Shelter for IDP Women

The Lviv-based NGO Women’s Perspectives Center helps women who have fled from territories under occupation or active hostilities. The Center provides housing, psychological care and legal aid, rehabilitation and career counseling, as well as social activities and cultural events. Women’s Perspectives shelters offer accommodation for the time period of up to three months, yet there are women who have been living there for over a year. Each situation is unique, and when a woman is in a vulnerable situation, she can still use the opportunities offered by the organization. IDP women also work and/or serve in the capacity of volunteers. Read about how women co-exist and help each other in the article below. 

Shelter Near the Forest 

One of the shelters run by the Women’s Perspectives Center is home to mostly mothers with children, ages one month to 18 years. In total, this shelter hosts 39 persons, including 13 children, from different territories, mostly occupied or where active hostilities are taking place: Lysychansk, Nikopol, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk. 

All of them live in a cottage rented by the organization near the forest in a remote area of Lviv. The house owners also live behind the wall, in the other half of the house, as if they were duplex neighbors. The shelter administrator says: “The family has recently let their children live separately, so this is a new merriment on their territory.” 

The house has everything necessary to feel safe and comfortable for people who need some tranquility and adaptation to a different life: several spacious bedrooms newly renovated, an attic kitchen with a forest view, comfortable bathrooms, and even a large common space in the basement, designed as a living room or training room for general meetings, classes, or workshops.   

Volunteers, psychologists, and coaches come here to visit women. A career counselor helps with job search and employment. Workshops, art therapy groups, and team sports games are held with the children in the shelter. From spring to autumn, when it gets warmer, the children are happy to take a walk near the forest. 

Humanitarian Aid 

Since the first day of the full-scale Russian invasion, the NGO Women’s Perspectives Center has been working on humanitarian aid. The organization has never been involved in this activity before. Whereas on February 24, 2022, the NGO had only one shelter for victims of domestic violence, since March of the same year, they have started opening shelters for women, one after another one, due to the high demand among internally displaced persons. Currently, Women’s Perspectives runs seven shelters in different Lviv communities. However, it looks like the demand for shelters has stabilized, so has the number of shelters. Besides, there are other shelters in the city opened by local authorities. 

The Women’s Perspectives Center has been operating for 25 years. Before the large-scale invasion, it worked in five areas: overcoming domestic violence; human trafficking; combating gender discrimination; strengthening women’s decision-making; and, developing civil society and feminist initiatives. 

Currently, Women’s Perspectives provides shelters for the most vulnerable categories: older women, women with children, women with disabilities, women with mental disorders, women who have suffered from domestic and other forms of gender-based violence. The topics that the organization was working on before February 2022 remain in progress. 

The organization’s shelters host five women cancer patients who have to undergo chemotherapy and need better care, peace and comfort. The shelters are also home to vulnerable people who have much greater problems finding a home, a job, and less economic capacity. 

Recently, a new category of shelter residents appeared. These are women whose husbands are undergoing surgeries in Lviv after being wounded at the front. The Women’s Perspectives shelters are now home to several residents from the eastern regions who are caring for their sons or husbands day in and day out. 

Potential residents are most often referred to the shelters by volunteers from the train and bus stations, as well as social services, the children’s service, and various partner organizations. 

The Place of Support 

Anti-stress and relaxation trainings are organized for the women in the shelters. A rehabilitation therapist helps them restore their health. “We look at the pattern how the needs of our women and children evolve over time. Then we look for different activities,” says Oksana Karapinka, administrator of the shelter near the forest. 

By the way, Oksana has lived in this Lviv neighborhood since childhood. She has been working with Women’s Perspectives as a psychologist for a long time, even before the war. And now she decided to help there as an administrator. She continues to conduct her psychological practice privately, outside the organization. In the shelter, Oksana, as a hostess, seems to not only work with women, but also invites them to stay here for a while, helps them support and relax. 

 “Since we opened, we’ve had a lot of turnover. Some people stay longer, some stay only a little while, some immediately say they only need a place to stay for a week or two, and then find another housing. Some go abroad, some get a job and start renting their own place – it’s an individual issue for each family,” says Oksana Karapinka. 

The organization signs a contract with women for a stay of up to three months in advance. And then they decide: if a woman has additional vulnerabilities, for example, a newborn child, or she cannot find a place to live, they review the contract individually and may extend her stay in the shelter. 

 “Women with children are easy to get along with. Gradually, they open up and communicate, smile, and participate,” says Natalia Dyakiv, an art therapist and psychologist. “It’s a very vulnerable place when you need to ask someone for something, and they come with the following: “Do this for us, or we need this…” It’s very nice when people trust you. It’s warm here.” 

Feeling of Security 

Natalia works in the shelter with the requests that women express. First of all, it’s adaptation (how to join the team) and boundaries. It’s a fact that when people live in a close environment with others they haven’t met before, and until everyone gets to know each other, misunderstandings may arise. Where there are boundaries, there is also anger, Natalia says, and she teaches how to deal with anger: “People have learned to do this in different ways. Some people keep it to themselves, and then it may be hard, because there may be physical manifestations, pressure, etc. And sometimes it’s the other way around: someone can respond aggressively or do something that offends someone else, even though there was no intention to offend.” 

When women fully adapt to a new environment, they are likely to go out, meet others, and expand their own circle. “This means that right now, where I am, I have already developed a basic sense of security,” the art therapist said. “It’s a good signal that the Women’s Perspectives Center is fulfilling its function well, people feel safe and comfortable here and are ready for interaction and further development.” 

According to Natalia, when the children wrote about what they would like to see added to the shelter’s activities, they mentioned a computer game tournament, a picnic, and meetings with people from other shelters. They already want to see more interaction between the centers. The children suggested communicating with each other 

Volunteering, Work and Cultural Activities 

Another Women’s Perspectives shelter is located in Lviv downtown. All its residents are women, but for one boy, a very boisterous child. There is a library for children nearby, and once a week the women weave camouflage nets there. At the Women’s Perspectives Center, they pack humanitarian kits for vulnerable women in the frontline areas, make trench candles, bake cookies, and help with other shelters. Women and girls are trying to find jobs, even elderly residents. 

Spending days without work or any activity undermines women’s psychological state, the shelter management believes. They organize cultural events for women. If there are free events or tours for IDPs in the city, they make sure shelter residents attend them. If they have to pay for them, they use donor’s money.  

Thanks to donors, women’s birthdays are celebrated in the shelters. It’s not just about the fact that you get a cake and flowers, but this is rather about the feeling that you are not alone, when everyone gathers to wish you happy birthday. Over the past six months, it was exactly thanks to the Capable and Resilient Project that the shelters were provided with funds to pay staff and equip them with everything the shelter residents need. This project is implemented by East Europe Foundation with funds from Switzerland. 

The shelter in the center can accommodate up to 20 people. However, sometimes even 24 persons, as they can stay in the lobby, between rooms, behind the curtain. Yet, even 20 women are too many for this place. IDP women who fled the war took some things with them, but not enough. When they come here, they buy things to have a more stable psychological state and to be more confident. 

Lyudmyla Vetoshko, the shelter administrator, says: “At that moment, a person feels that he or she is in control of something, has an influence on it. And people have baggage. Therefore, 20 people are too many for our shelter, because we already have things. We are trying to buy additional furniture and arrange something.” 

Administrator Liudmyla Vetoshko is from Volnovakha. This is a town in Donetsk Oblast, between Donetsk and Mariupol, where Liudmyla was involved in her NGO. Through her work, she has known Marta Chumalo, the deputy head of the Women’s Perspectives Center in Lviv, for many years. Before the war, Women’s Perspectives conducted a series of webinars and consultations for Liudmyla’s organization on combating domestic violence. 

Recalling how she was fleeing Volnovakha on February 27, Lyudmyla said: “The first person I called was Ms. Marta. I asked her if she could help me find accommodation in Lviv, because we were going there. She said, “No problem, you don’t have to go anywhere else, but to our place, we’ll take care of you. And that’s how I ended up here.” Later, Lyudmyla was offered a job at a shelter that was just opening. 

 “I want to help them because I am like them 

Maryna Onyshchenko, a rehabilitation therapist, who works at the shelter, is an IDP woman from Kreminna: “First we went to Bakhmut, thinking that there would be no more war there, and in May, we had to move again from Bakhmut to Lviv.” 

At the shelter, Maryna takes care of both physical and psychological health. According to the rehabilitation therapist, the women who stay here have post-war syndrome. It is very difficult for them to open up and socialize, and the classes bring them a new breath of air, they look forward to them. Maryna examines their health status and selects individual programs. Although she conducts group classes, she takes into account the nuances of each woman’s health. Women can share their health status at a joint session, or talk to the rehabilitation therapist in person to decide on the most appropriate practice to pursue. 

It’s too early to talk about the results, Maryna said, but the women’s psycho-emotional state is improving. “When they say, ‘Thank you,’ ‘We’ll be waiting for your next class,’ that’s worth the effort. To see their happy faces, to do at least something is something very important for me, and for them, too. This is my first experience in rehabilitation of the elderly. They are happy, and I sincerely want to help them, because I am like them (an IDP).” 

About Self-Reliance 

The Women’s Perspectives Center’s team tries to do everything possible to help a woman understand what is wrong with her, what the problem is, and who she can turn to in order to get professional support in this process. If a woman wants to try something new, the organization has a wide range of opportunities. She can go to psychotherapy, use the help of social workers, participate in a whole range of different activities in shelters. If a woman decides that this is not for her, the organization offers opportunities for psychiatric examination, if necessary. 

There have been cases, says Marta Chumalo, when a woman kept her salary and did not want to do anything. “We respect this decision and offer her to find another place to live. In our community, you need to be involved in something, we do not feed our residents,” says Marta. “They have to cook their own food, we are not going to help them. They take care of themselves and their children. We do not have any cleaners who come to serve them. One administrator per shelter works with them, and they are assisted by trainers and psychotherapists who come to help. Everything is very dynamic, if there is a problem, we all get together and think about what to do.” 

The main idea behind the assistance provided by the Women’s Perspectives Center is to help women start taking processes into their own hands and engage in social interactions, which will give them the opportunity to be self-sufficient. 

Reprinted from the issue Дівоче медіа