Voices of Chernivtsi: Development, Displacement & War Recovery Efforts in the West of Ukraine 

a close up of a blue and yellow fabric
The second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion in Ukraine was marked with even more intensified shelling and attempts to seize Ukrainian towns and villages. This has led to a new wave of displacement and a growing number of people who desperately need humanitarian assistance.”
Yaroslav Stetsyk, Global Communities
a very tall building with lots of windows

Photo by Anzhela Bets on Unsplash

Photo by Anzhela Bets on Unsplash

Approximately two years ago, on February 24, 2022, dozens of missiles struck cities across Ukraine, marking the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of this beautiful country bordering my homeland, Poland. As the world commemorated the second anniversary of the aggression, another day of remembrance was just as important. Ten years ago, in late February 2014, Russia invaded and then annexed Crimea, paving the way for the full-scale war. Ukraine always holds a special place in my heart, but these anniversaries felt particularly heavy. As I grieve for the lives lost and shattered, I feel humbled to work for an organization which supports Ukrainian people on their journey to peace and recovery.

 

Global Communities implements three programs in Ukraine. Two of them, the Decentralization Offering Better Results and Efficiency (DOBRE) and the Community-led Emergency Action and Response (CLEAR), are funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The third, Piloting Early Recovery and Livelihoods Assistance (PEARL), is financed through our own Strategic Investment Fund. Rooted in strong partnerships with local governments and civil society, these programs work at the intersection of humanitarian assistance and sustainable development to support Ukrainian communities as they cope with the devastating impacts of the war.

My Journey from Krakow to Chernivtsi

Last year I travelled to Chernivtsi—one of the oblasts (regions) where Global Communities operates—to meet our incredible team and observe how our programs work together to respond to the crisis, set the stage for post-war reconstruction and foster lasting resilience.

Krakow, Poland

My journey began in Krakow, Poland, which hosts tens of thousands Ukrainian refugees. Ukrainian flags wave across the city and rallies in support of Ukraine are commonplace.

Przemysl, Poland

After a two-hour train ride to Przemysl—a small town less than 10 miles from the Polish-Ukrainian border—I joined a long line in front of the train station, which serves as a border crossing for passengers travelling to and from Ukraine. A few hours later I boarded an InterCity train to Lviv.

Lviv, Ukraine

The train station in Lviv was hustling and bustling. Lviv is a major humanitarian hub for Ukrainians fleeing the frontlines and a vital corridor for refugees, internally displaced people and war supplies. At the beginning of the war, hundreds of thousands of women and children passed through Lviv, boarding evacuation trains to Poland. Many of their husbands, fathers and brothers stayed to defend their country.

At first glance, the station did not look much different from other European travel hubs. Yet the walls were filled with bomb shelter signs, military recruitment posters and humanitarian aid flyers. Although direct attacks on Lviv are not as frequent as shelling of cities in eastern Ukraine, you can feel the reality of the war everywhere you go.

My train to Chernivsti was not departing until 3am next day, but I had to be back at the train station before midnight because of the curfew. Thankfully, I had time to venture to the city and enjoy a traditional Ukrainian meal of borscht and varenyky—delicious dumplings, which are very similar to Polish pierogi.

Like Krakow, the historic center of Lviv is an architectural gem featured on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The two cities are merely 200 miles apart and for a split second, I felt like I never left Poland. Three days later, on July 6, 2023, a Russian missile slammed into a residential apartment complex in the city, killing 10 and injuring 48 civilians. The war hit close to home, literally and figuratively. The fear of authoritarian Russia is deeply engraved in Poland’s national identity. It is devastating to watch Ukrainian neighborhoods being destroyed by Putin’s regime.

Chernivtsi, Ukraine

I arrived at the Chernivtsi train station at 8am on July 3, 2023, and received a warm welcome from my Global Communities’ colleagues. It was wonderful to meet them in person, learn about their work and hear their personal stories of courage and perseverance.

We spent many hours talking about our respective countries, our shared culture and the impacts of the war on their personal and professional lives. The town of Chernivtsi, which is the administrative center of the Chernivtsi oblast and one of the most multicultural cities in Ukraine, was beautiful and welcoming. I could feel its rich culture and history, dating back to the 12th century. I especially loved walking along the Olha Kobylianska Street—a picturesque pedestrian area with many restaurants, cafés and small shops.

Every day, at 9am, the entire city stopped for a moment of silence. A somber ceremony in front of the town hall honored those killed in the Russian invasion.

Moment of Silence in Chernivsti

Moment of Silence in Chernivsti

War, Displacement & Social Cohesion: A Chat with Our Protection Manager

Located in the southwest of the country, Chernivsti is the smallest oblast of Ukraine, with a population of less than 1 million. While the oblast has been relatively unaffected by direct hostilities, at the time of my visit it was home to 98,000 people displaced from the east and the south. On the first day of my trip, I sat down with Oksana Mykhailenko, Global Communities’ Protection and Gender-Based Violence Prevention Manager, to discuss the opportunities and challenges of providing development and humanitarian assistance in the region.

Many people moved to the Chernivtsi region—which is mostly rural—from big cities, and are now forced to live in small villages, which do not have adequate infrastructure to accommodate them. They need daycare centers, schools and clinics. … They also need jobs. Many people displaced from eastern Ukraine are engineers and technicians, which are not popular professions in this part of the country. They are unable to work in their prior occupations, so they need vocational and business skills training to support their economic integration. … Local governments are trying to help, but they have limited resources.”
Oksana Mykhailenko, Global Communities

It was interesting to learn about the demographic, cultural and even linguistic differences between the west of Ukraine and the eastern part of the country, which is perceived to be more “Russia-influenced.”

We see many lingering beliefs and stereotypes about the eastern part of Ukraine here, in Chernivtsi. This creates misunderstandings and tensions. Local people are quite resentful that Ukrainians from the east do not speak Ukrainian and are surprised to learn that they follow Ukrainian traditions, too. For example, they wear similar embroidered shirts, just with different patterns.”
Oksana Mykhailenko, Global Communities

Oksana explained that internal displacement affects both people fleeing the frontlines and host communities. Local residents are welcoming, but competition for jobs and public resources, coupled with cultural differences, inadvertently cause social tensions, adding to the suffering and hardship. Global Communities addresses these challenges by partnering with local governments and civil society organizations (CSOs) to provide emergency assistance and protection services, strengthen crisis governance and service delivery, and foster social cohesion.

Oksana Mykhailenko, Global Communities’ Protection and GBV Prevention Manager, discusses the opportunities and challenges of providing emergency assistance in Ukraine.

Oksana Mykhailenko, Global Communities

Oksana Mykhailenko, Global Communities

From Civic Engagement to Community-led Humanitarian Action: Meeting with the Ukrainian People’s House

Next day I spent an entire afternoon with the Ukrainian People’s House (UPH)—a regional CSO established in 1884 to revive and protect Ukrainian language, culture and national identity. Global Communities partnered with UPH several years ago under the DOBRE program to promote civic engagement in hromadas (territorial communities) located in three western oblasts: Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil.

Ihor Babyuk, Ukrainian People’s House

Ihor Babyuk, Ukrainian People’s House

Volodymyr Staryk, Ukrainian People’s House

Volodymyr Staryk, Ukrainian People’s House

Liliia Dutka, Ukrainian People’s House

Liliia Dutka, Ukrainian People’s House

In collaboration with Global Communities we are implementing a project called ‘Voices of Community in Local Governance,’ which is part of DOBRE. … The project has three components. First, we promote civic engagement to ensure that people participate in decision-making at the community level. Second, we support the development of youth policies and initiatives. And third, we offer capacity strengthening assistance to smaller, community-based organizations. … Local authorities often do not recognize the need to work more transparently and openly with their residents. … Our project provides opportunities for local authorities, residents and activists to engage in a dialogue, for example through consultations and public hearings.”  
Ihor Babyuk, Ukrainian People’s House

Volodymyr Staryk, UPH President, explained that these consultations often take the form of community events or “World Cafés,” and typically focus on community needs and public services.  

This process is not easy, but it is working. It is important for local authorities to hear from residents what services they need. … Under DOBRE, local governments cannot receive funding for service delivery improvements unless they listen to people’s voices.”
Volodymyr Staryk, Ukrainian People’s House

Ihor added that the project is rooted in two main principles. The first is “Nothing about us without us.” For example, an agricultural development initiative cannot be implemented without farmers’ voices. According to the second principle, civic engagement events must always include government officials, for example mayors or village heads. Ihor also talked about the importance of positive youth development efforts. Many of them focus on youth’s political participation and economic development, but some involve young people in humanitarian efforts. For example, Ihor recalled an initiative that mobilized youth volunteers to prepare dry food sets for internally displaced people in their communities.  

At the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, Global Communities and UPH had to quickly mobilize their resources, adapt their strategies and pivot to humanitarian assistance. Between May and August 2022, DOBRE provided rapid emergency response to more than 14,000 people displaced by the war from the eastern to the western part of Ukraine, including Chernivtsi. UPH played a major role in ensuring that the assistance was distributed fairly and effectively. In September 2022, UPH became an official partner on Global Communities’ CLEAR program.

Adapting our programs was difficult. We did not have any experience with emergency response. But we didn’t have a choice, because the war had started, and people needed help. … Under CLEAR we have the opportunity to work on a deeper level to address the humanitarian crisis. We still distribute direct assistance to internally displaced people, for example cash for rent and winterization support. We create safe spaces where people can get psychosocial support. We also conduct public awareness raising campaigns to inform people where to seek help based on their needs. And we have established collaboration with many small, community-based organizations. We offer them trainings; we learn from each other; and we provide referrals.”
Liliia Dutka, Ukrainian People’s House

Liliia Dutka and her colleagues noted that one of the biggest challenges was ensuring that the recipients of aid met the vulnerability criteria, and that assistance was distributed equitably, since there was no central database of who was receiving aid and where. Adhering to the donor requirements was demanding too, especially for local partners with no prior experience working on government grants. But with time and training from Global Communities, everyone got the hang of it.

In the next few days, my colleagues and I visited three hromadas, which Global Communities has strong, long-term partnerships with: Khotyn, Hlyboka and Velykyi Kuchuriv. We met with mayors, council members, development agencies and community-based organizations (CBOs), working in close collaboration with our DOBRE and CLEAR teams. I was incredibly moved by their stories of courage, resilience and determination.

The Community of Khotyn

Khotyn is an urban hromada located on the southwestern bank of the Dniester River. Known for its medieval fortress and breathtaking views, Khotyn was historically a center of crafts and trade, and a major tourist attraction. I was thrilled we could stop by the fortress and visit local vendors in the middle of a busy day.

Our day began at the City Development Agency, responsible for community development, economic growth and tourism. The agency was created in 2020, when Global Communities and Khotyn’s government signed a cooperation agreement to implement DOBRE. Local economic development is one of DOBRE’s core objectives, so our conversation revolved around the city’s investment strategy and the enterprise support program for businesses relocated to Khotyn from eastern regions of Ukraine. Lyubov Petrova and Yuriy Humenyuk from the agency explained how DOBRE has helped the city improve public services, business environment and citizen engagement. Later that day we met with Andriy Dranchuk, the Mayor of Khotyn, who expressed gratitude for DOBRE’s impact on the community, but was also very honest about the growing needs and problems associated with the war.

From left to right: Tania Dudnyk; Lyubov Petrova; Paulina Rudnicka; Justin Secrease; Andriy Dranchak; Yevhenia Velegura; and Yuriy Humenyuk

From left to right: Tania Dudnyk; Lyubov Petrova; Paulina Rudnicka; Justin Secrease; Andriy Dranchak; Yevhenia Velegura; and Yuriy Humenyuk

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Photo by Vladyslav Sodel through Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Photo by Vladyslav Sodel through Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Photo by Vladyslav Sodel through Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Photo by Vladyslav Sodel through Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Photo by Vladyslav Sodel through Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Photo by Vladyslav Sodel through Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Andriy Dranchuk, Mayor of Khotyn

Andriy Dranchuk, Mayor of Khotyn

From left to right: Yuriy Humenyuk and Oksana Hizhdivska

From left to right: Yuriy Humenyuk and Oksana Hizhdivska

Thanks to DOBRE we received a small excavator, which is multifunctional. Not a day goes by without us using it to improve the city. We use it to fill roads, collect garbage and build new sidewalks. … We also set up a small youth center in our public library.”
Andriy Dranchuk, Mayor of Khotyn

We talked a lot about the impact of the war on the hromada. While the displacement of people and businesses is the most pressing challenge for Khotyn, I was sad to learn that two months prior to my visit Russia had launched a drone attack on the city, damaging civilian buildings.

“Khotyn has a population of about 20,000 people. During the first year of the war, we took in approximately 7,000 internally displaced people. This is clearly a large number. We need to constantly improve our infrastructure to accommodate them and provide them with quality services. … We have an urgent need for municipal equipment that could help us provide quality services in the community and directly to the houses where displaced persons live. This is the first and biggest problem. The second problem is around adaptation. Many displaced children are enrolled in our schools and our kindergartens. We need youth hubs and social spaces where these kids can receive support.”
Andriy Dranchuk, Mayor of Khotyn

Our next stop was the Khotyn Platform for the Development of Culture and Tourism, where we met with Yuriy Humenyuk and Oksana Hizhdivska. The Khotyn Platform is a CBO, which has partnered with Global Communities to deliver humanitarian assistance and protection services under DOBRE and CLEAR. Their interventions focus on psychosocial support and social cohesion, but they are also responsible for the distribution of cash assistance and dignity kits.

Last year we organized a kite festival at the Khotyn Fortress. Both residents and people displaced by the war came to the event, including lots of children. The event reminded everyone that we are one community.”
Yuriy Humenyuk, Khotyn Platform for the Development of Culture and Tourism

Yuriy Humenyuk, the Director of the organization explained that social integration events are vital in maintaining peace and cohesion in the community. At the beginning of the war, Khotyn residents were frustrated, because all the emergency assistance went to internally displaced people, who could even get hot meals three times a day at the social kitchen established by the government. The situation has improved, but there is still lots to be done. Yuriy and Oksana also stressed the importance of providing psychological support to adults and children impacted by the war.

We have an example of one family displaced from Kharkiv, which remains under Russian fire. At first, they were in significant distress and wanted to go back home. But after participating in our psychosocial support sessions, they decided to stay and even opened a small business here.”
Yuriy Humenyuk, Khotyn Platform for the Development of Culture and Tourism

When I asked about the challenges of providing emergency response, Yuriy’s response nearly mirrored what Liliia from the UPH had raised: the rigid compliance requirements of international donors. He noted that it was very difficult to explain to citizens why some can receive aid while others cannot because of the strict vulnerability criteria. Thanks to capacity strengthening from Global Communities, the Platform is now much more fluent with these rules and regulations.

After our conversation we had an opportunity to observe the Platform’s work in real life. During that summer, the Platform organized an English language camp for displaced children and residents of the Khotyn community.

These lessons are not only about studying the language; they are psychosocial support sessions as well. Displaced children want to connect with children from our community, find friends, feel safer, feel like at home. We play, dance and sing to give them opportunity to interact and feel less tense and stressed.”
Nataliia, English Language Teacher from Khotyn

Next, we visited a residential center for displaced people in Khotyn, renovated with the support from DOBRE’s rapid emergency response grant.

We then travelled to the Khotyn Public Library, which was renovated with the support from DOBRE’s youth development grant. The library now hosts CLEAR-funded psychosocial support sessions for residents and displaced people. The sessions are facilitated by Maya Mazur—a trained psychologist who is also the Director of the library.

These groups help people adapt, make new friends and feel supported. ... The most important thing is that they find unity and understanding here. … This is really therapeutic and inspiring.”
Maya Mazur, Khotyn Library Director & Psychologist

Maya introduced us to two women participating in the sessions, Elina and Olesia. Both had fled Kharkiv—the second-largest city in Ukraine. Located in the east, near the Russian border, Kharkiv is a constant target of Russia's aerial assault and has lost one million people—a half of its pre-war population. Elina and Olesia expressed a desire to return to Kharkiv when it is safe. “It is hard to live in a small town if you spend most of your life living in a big city, where there are opportunities,” Elina said. “I did not experience any kind of rejection or negativity here, in Khotyn. I have had a positive experience, … but I know I do not belong here.”

Olesia, who came to Khotyn with her family, shared similar thoughts. “People are very good, very compassionate here. They treat us very well. It's just hard to accept the reality,” she said. “I hope that we will return home, because we have a house there and I had a great job. … It is hard to find employment here, and housing is very expensive.” Olesia added that a lot of displaced people need psychological and financial help, especially the elderly who resettled in villages and are unable to travel to bigger towns like Khotyn to receive aid.

At the beginning, it was difficult for me to come to these sessions. It was emotionally draining to be among people, to hear their stories, to share my own stories. This was a new experience for me. … But over time, I began to feel stronger and more inspired to come, because I understood that I needed it. I wanted to be around people. We emotionally support each other.”
Elina, Displaced Person from Kharkiv
At first it was very hard, and I didn't want to come. I was so depressed that I didn't want to interact with anyone at all. … But over time, I adapted a little bit. These sessions have helped me. … There are people who are displaced from my city, and they have similar problems. And that united us.”
Olesia, Displaced Person from Kharkiv

Our day ended at the beautiful lavender field, where we shared treats and a nice chat with the staff from the Khotyn Platform and the City Development Agency.

The Community of Hlyboka 

The next day our team travelled to Hlyboka where we were greeted by Mayor Hryhorii Vanzuriak in a traditional ceremony of bread and salt. Practiced across Eastern Europe, including Poland, the offering of bread and salt symbolizes unity, harmony and deep respect for arriving guests.

Following the ceremony, we went to the Town Council, where we learned more about the hromada, its cooperation with Global Communities and its achievements under DOBRE and CLEAR. The assembly hall where the presentation took place was equipped by DOBRE and serves as a meeting place for the Youth Information Technology Academy.