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Ukraine: How we help those affected by conflict survive the winter

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The conflict in eastern Ukraine is approaching its fifth year, and hostilities, isolation and depletion of resources continue to affect civilians along the frontlines. During the harsh winter months, they need to find means to buy costly fuel and basic goods, which have tripled in price in recent years.

Close to 35,000 families residing near the contact line have insufficient heating. Gas and electricity supplies have not been restored because of damaged infrastructure and ongoing fighting, and many people lack a sustainable income.

For some, the only way to survive is through humanitarian aid. We assist them with cash and construction materials so that they can repair their houses and buy fuel and food to get through the long, cold winter months.

Freezing homes and costly fuel

"Protracted conflict, poor infrastructure and costly fuel put people in eastern Ukraine in a very difficult situation, especially those living along the contact line," says Goran Zuber, the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) area manager in Ukraine.

Read more about the conflict in eastern Ukraine here.

"During winter, families are forced to spend less money on food because they need to spend more on fuel to heat their houses."

The prices for heating and basic goods are constantly increasing. According to UN OCHA, around 1.1 million people living on both sides of the contact line don’t have enough to eat.

Can barely afford wood

Oleksandra Zahvodska, 32, and her three children live in the frontline town of Popasna. "My husband passed away two months ago. Now, I am the family’s only source of income," she says.

The winter is tough. With only a small childcare allowance, the single mother must provide for her children and heat their home. Her house does not have central heating, so she uses firewood to heat it.

"I need nearly eight cubic meters of wood for the winter season, and it’s extremely costly."

Since mid-October she has received cash assistance from NRC, which covers the family’s basic food needs for the winter. Now, she can afford to spend more money on fuel.

Increasing needs

In 2018, NRC assisted 7,417 people with cash for food.

Over the past years, humanitarian organisations providing assistance in eastern Ukraine have received less and less funding. "The needs are not disappearing, they are increasing, and we need more funding for our winter projects," says Goran Zuber.

NRC has been providing winter assistance in eastern Ukraine since 2014. In 2018, we assisted over 10,700 people through distribution of cash for fuel and food, equipment for production of environmentally friendly briquettes and housing insulation, with support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union and the US Agency for International Development.