, so those who came to receive it actually got aid from other residents of Mariupol who brought to Halabuda whatever they could share.

After the evacuation, Halabuda was re-launched in Zaporizhzhia. Then it all started again: distribution of humanitarian aid, and quite soon — re-launch of the developmental and informal education projects. After numerous shellings in Zaporizhzhia, in November 2022, the organisation relocated its office to Cherkasy, and its offline projects to Lviv region. There, they support entrepreneurs, activism, and youth policy in small towns.

“We applied the same approaches as the ones we had used in the Azov region for 7 years. It turns out that the context is very similar in every small town of Ukraine. Everyone liked the example of Mariupol, a city that was able to quickly use the potential of IDPs as competitive advantage. After all, many people were originally from Donetsk, and got used to a high level of service. The inflow of grant opportunities that existed in the Azov region at that time, as well as the active engagement of regional and local organisations, created quite a favorable situation,” says Halyna Balabanova, a co-founder of the Halabuda educational hub.

According to Ms. Balabanova, there is a need for informal platforms where people could express themselves and be heard, find like-minded people, new team members, or join some already existing initiatives. She believes this is an area that would require lots of effort in the future.

Executive director Oksana Hlebushkina of the Kherson NGO New Generation Community Center says that they have been helping other organisations, communities, and amalgamated communities to become strong and capable for the past 10 years. The NGO implements good neighbor practices, self-organisation, promotes the principles of good governance and human rights, and tries to make sure that these principles are actually put into practice. This was the organisation’s main focus before the full-scale invasion. New Generation stayed in Kherson for the first month, and then spent another 2 months under occupation.

After relocation to Ivano-Frankivsk, the organisation resumed its previous activities. In Kherson and in the South of Ukraine, New Generation contributed to the networking of other civil society organisations and helped representatives of government, business, and the public to establish a conversation. New Generation started working on advocacy campaigns, constantly reminding the public about the situation in Kherson.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, New Generation found a new term for themselves — “new residents”. They like it a lot. According to Ms. Hlebushkina, when it comes to integration and good practices that could be implemented, it should be understood that everyone who found themselves in the war zone and spent some time under occupation, everyone who was forced to leave everything behind and move — all of them experienced trauma. This trauma is invisible at first glance, and when it seems that a person does not want to go to work or sign up with the employment center, does not want to volunteer making camouflage nets, it is not because these people are so apathetic, or demanding, or indifferent.

The executive director of the organisation, Oksana Hlebushkina, points out: The stress is very strong, and everyone experiences it in different ways. It is trauma, not merely stress. It is extremely important for everyone who works with IDPs — with displaced persons, new residents — to understand that some of them are in a condition when they don’t want to do anything, they just want to go home.”

You may watch the video on our YouTube channel

This text prepared within the framework of the Stiykist’ Programme, which is implemented be East Europe Foundation within a consortium of NGOs led by ERIM (France) in partnership with Human Rights House Foundation, Human Rights House Tbilisi, the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, and funded by the European Union.

Its contents are the sole responsibility of East Europe Foundation and do not necessarily reflect the views of the partners of consortium and the European Union.